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Sugarcane Season Opens Regardless of Setbacks

The sugarcane crop season is officially opened today. The Sugar Industry Control Board (SICB) held a special meeting over the holidays to approve and officially start the season. This meeting was followed by a discussion and review session of the Sugar Cane Production Committee (SCPC) production estimates for the season. The Cane farmers were up in arms over the estimates that the committee proposed to compensate their loss due to the drought last year. The amount was amended to adequately accommodate the farmers mostly affected by the drought. Love News spoke to Malcolm McLachlan, Vice President of International Relations for American Sugar Group (ASR) who spoke to us about changes being made for this crop season.

Malcolm McLachlan, Vice President of International Relations for American Sugar Group (ASR): “The fundamental change I suppose this year is that some of our investments of previous years will begin to see benefits. Of those for example we’ve invested $60 million Belize dollars over the last four years in increasing the direct consumption production. We’re looking at producing a lot more higher value food grade sugars this crop for the European and CARICOM markets so that’s one change. The other major change of course is you know last year we had a terrible crop as a result of one of the worst droughts in Belizean history and this year we’re hoping for a much better crop outcome and both in the form of quantity and quality of cane so that we can produce more sugar and better quality will mean we have higher sucrose content etc and it will be better for everybody in the industry.”

McLachlan also spoke about the devastating impact of last year’s drought and the measures they are taking this year to circumvent a similar situation.

Malcolm McLachlan, Vice President of International Relations for American Sugar Group (ASR):  “I think our biggest challenge is the weather to be honest. It’s a rain fed crop, we rely on dry periods and periods with some rain in order to get to the levels that we need of cane supply and sugar production and couldn’t have been a starker warning to us the last crop where you know from the year before with a record cane supply of over 1.3 million tonnes to the following year of less than 900,000 tonnes that was a massive hit to farmers, to the mill, to everybody in the industry. So we’re not sitting back we are looking at how we can improve that. One of the ways we’re gonna try and manage the risks of climate change to our business is a major project funded by the Green Climate Fund and that’s being administered by the Five Cs in Belize and that’s looking at a whole range of different issues including water management starting with drainage and looking at irrigation, water storage, capture and storage, so that we can mitigate some of these issues such as drought. It’s looking at increased rage of varieties that give you better protection. One of the interesting things of the last crop that we saw was the impact of pests on the cane which had a big impact not only on the weight of the cane but also it left a lot of bacteria inside which makes it a lot harder to extract sugar in the milling process. So we need responses to all those different things, there’s no time to lose and we’re very pleased with that project coming on stream and we’re working with all other stakeholders.”

Minister of Agriculture, Food Security, and Enterprise Jose Abelardo Mai and members of the People United Party (PUP)  Northern Caucus met in San Narciso Village yesterday to discuss the production estimates. In a press release issued by the PUP they stated that they are in full support of the sugarcane farmers receiving appropriate allocations and stressed that decisions made within the industry must include every entity that falls under it. Mai spoke to Love News about the proposed allocation and why farmers were dissatisfied with it.

Hon. Jose Abelardo Mai, Minister of Agriculture, Food Security & Enterprise: “This allocation will definitely benefit cane farmers more than the proposed allocation which was done in October earlier this year. The October proposal sought to give farmers 30% increase allocation, this was due to the losses that farmers suffered during the drought. So the idea behind this was to increase the farmer’s allocation because of the drought losses, the problem with the formula is that not all farmers suffered 30% the assumption by the sugarcane production committee at the time was that everybody suffered 30% hence we will give you 30% on top of what you delivered to the mill. The problem with that formula was that farmers – some farmers, many farmers – lost more than 30%; some lost 50%, some lost 60%, some lost 70%, some didn’t deliver anything at all so that formula was somewhat skewed in that it was compensating those who suffered less by the drought and punishing those who suffered the most by the drought. So the famers were up in arms, they were in disagreement and so we had to go back and try to come up with a different option. The farmers wanted us to use the 2019-2020 allocation which 2018 was a normal year there was no drought so they were saying let us use these figures and we won’t have any problems but ASR and three other stations disagreed with it, they didn’t want it that way so we had to come somewhere in the middle to a compromise and that was what was done.”

Sugarcane season typically lasts for six months depending on the amount of cane harvested.