Caneros threaten work stoppage over bagasse agreement

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At the Annual Divisional Meeting of the Orange Walk Division of the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers’ Association (BSCFA) held on Saturday, over 400 members were in attendance as their opinion was sought on the latest confrontation between the Association and Belize Sugar Industries Limited (BSI). The sugar producer, now majority owned by American Sugar Refining (ASR), is refusing to amend the commercial agreement to allow for the introduction of bagasse as a by-product of sugar production. Alleged disrespect made the Association leave a meeting organized last week. For many years it was treated as trash, thrown away, but now it is being used to power Belize’s electricity consumption. CEO of the Association Oscar Alonzo used a particular analogy to show why it is no longer strange to consider bagasse as having value.

vlcsnap-2013-11-05-08h41m28s62Oscar Alonzo – CEO BSCFA

“If you remember in the fourteenth century before Columbus made his voyage, the belief was that the world was flat,and that and that if one would sail straight ahead, one would end up falling over the precipice.   However there were scientists, there were navigators who believed that the world was round and until Columbus disproved that in 1492.  At that time, an idea that the world is round would no longer be a strange idea.  Is the same with the bagasse.   In 2002 we could not be claiming payment for bagasse because in fact, most of that bagasse was not been used; was more or less as residue and only part was being used to process sugar.   But today, now that you have a guaranteed market through BSI and BELCOGEN, the bagasse has now acquired economic value”.

Alfredo Ortega, who heads the Committee of Management of the Association and also chairs the Orange Walk Town branch of the Division, told us he believes the matter can still be resolved. He explains why it was necessary to come back to the caneros for their suggestions.

Reporter:   “Do you still hold that view?”

vlcsnap-2013-11-05-08h45m32s201Alfredo Ortega:  “Yes, I hold that view, yes, of course.   We want this issue to finalize before the next zafra ends.   Why?   Because we want to be very clear.   With the movement that is ongoing presently within the industry, there are many issues that we have to take into account and this is one that we need to resolve, so that we, together, we can meet the challenges that are forthcoming for the next year.   So, what we are trying to do is to finalize this issue so that together with BSA and BSI can meet the challenges of the future.   AS you have heard, there will be changes in 2015, te contract that BSI presented with Tate and Lyle will come to an end and in 2017 there will be a reform in the new market.   So, we need to start from now, so that we can be prepared when that time comes to meet those challenges”.

Reporter:   “Will the members of the Orange Walk Division be asked to make any resolutions…any decisions as to how to move forward, how to give you guys negotiators the map to move forward with these negotiations?”

Alfredo Ortega:  “Of course, we’ll be asking that as soon as we reistate again this afternoon.   That is mostly what we will be asking the farmers”.

In the afternoon, cane farmer Genaro Garcia moved a motion which was carried unanimously that the farmers would not allow the cane harvesting season to begin without a satisfactory resolution to the dispute. Members of the Corozal Division will vote at their meeting on November 10. The Association continues to seek opportunities to discuss the matter with BSI. We contacted BSI offices for comment and were directed to the Chief Financing Officer; however, he was not in office.

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