For the last two days, the cases of the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association (BSCFA) and Belize Sugar Industries (BSI) on the issue of payment for bagasse has been publicly presented. Each is adamant and there are suggestions of a court battle. But the farmers won an important victory today when, it appears, the Government sided with them. In his first press conference since recovering from back surgery in the United States, Prime Minister Dean Barrow spoke of the Government’s efforts to address the matter and announced the results of a Cabinet meeting in which the issue was discussed.
“We are convinced that the farmers have a case. We looked at the provision in the Memorandum of Understanding that talks about the sharing of the revenue arising of the sale of any bi-product will be subject to future discussions and the sharing of revenue will be based on the result of those, and in my view, that clearly contemplates some form of compensation to farmers for the bagasse. The argument that the bagasse is waste and is not a bi-product, in our minds, cannot stand”.
With that understanding, the Prime Minister called both sides back to the table, saying that everyone stands to lose, especially the farmers, if the crop is delayed too long.
Prime Minister: “So, we are absolutely positive that the farmers have a case and that the farmers need to be addressed. Now, we part ways with the farmers in terms of the manner in which it seems they are determined to make their point and to make their case. We cannot consider it helpful for the economy of the north and for the country for there to be this talk about strike and non commencement of the crop. That will hurt all of us, but it will hurt the very farmers that are being encouraged not to deliver”.
Just as the farmers’ right to bagasse payments should be respected, says the Prime Minister, so too should American Sugar Refining’s investment in BSI.
Prime Minister: “We have to concede that were it not for the ASR and for the investment they make, the purchase of BSI, we would perhaps today not have a sugar industry. We have to concede that in addition to purchasing the factory, ASR has made already an investment that increases capacity and plans to make an additional investment. We have to concede that in the current industrial relations climate, the people will pull back, and certainly Phase II of the expansion is not likely to take place, unless we can come to terms . It is in the interest of the farmers for all of that expansion to take place, especially in view of what is going to happen in 2017”.
The Prime Minister has undertaken to meet with both sides as soon as possible, accompanied by his deputy and the Minister for Agriculture, Gaspar Vega.