Sugar cane season opens

The sugar mill at tower hill in Orange Walk began to grind after a long impasse that almost saw the collapse of the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association which set in motion a series of events that lead to the amendment of the Sugar Act in Conformity with an order of consent issued in 2010. Emanuel Pech was there for the opening and has this report.

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Emanuel Pech – Plus News

vlcsnap-2015-01-27-08h53m28s139“The first sugar cane trucks rolled into the BSI factory in Orange Walk shortly after 10 o clock this morning putting an end to the long impasse in the sugar industry.

The one behind the wheels of the first tractor to roll in was this man, Hermentino Coyoc Jr.,  a member of the BSCFA Orange Walk Branch. The smile he wore on his face today was enough to describe the general sentiment of the cañeros everywhere. And while the agreement signed under duress is still a bone of contention between the miller and the farmer, all parties have agreed to work collectively to ensure a successful harvest for the year 2015.

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.vlcsnap-2015-01-27-08h56m10s246Mac McLachlan – ASR International Advisor

“We’ve already had constructive discussions with all three associations round the table, and the mill, and I believe that’s the way this industry should move forward.  We should be talking to each other about our common challenges and what we want to try and achieve, making decisions together  and moving forward.   So I think it’s healthy.  I think it’s useful. 

Don’t forget, having  three associations is also a check on BSI.  It means that we need to be working in a constructive manner with all cane farmers, in order to move the process forward.  So far things have moved in the right direction and I don’t see any reason why that should change. 

Everybody wants to improve this industry and make it sustainable for the future. Those who don’t want to do that, well I don’t think there’s a place for them  in that discussion, moving forward.”

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vlcsnap-2015-01-27-09h13m39s230Alfredo Ortega – BSCFA, Orange Walk Branch

“Really and truly, we continue with our fight.  We are not in agreement with what transpired, but the majority have said that they are willing to work, and we have to work with it.  In the meantime we will continue the process  and we are law abiding citizens.

We are not here to create any mischief or whatsoever. We want our farmers to deliver their cane, because it is very important for the farmers to deliver the cane that they have, because many of us owe the banks and other institutions, so it is very important that we deliver.

We stand firm on what our thoughts are in regards to the agreement. We hope that one day that can be changed and things can be more beneficial to the farmers. That is what we are looking for, but in the meantime we’ll be working together with them,  so that all of us have the equal opportunity to deliver our material to the mill.”

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For cane farmer Wilfredo Magaña, of the Corozal Sugar Cane Producers Association (CSCPA), today’s opening of the harvest was almost dreamlike. He was at the forefront of the movement to have the Sugar Act amended, but had long given up after the Government failed to keep its end of the bargain in 2010.

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vlcsnap-2015-01-27-09h23m01s46Wilfredo Magaña – Corozal Sugar Cane Producers Association

“I’ll be honest with you. There was a point where I had really given up on it. In 2011/12, I kind of gave up.  I said I won’t revisit it.  The Court gave an order and I was expecting that that would have been done immediately.

At that time we had a very strong group, The United Cane Farmers Association, very, very strong, providing fertilizer and services  for our cane farmers.  But because at that point the law was not amended in its right time, we wouldn’t have to finance managing the group that we had, because it was a large group. 

But it’s never too late.  It came right within its own time.” 

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And now with three associations coming into the picture- namely The BSCFA, the CSCPA, and the Progressive Sugar Cane Producers Association (PSCPA)- it is up to Sugar Cane Production Committee to ensure that equity is maintained.

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vlcsnap-2015-01-27-09h38m52s81Jose Novelo – Chairman of  the SCPC

“66% of the cane, for instance, is with the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association.  18% is with the Progressive Cane Farmers Association, and 9% is with BSI.  So amongst these then, we are going to proportionately distribute  the delivery quota, so that at the end of the day. no-one can say we discriminated against this particular group or that particular group.  The SCPC is there to maintain fairness, to maintain equity, and to make sure that we remain responsible to everybody.”

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vlcsnap-2015-01-27-09h54m49s150John Gillett – Factory Manager for BSI

“We do have much more cane this year than last year, and we are starting now 42 days late, which is in fact 7 weeks.  At this time we should have had maybe over three hundred thousand tons milled already. So we don’t know what will be the weather conditions towards the latter part of the crop, but at this time it is safe to say that we will have some stand-over cane.”

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Jose Novelo

“God willing, and  towards May and June, if we have good weather conditions, including July, we will try to deliver as much cane as possible, because the projected estimate that we have out there in the fields is more like 1.45 million tone.  We cannot afford to have  much cane left in the fields.

So, repeating, God willing, we want to mill as much cane as possible.”

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The Plan going forward now is to engage in meaningful consultation with all stakeholders to develop  a strategic plan. This plan will ensure Belize remains competitive in the European Sugar Market, especially for year 2017 when European Beat Sugar is expected to introduced into Market.

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vlcsnap-2015-01-27-09h53m30s108Mac McLachlan

“I think, what we’d like to do is to get the debate moved forward, from division  and misinformation on to a point of where we coincide  around progressive ideas and thinking about the future.  I believe that one of the major elements of this agreement is, in fact, not what’s in it, but it’s the fact that attached to it is a commitment from all sides of the industry now to work on a strategic development plan for the future. 

I believe that once we all sit round a table and start talking about those different issues, the atmosphere will be a good one, a constructive one, and that we’ll be able to move forward together, look at what we need to do, address bottlenecks in the industry, and work together collectively to try and improve that situation for the future.”

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Jose Novelo

“2017 is a concern.  Why is 2017 a concern?  Because prices are likely to go down, and the only way to deal with lower prices is to have higher productivity, lower costs of production from our end  and, of course,  for BSI to also to lower production [costs] as much as possible, so that we can remain competitive and our farmers can stay in the market, whether there’s beet sugar in Europe, or whether there are other additives or sweeteners that are being placed in the market.”

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vlcsnap-2015-01-27-10h51m03s55Gabriel Martinez – Chairman of the Sugar Industry Control Board

“For us it is very important, because that will bring everyone to the table, and to seriously focus on the way forward.  We believe that the Sugar Industry Control Board will be again the body that will facilitate the process, to ensure that we discuss at length all the details, and start to prioritize what are the elements that need to be seriously considered by all, in order to move the industry forward.

There are issues of  quality, issues of infrastructure, [and] issues of expanding the factory.  All these will undoubtedly come out of the meetings and the Strategic Development Plan that we will start to look at very soon.”

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Emanuel Pech

“The white puff emitted from the factory’s chimney signaled to all within a 3 mile radius that the mill had been fed and that the grinders have kicked into high gear. The first tons of sugar is expected to be produced 18 hours after the first delivery. For Plus TV Emanuel Pech. “

The schedule for delivery is working on a 24 hour basis. The quota for Monday and Tuesday’s delivery is estimated at 6 thousand tons each. For Wednesday and Thursday the quota will be expanded to 7 thousand tons. The estimated quota for this year’s harvest season is 1 million and 50 thousand tons of sugar cane, however if the weather permits, the factory is hoping to mill more.
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