Government stands ready to assist in BSI and BSCFA Bagasse impasse Print E-mail
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Thursday, 31 July 2014 00:00

The Cane Farmers Association and the Belize Sugar Industries Limited remain at loggerheads over how much farmers should be paid for bagasse as a bi-product of sugar cane milling operations at the BSI factory. The farmers met on Sunday July 20 during which a resolution was taken to ask the Sugar Industry Control Board, the government in effect, to intervene in the situation. Speaking on the issue the Prime Minister explained that the government stands willing and ready to be a part of a solution given that both parties so desire.

In this matter the farmers are requesting assistance for the government to pay for an independent expert to give an opinion on how much should be paid. ASR/BSI has flatly refused the request. The Prime Minister stated that he met with ASR officials on Wednesday July 30 during which they flatly refused to have an independent expert called in. They are of the opinion that the issue is a commercial dispute that should be settled between the farmers and ASR.  PM Dean Barrow notes that everyone needs to understand that at this juncture the sugar industry is facing huge challenges which arise from competition by new European marketing arrangements which will see beet sugar producers have access to preferential markets causing a reduction in the price for sugar from cane.

ASR, stated the PM, is of the opinion that at this point in time there needs to be a coming together of all stakeholders to determine how they will deal with that threat as well as how farmers can increase their yields to prepare Belize's sugar industry "for what can be calamitous," said the PM. That coming together adds ASR should start with the working out of the payment for bagasse. "If they can't even solve that problem, it does not bode well for the existence of the industry," said the PM. Then there is the issue of a new commercial agreement which must be arrived at before the start of the new sugar crop but that too is not likely until a bagasse payment schedule is determined. For his part the Prime Minister hopes that the two partners can solve their problems themselves. If that is not possible, the government stands willing to assist, however, only if both parties so desire. That assistance would also include the paying of an independent expert to give advice on the issue.

Meanwhile however the Prime Minister noted that while the association is pursuing a course it is possible that there are farmers who do not share the sentiment and are however without choice but to follow because of the manner in which voting on issues is carried out. As it is voting is done where farmers are either asked to stand if they agree or disagree on particular matters. "There are farmers who are saying that in that kind of climate people are afraid to say what they feel." He stated. In this atmosphere the SICB might be asked to administer a secret ballot when farmers meet on the issue on another occasion, "but it is something that can be worked out by the farmers," said the PM.