Sugar Crop Season in Limbo: BSCFA Farmers to Protest, Demanding Government Inquiry Completion
Tonight, the start of the next sugar crop is in limbo. Instead of getting the new sugar season open, and delivering cane to the mill tomorrow, the farmers are looking to protest in Orange Walk Town. The country’s largest sugar cane growers’ association, the BSCFA, is refusing to deliver although stakeholders in the industry had agreed to start the season on December 28. According to the association, they are not willing to sign a long-term agreement until the government’s commission of inquiry into the state of the industry is complete. The group says it will begin delivery only after signing a one-year interim agreement with BSI/ASR. Chairman of the BSCFA, Elvis Reyes, says that instead of heading to the mill, the group’s farmers will be demonstrating in the streets of Orange Walk Town. Love News understands that the plan for the demonstration comes after the Prime Minister failed to respond to a letter sent by the BSCFA on Christmas Eve.
Elvis Reyes, BSCFA Chairman: “We are waiting for the response of a letter that we sent to the PM which he has not responded to us. We gave him a deadline yesterday 4pm and he didn’t respond until right now he hasn’t responded to that letter. So we are waiting on his response. We are right now we are supplying for a demonstration in the streets of Orange Walk to express our concern and for all the people of Belize to make the PM make his mind to help us to get a solution on this issue that we are facing. We want to deliver as a whole BSCFA. We are calling our farmers to not delivery by individuals.”
Vejea Alvarez, Love News: How long is the association willing to hold back on delivery ?
Elvis Reyes, BSCFA Chairman: “We are not thinking of withholding the delivery too much because I know the eagerness of the farmers they need to deliver their cane, to sell their cane because you know everyone has loans to pay.”
Vejea Alvarez, Love News: So if push comes to shove when will you guys start delivery even without getting an agreement ? Is that something you guys are looking at ?
Elvis Reyes, BSCFA Chairman: “No, we need an agreement for us to begin to start the crop.”
While the BSCFA is looking to forego the already delayed crop season, the three other cane farmers’ associations are ready to begin deliveries. The uncertainty, however, of how tomorrow will play out has created a ‘wait and see’ approach as the farmers are hesitant to harvest amid the doubts. One cane farmer who is being affected by the situation is the Corozal North Area Representative, Hugo Pott. According to Pott, the farmers need assurance that their cane will be accepted before they begin to harvest the fields.
Hugo Patt, Corozal Area Representative: “We have a large number of farmers basically saying look we are going to see what’s going to be happening tomorrow before we actually start to make any move. Today as we speak we haven’t had any reaping group that has actually started. Nobody has burned down any cane field right now. I think they’re basically waiting to see what will transpire between today and tomorrow so that they can take a decision to start. Bear in mind that once you start to harvest you have to burn down the sugar cane. You burn that down and that cane is dead so you have a time frame of thirty six hours for you to take out that cane and deliver it to the mill in order for you to get the optimum sugar you could possibly get out of it. So it is a race against time once that cane is burned and so people don’t want to be caught up in a situation where you burn down your cane field and next thing you know we have issues at the factory and people are not able to deliver their cane. From our end what we’re saying look and this is the general sentiments of farmers right now, everybody wants to harvest. I mean things are really difficult right now in this country, the high cost of living is killing everybody including the farmers and farmers have reached to a point in time where they don’t have much to sustain themselves from. The income generating activity of every sugar cane farmer and actually it’s every farmer I could say comes when you start to reap your product and you start to sell your product and this is the situation we have right now. We ended the crop somewhere around midyear so that farmers have done all that they needed to do in order to make sure that they have their cane fields in optimum conditions and basically right now they’re just waiting on the next cycle of harvest which is already ready where we have mature cane ready to be harvested. So basically that is the situation. What we’re saying is look sign that commercial agreement and let the sugar harvest start.”
The BSCFA says that it is their hope the government can sway BSI/ASR to sign an interim commercial agreement with the same terms as the previous one.