Sugar Cane Farmers Associations Oppose Government’s Proposed Changes to Industry
Tonight, two of the three largest sugar cane farmers’ associations are speaking out against government’s proposed changes to the sugar industry. Additionally, they are saying that the Minister of Agriculture, Abelardo Mai, is creating a rift among the cane farmers. The Corozal Sugar Cane Producers Association (CSCPA) and the Progressive Sugar Cane Producers Association (PSCPA) held a press conference today to discuss what they say are unfair actions and political interference affecting the industry. The main point of contention was the Sugar Industry (License to Import/Export Sugar) Regulations 2023 which will force BSI/ASR to disclose the quantity of sugar it sells, as well as the buyers and selling price. The associations say that the regulations were drafted to suit only the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association (BSFCA), and as a result, the government is killing the mill and possibly destabilizing the industry. Vladimir Puck, President of the CSCPA, says that a critical issue with the new regulations is fair-trade payment, which they believe can be lost if the changes are made.
Vladimir Puck, President, CSCPA: “ We have been certified since 2015/2016 and we have been having a very good relationship with Tate and Lyle them praying our premiums so I don’t see why there has to be legislation to accommodate, to satisfied the biggest association who at the moment does not have a long term commercial agreement which is something that fair trade requires for you to have a very good standing relationship with them now and even take your premiums you need to have certain criteria filled first and that’s one of the major ones. So everything is criteria. It’s not a short term, it’s not an interim agreement it is a long term agreement for you to have very good working relation and for you to be able to say or project in your certification that you will be able to maintain your farmers and at a yearly basis we receive various audits and those audits is what in the certifications is a must and even local auditors audit from FLOCERT. If I would be an investor in a country where I have to apply for every year for me to sell after I invested $200 million and every year I have to ask or request for permission to sell sugar abroad I think I would think twice before doing so. So and this is just a start maybe things can get worse or maybe things can get better.”
Another point of contention was the government’s decision to provide one million dollars towards the acquisition cost of fertilizer for the BSCFA. Josue Hernandez, General Manager of the PSCPA, says the move shows a clear bias for the association, which four government ministers are reportedly affiliated with.
Josue Hernandez, General Manager, PSCPA: “ I think really that the government is being biased because the other association is not getting premiums because of their doing. We have no fault with that and assisting only one association is not fair I don’t see it fair for us. Here at progressive we do not involve politics nor religion. We are here for the small producers, the medium producers and the big producers. We focus our premium into projects under the diversification, empowering youth/women and what transpired last week when we found out that one association is getting $1,000,000 just because they’re not getting fair trade premium feels really shows that the present government I shall say is favoring one association. Our concern basically would be SI is fair trade premium. I think political interference can really affect us all whereby at the end of the day Tate and Lyle can decide I can source my fair-trade sugar from a different country because of too much political interference that we are having that’s the concern that our members have.”
Collectively, the associations represent around thirteen hundred cane farmers from Northern Belize.