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CANE FARMERS SAY SUGAR IS SWEET…BUT PAYMENT IS SOUR !

CANE FARMERS SAY SUGAR IS SWEET…BUT PAYMENT IS SOUR !
July 27
10:55 2018
Reporter: Thursday, July 26, 2018 -

This week, cane farmers in Belize’s sugar belt received their second payment for cane delivered and sugar produced between December 2017 and July 2018, but what they took home was significantly less than what they expected.

The farmers received different amounts in payments per ton, and the average per ton this time around was $4.88. Depending on how good or bad the quality of the cane was from each farmer, he was paid as much as $6.41 or as low as $3.81 per ton. That is a far cry from the $36.02 per ton they received the last time they collected.

Communication and Government Affairs Officer with BSI, William Neal explained that the payments are made in percentages based on: global prices and quality of cane; and that the payments are broken down in three tranches: the production estimate that farmers give of the amount of cane they have in the field, the actual amount that is delivered, and the calculations based on how much sugar can be produced from the cane. He added that the farmers are also paid by percentages each time they collect.

“You’re given like 80 percent of that money (in the first payment). …Then what they do in the second payment, they look again at how much sugar was produced at the end of the crop and then you make an adjustment with your estimate and determine a payment based on that. This is now tied to relative quality, meaning how much sugar could be taken out from your cane,” explained Neal.

He said the farmers gave an estimate that 1.3 million tons of cane were in the fields, but the actual amount delivered was only 1.27 tons for the period they were paid.

Alfredo Ortega, Chairman of the Orange Walk Branch of the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association, says the payments are so low this time around that all 5,300 cane farmers who make up the different cane farmers’ associations in the north are affected. He said that production cost is one of the core areas that the BSCFA is zeroing on. That association, which represents over 3,000 of the farmers, had a meeting on Wednesday with its membership, after which it is now writing to Prime Minister Dean Barrow and to the Minister of Agriculture, Godwin Hulse and to BSI, seeking a meeting to discuss cost reduction. The cane farmers are also clamouring for better road infrastructure from the government, Ortega added.

The drop in payment has been the writing on the wall for years now with global sugar prices going down. It is the result of the competitive market value of sugar, especially because other countries now produce sugar using much cheaper technology and in greater amounts to drive down the production costs. Neal pointed out that the decrease is not confined to Belize and said that Belizean cane farmers are still being paid at a higher percentage (13 cents per pound) compared to their counterparts from other countries (11 cents per pound).

Meanwhile, as part of the government’s efforts to try and find other markets for Belizean sugar, earlier this month Prime Minister Dean Barrow explored the possibility within CARICOM to see if Belize could sell sugar in the region. There are countries close to home that produce sugar but not nearly enough to meet their growing demands, and that is where Belize could stand a chance to sell the product.

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