The tensions between BSI-ASR continue as negotiations have taken a strained turn, when BSI decided to bypass the Belize Cane Farmers Association and negotiate directly with individual farmers. BSI ASR says it maintains its position when it comes to the terms of the commercial agreement, while BSCFA says they would not accept some of those terms.
The BSCFA had written to the Government body, Sugar Industry Control Board, to assist in the negotiations. SICB has answered and says they will see what steps can be taken to help negotiations go smoothly.
On Thursday, Minister of Agriculture, Hon. Gaspar Vega, spoke with the media and said that he is hopeful that both parties would be able to compromise .
“The Government will continue to facilitate. We have always done that, ready to ensure that both parties, BSI -ASR and the Cane Farmers, sit around the table. I know that the negotiation is still going on. All we can do is continue to facilitate, continue to encourage them, to come around the table and ensure that both parties compromise as much as possible, for us to be able to start a crop with, at the best, the lease challenges possible.”
Minister Vega also said that he is of the opinion that if the farmers remain united, they would be stronger in negotiations. However, he can see why some farmers would be willing to negotiate individually.
“I always believe that once the farmers are united, they will have strength. It is common knowledge, so of course I would prefer that, but also we have to realize that, like everything else, people at this time want to deliver cane. A lot of farmers have commitments with the banks.
At one time banks use to take their quotas as collateral. Today that doesn’t work anymore. So a lot of farmers have their houses as collateral at the banks. They cannot afford to risk that.
So I can see the uneasiness of some farmers, that they are willing to deliver their cane. In fact, it’s not that they are willing, they know that they have to. Otherwise they won’t have a shed over their heads.
That’s what we have to watch, and I think BSI-ASR [and] BSCFA have to realise that a lot of farmers, especially the bigger bones, have bigger leans, bigger commitments, and they cannot afford to say. ‘I don’t have to sell my sugar-cane.'”
As for Government’s role in this latest sugar industry crisis, the Minister says that Government is only a facilitator and always acts in favor of the industry.
“The Government has always, like I said, been acting in favour of the industry. Just a month ago, I, the Ministry, called a meeting for both BSI and BSCFA to come, and between all of us discuss a way forward.
Like I said, there’s always going to be challenges, but to have at least as possible challenges that we face today, and that the industry has faced in the past. We don’t want certain things to be repeated.
But again I have. to say that the Government is just a facilitator. Whatever we can do, we will do for the benefit of the industry.”
BSCFA says they will be holding a special meeting with their members on Saturday.