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#477302 - 11/13/13 10:17 AM Cane Farmers Say Things Could Get “Nasty”
Marty Offline
For weeks, we've been following the commercial dispute between BSI and the Cane Farmers Association. The farmers want to get paid for bagasse - which is a by-product of sugar production that is now being used as bio fuel to generate electricity in a BSI subsidiary, BELCOGEN. In a statement yesterday, BSI told the farmers "no", not gonna happen, the cane bought from the farmers, plus they are the ones who invested in BELCOGEN. Sounds like the end of conversation, but this week, the farmers are making the rounds urging BSI to enter into talks before things get, in the farmers' words, "nasty." They told the media what that means today based on the mandate the Association has gotten from farmers in Orange Walk and Corozal:

Alfredo Ortega, Vice President - Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association
"The mandate is that we won't start crop is we don't sign any agreement with BSI and in the agreement it has to include bagasse in it. We are asking and calling on BSI to come and let us dialogue because it is not only the cane farmers that will lose, it will be the industry as whole. We are calling on them to come and let us negotiate. I Think the answer that they have given is no, they will not be sharing with us, I think that is a real slap to the face of the farmers."

"What would make things go nasty?"

Alfredo Ortega
"What can cause this to go nasty is that they have been preaching that the mill will be ready to start operations on the 25th of November. The farmers have said if there is no signing at that point in time we won't be starting crop. that's why we are calling on BSI and all the people involved to come and let us negotiate on the table so that we can end out with a peaceful and beneficial negotiation."

Oscar Alonzo, CEO - BSCFA
"The only time we will be able to liberate ourselves from these multinationals that come and down trod and trample our farmers is when we stand up. Farmers have shown that they are able to stand up. When they tried to impose the core sampler on them they stood up and they lost one life. There has to be sacrifices sometimes in order to enable your conditions to improve. We do not want to go to violence, we are not advocating that. That's why you see we are trying this approach. Let us settle this thing as business men."

Geovanni Brackett, reporter
"Are you willing to block the road? Are you willing to protest, strike...?"

Oscar Alonzo, CEO - BSCFA
"We are willing to protest. We are not saying block the roads. There are different forms and ways you can protest."

Jules Vasquez
"You all are putting your foot down now right?"

Oscar Alonzo, CEO - BSCFA
"We are not putting our foot down, we are extending a hand. We are saying look come let us sit down together."

BSI's statement yesterday said that for 30 years, it alone financed the cost of the storage and disposal of bagasse, and then it "designed, planned, financed, built, commissioned, managed and operated BELCOGEN at a cost of $130 million Belize dollars. BSI concludes, quote, "It is not reasonable…for the (Cane Farmers) to expect a return where it has made no investment," end quote. BSI concludes that commercial relationships…are governed by law and BSI has no obligation to share in any way the revenues from BELCOGEN.

The cane farmers agree, but add that nothing is free, and BSI, or BELCOGEN must pay for the bagasse input because it has a value:...

Alfredo Ortega, Vice President - Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association
"We don't have to invest within the plan. We are investing with the product, with the raw material. It is our cane that is producing sugar, molasses and now bio-fuel."

Oscar Alonzo, CEO - BSCFA
"We say now that it is now time to include the factor of bagasse in the determination of a fair price. All we are saying pay us for the raw material. We don't want a part of the return they are making, that is theirs. Any investor deserves to have its return. Any investor should take into account the cost of raw material; the cost of material then has a price, it is not free and we have seen it now in their accounts that they have really put a price to it. If you are saying this bagasse is trash and free, how come now it has price for them within their inter-company accounts and so on? We have proposed to them that they pay us $10 per ton of cane for the bagasse; $10 is our opening price. Let see what is your counter proposal, how much that you think you should pay us?"

The farmers say that BSI sent them a letter yesterday inviting them to a meeting on November 19 in Belize City where they can discuss and negotiate everything except bagasse. The farmers say they first requested a meeting in late September, principally to discuss bagasse.

Channel 7

#477583 - 11/16/13 10:20 AM Re: Cane Farmers Say Things Could Get “Nasty” [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline
The Claim for Payment for Bagasse
by Belize Sugar Industries Limited (BSI)

BSI believes that it is in the interests of the parties and stakeholders that communications on this issue be conducted between the parties rather than by back and forth through the media. The Belize Sugar Cane Farmers’ Association (BSCFA) has however taken to the airwaves to seek to paint BSI as unfair or that its own cause is morally right and therefore BSI makes this statement to briefly bring certain points to the attention of the public.

As BSI has stated to the BSCFA in a recent letter – the Company buys sugar cane from the farmers and the farmers sell the cane to BSI. The cane purchased and delivered to the sugar mill includes: sugar, water, fiber (bagasse), mud, etc. The cane becomes BSI’s property, responsibility and risk. This is confirmed by the long standing historical position that BSI alone (i) undertook and financed the cost of the storage and disposal of bagasse, (ii) was responsible for and had to manage the environmental challenges of the storage and disposal of bagasse, (iii) faced and dealt with the risk of claims and liability for the storage and disposal of bagasse both in respect of possible statutory liability and regulation and private claims. For the 30 years prior to 2010 BSI dealt with the bagasse and its disposal at substantial cost, amounting to approximately BZ$20 million without any contribution from the BSCFA. As requested, BSI has submitted details of this expenditure to the BSCFA.

Further, BSI conceived the idea of the building of a power generation plant as a means to dispose of the bagasse. Accordingly, the Company created a subsidiary company (Belcogen) and designed, planned, financed (through equity and loans), built, commissioned, managed and operated the co-generation plant that would supply the sugar mill with all its steam and electricity requirements and supply electricity to Belize Electricity Limited (BEL). This Project started as far back as 2001 and the commercial sale of electricity commenced on 31 December 2009. The capital investment to realize the Belcogen project amounted to BZ$130 million and represents one of the largest private sector investments to date in the history of Belize. No contributions from the BSCFA were made or offered with respect to this significant investment. The financial commitments were undertaken, the projections were made, and the sale price for the

electricity was negotiated with BEL in the context that there was neither any contribution nor participation by the BSCFA.

It is not reasonable or just for the BSCFA to expect a return where it has made no investment. Nevertheless, the disposal of the bagasse through the co-generation plant benefits the overall sugar processing operations and therefore all sugar cane farmers. The investment in the Belcogen plant is evidence of BSI’s commitment to taking the lead in securing the long-term viability of the sugar industry in Belize and has served as a catalyst for industry development, which should provide confidence to farmers of a future in cane farming.

ASR Group is keenly interested in and committed to a strong sugar industry in Belize, but the way to accomplish this is not by taking a return from one stakeholder’s investment and giving it to another stakeholder. It is by finding ways to increase the overall return for all stakeholders. This requires investment. To this end ASR Group has invested heavily in BSI, including in the cogeneration plant, to improve the efficiency of the mill and expand its capacity. These actions benefit not only the mill but also the cane growers. The BSCFA could do the same by investing in its farms to increase their productivity.

Besides its Mill and Power Plant investments, ASR Group intends to contribute to provide extension services and technical and infrastructure support to the industry, which will benefit cane farmers directly. The sugar cane extension services and technical support would be provided through the Sugar Industry Research and Development Institute (SIRDI) and the infrastructure assistance would be in the form of in-kind direct programs, aimed specifically at improving the sugar roads and drainage infrastructure.

ASR Group has also devoted significant resources towards obtaining funding to support further investment in the sugar industry of Belize, which if obtained would benefit all stakeholders.

Commercial relationships and operations are governed by law and there is no legal obligation on the part of the Company (or Belcogen) to share in any way the proceeds of the sale of electricity to BEL.

BSI and ASR hope that all stakeholders will move forward in a constructive manner to realize the true potential of the sugar industry in Belize and, to this end, BSI has sent a letter to the BSCFA suggesting a date for a meeting to advance discussions on a new

agreement and to discuss the implementation of the extension services and technical support to be provided as outlined above. Discussions with the BSCFA to date on a new agreement have resulted in tentative agreement on substantial matters. A new agreement can therefore be finalized (with such changes as are mutually agreed) and signed separate from the bagasse issue.

#477942 - 11/21/13 10:06 AM Re: Cane Farmers Say Things Could Get “Nasty” [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

Crop Season in jeopardy, cane farmers stand firm on threat of strike
Five thousand three hundred sugar cane farmers from the Orange Walk and Corozal Districts are determined to go on strike as early as this coming Monday, November twenty-fifth. That is [...]

Will the mills at B.S.I. be churning with no sugar cane to grind?
But did the BSCFA miss an ideal opportunity to sit at the negotiating table? As we told you, a meeting was set for Tuesday, Garifuna Settlement Day. At the meeting [...]

Deputy Prime Minister meets with B.S.I. and A.S.R. to diffuse tension in sugar industry
Executives from the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association were purposely absent from a meeting on Garifuna Settlement Day. With the clock ticking, this afternoon, C.E.O. Joey Montalvo of B.S.I. and [...]

Vega asks for B.S.I. and BSCFA to come back to discussion table
As we said, the BSCFA has threatened that it will not make deliveries at Monday’s start of the next crop season if its request to receive a percentage of the [...]

Are farmers entitled to part of the proceeds from the sale of bagasse?
Tonight’s question is: Do you believe farmers are entitled to part of the proceeds from the sale of bagasse? Send your comments and responses using your SMART phones to 8686 [...]

#478137 - 11/23/13 10:03 AM Re: Cane Farmers Say Things Could Get “Nasty” [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

Deputy PM Meets With Cane Farmers: Will There Be A Strike?

On Wednesday, 7News told you about meeting between the executives of the ASR Group and the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association which didn't happen because the BSI did not agree to the agenda which the cane farmers wanted.

As we told you, both parties are deadlocked on the bagasse issue, and with the open of the next sugar season only a few weeks away, the negotiations to a renewed commercial agreement have been tense. To denote the importance of finding a resolution, senior ASR executives flew into the country to meet with the Cane farmers, but because they couldn't agree on the importance that the agenda should put on the bagasse issue, the association boycotted by not attending.

Since then, the Minister of Agriculture and Deputy Prime Minister, Gaspar Vega, has been hard at work trying to convince both sides to schedule to resume negotiations. On Wednesday, he met with ASR and today at the Sugar Industries Control Board in Orange Walk, he had a 2-hour sit down with cane farmers. 7News was there when the meeting ended, and we spoke to Vega about the progress - if any - he had made:

Hon. Gaspar Vega, Deputy Prime Minister
"It was a very cordial meeting, everybody was very respectful, honest, and sincere and I think they were very straight to the point. The cane farmers are consistent in their position that they will not start a crop unless they finalize some agreement regarding the bagasse. My plea to them is to go back to the table. I am going to get in touch with ASR/BSI for them to come back and meet them and to see what kind of compromise they can reach."

Daniel Ortiz
"Can you give us a response, having met with both sides how tangible is that new meeting scheduling at this point?"

Hon. Gaspar Vega, Deputy Prime Minister
"I am certain that both parties recognized the importance of some type of agreement because neither BSI and exist without the cane farmers or the cane farmers can exist without BSI."

Daniel Ortiz
"At this time can you tell us about what the reaction has been from ASR that BSCFA did not attend that meeting that they flew in for? These are senior executives who had to reschedule their time just to come to Belize and they were kind of snubbed because of this boycott that BSCFA launched."

Hon. Gaspar Vega, Deputy Prime Minister
"It is natural, they were disappointed. I am certain that they had expected the leaders of the Cane Farmers Association to meet with them that's why Mr. Lima along with two other senior executive members from ASR came down for that meeting, it didn't occur. I believe that both parties have to recognized that they are strong on their position and they cannot just decide that well, we won't do anything about it because of not we won't have a crop - we won't have an industry and both parties have a lot to lose, so therefore I am certain that they will have to meet. I am of the opinion that they will meet."

"I wish I could tell ASR that they have to pay the cane farmers or if the possibility was there that I could tell the cane farmers that they will have to cut their cane. We cannot do either one. All we are hoping and asking them is to stay sober and whatever decision they take is to be mature on their decision. They have committed that definitely whatever decision they make - if they decide that will not deliver cane they are not asking for demonstration, they are not asking for confrontation - the cane farmers will stay in their homes and that's how they are going to show their dissatisfaction."

So, what do the cane farmers have to say about the meeting with the Deputy Prime Minister? Well, today when we spoke to Alfredo Ortega, the Vice-Chairman of BSCFA's Committee of Management, he told us that the cane farmers are mindful of the harm they will do if they choose not to deliver their sugar cane, and they want to engage in meaningful negotiations on the bagasse issue:

Alfredo Ortega, Vice President - Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association
"As you know we had a meeting with the Deputy Prime Minister and our plea to him was to intervene in regards to this situation that we are presently having with BSI. What we ask from him is that we want his intervention so that we can finalize this negotiation with BSI."

Mike Rudon, reporter
"And his response?"

Alfredo Ortega, Vice President - Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association
"He said that he will call on BSI so that we can restart the negotiation again. He didn't compromise that he can tell BSI what to pay us or how to pay us, but he compromise himself that he will call BSI to come to the table and let us dialogue."

"Any date set for that?"

Alfredo Ortega, Vice President - Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association
"No, a date was not set, but we told him that we would want this to be very near because as you know we are almost reaching the month of December and we want to be prepared, so when the time permits that everything has been cleared and then we can agree upon a start for the crop."

On Sunday, BSCFA will hold a meeting with its general membership to consult with them about how far the situation has progressed, and how they will treat certain proposals from ASR when that second meeting is scheduled.

Channel 7

#478503 - 11/27/13 09:54 AM Re: Cane Farmers Say Things Could Get “Nasty” [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

BSI Takes To Media To Communicate Directly To Cane Farmers

December 15th. - that's when the Tower Hill Factory started taking delivery of cane in 2011, and that's also the deadline for 2013 - the absolute latest that the cane season can be opened without risking major losses to the industry and all the stakeholders.

That's three weeks away - time that is needed to fix the cane roads after unusually heavy rains. But more importantly, that three weeks is needed to mend relations between the BSI Factory owners, which is American Sugar Refinery, or ASR - and the cane farmers. The two aren't talking right now, the Cane Farmers are refusing to meet with BSI executives until they agree to a meeting which will be held to negotiate a price for bagasse. That's a conversation BSI isn't even thinking about having, because they say bagasse is a waste product, which has a price of zero.

And so today, BSI executives -who usually shy away from public engagements, held a press conference to try and get their message through to the cane farmers and the public. Jules Vasquez was there:

Ricardo Lima, ASR - Executive Vice President
"We are a private company. We are not use to airing our differences in the media. We are used to sitting down professionally, business-like and negotiate. Everything is negotiable if there if good intent. I ask the farmers to consider coming back to the table (BSCFA), to start the crop weather permitting for the betterment of everyone."

Jules Vasquez reporting
But the Cane Farmers have refused to come to the table - refusing even a meeting today - so ASR and BSI today had to take it to the media - making a quite simple case, the bagasse is waste, and it is their waste:

Arsenio Burgos, Chairman, BSI Board
"Farmers sell the sugarcane to BSI; the sugar, the water, the fiber, mud and all. The sugarcane is then the property and responsibility of BSI. BSI spent 20 million over the last 30 years for such storage and disposal and continues to bear the cost. BSCFA would never have entertained such costs."

But now, they say the cane farmers want money for that which is not theirs and has no value:

Jules Vasquez
"The farmers are requesting (and this is either Mr. Lima or Mr. Montalvo) $10 per ton. As far as I have heard so far it seems that any amount per ton you all believe is non-negotiable and so if they are making this request is that in your estimation greed on their part?"

Ricardo Lima, ASR - Executive Vice President
"Really to put a value of $10, $15 or $20 is really not the issue. The issue is that it really does not have a value."

But the farmers say it does have a value, as an input in the BELCOGEN plant. That is the subject under some dispute based on the interpretation of a clause in a 1989 commercial agreement:

Adele Ramos, Amandala
"It says that the sharing of revenue arising from the sale of any bi-product not covered in their present agreement will be subject to future discussions and the sharing of revenue will be based on the results of those discussions. Could you clarify for us what was envisioned at this time that this clause was put into effect?"

Joey Montalvo, CEO - BSI
"This is where we are having the fundamental dispute - the definition of bi-product. Hence the fundamental problem that the claim with respect for bagasse."

Arsenio Burgos, Chairman, BSI Board
"BSI's position is that the revenue from electricity sale cannot be described as a sale of a bi-product and that the source of the revenue is really a productive way of what BSI has been doing all the years on its own - disposal of the bagasse."

And while both sides differ fundamentally and possibly irreconcilably on that point, BSI is inviting them to the table:

Ricardo Lima, ASR - Executive Vice President
"Actually as recent as yesterday we invited them to another meeting while we were here. We were ready to move our trip back to Wednesday so that we could meet with them this afternoon. They apparently haven't said anything but they denied that they won't want to show up for the meeting. It's difficult to come to an agreement with another if we don't talk. We are open to negotiations. We are very logical people, we know the industry quite well, we want to move forward in a constructive way."

But, the strategy seems to be to engage the farmers on a subject which ASR and BSI feel ultimately can only end up in court:

Arsenio Burgos, Chairman, BSI Board
"Since there is a fundamental disagreement between the parties then the proper place to determine the dispute is in the courts."

Ricardo Lima, ASR - Executive Vice President
"Going back to the table, negotiations is the way to go. We can reach an agreement on the commercial agreement and continue to agree to disagree on the bagasse as we have mentioned and they continue the avenue of the courts and there will be a crop. I think that's the prudent thing to do. I think it's a logical thing to do. It's a business-like thing to do and it's the humane thing to do for 35,000 families members out there."

They say that the latest the season can start is by mid-December:

Joey Montalvo, CEO - BSI
"If we have a late start it means that the crop is delayed. We could get into a rainy weather towards the end. All be it right now we have a situation even if we didn't have this problem, we would not be able to start even if we mutually agreed (both the BSI and the BSCFA) on a start date, we couldn't because of the road conditions. The earliest that we would see would be perhaps in our estimate about the middle of December."

And if it doesn't start, they say a whole lot more than bagasse money stands to be lost:

Ricardo Lima, ASR - Executive Vice President
"Its 3-4 years that it takes to recover from something like this, so it's huge. I am not sure that there is understanding of how grave this problem is and I want to stress that."

Arsenio Burgos, Chairman, BSI Board
"If instead the disposition is for strive and force then this does not speak well for the investment climate. Ladies and gentlemen, the damage that this can quietly inflict on the interest of the nation on a whole is untold. The BSCFA's position that they will not start crop unless and until a payment for bagasse is agreed to in unreasonable - will hurt farmers, will damage the sugar industry and the national interest of Belize."

Ricardo Lima, ASR - Executive Vice President
"A delayed crop will also send a wrong message to our customers in Europe, basically that neither BSI nor Belize will say reliable source of sugar supply. We hope that happens in the next few weeks is that common sense, good intent takes over and what he hope is that deliveries take place. We hope that the crop starts soon as possible, as soon as the weather allows it."

Hope and hardlines hardly match though, and to realize that wish, one of the sides will have to surrender something, and quick - or risk losing a lot more.

Ricardo Lima, ASR - Executive Vice President
"What is going to happen? I don't know what's going to happen because its two parties here and as the saying goes "it takes two to tango.""

Of note is that ASR had hosted executives from the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association in Florida where they spent a week familiarizing themselves with ASR's operations at one of its refineries. Lima says he thought a good relationship had been forged there, but concluded today, quote, "obviously, I was wrong."

Channel 7

#478894 - 12/03/13 09:26 AM Re: Cane Farmers Say Things Could Get “Nasty” [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

Sugar Talks Continue, PM Mediating

We are 13 days away from December 15th, which experts say is the latest possible date for the start of a cane season without major losses. And tonight, we still don't know if there will be a season. The Prime Minister met with the cane farmers this morning at the Biltmore Best Western in Belize City. The meeting started at 10:00, and it featured about 12 executives and senior members of the Belize Sugar cane Farmers Association on one side, with Prime Minister Barrow, Deputy Gaspar Vega and other senior staffers from the Ministry of Agriculture on the other. But, the sides weren't really necessary because they both agree on the fundamental principle that farmers should get paid for bagasse because it has a value. But they do differ on how the farmers should negotiate for that value. Here's what they told us when they came out of the meeting:..

Prime Minister Dean Barrow
"We had already indicated to their local agents that we want such a meeting. Mr. Montalvo said, because of the thanksgiving holiday, he was not able to get in touch with the central authorities. He would have an answer for me by close of day today, as to how soon that meeting can take place. We will take to ASR the position which we had in fact stated at the press conference in which we repeated to the farmers today and see if on that basis we can bring the 2 sides together for face to face negotiations."

Jules Vasquez
"Is there room to negotiate? Will we have a season starting on December 15th?"

Prime Minister Dean Barrow
"I don't know. It depends on how far we get with ASR."

Jules Vasquez
"Have the farmers indicated that they are prepared as you urge them to relinquish (not hold the season hostage) for this bagasse demand?"

Prime Minister Dean Barrow
"They've said that their willingness to start, that there is a desire to start, but that whether they actually start will depend on what happens between ASR and the government at the meeting we are trying to arrange."

Alfredo Ortega, Vice President - Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association
"Once more the Prime Minister reiterated his position as he did when he did his press conference that he fully supported the farmers in regards to the issue we have with the bagasse and he reiterated it along with his minister he have with him, so he is saying that we have the full support of the Government of Belize in our regard."

Jules Vasquez
"You've been in meetings with BSI over time, you think they will now bend knowing that both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition are saying that the bagasse have value for which you all have to be compensated."

Alfredo Ortega, Vice President - Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association
"That is our hope because now they will be feeling the weight of the government of Belize with the Prime Minister. We hope that the Prime Minister and the Government of Belize had a convincing argument with them."

Jules Vasquez
"Are you all prepared to start the season while still having this dispute in which the government supports you? Are you all prepared to say let's start the season and we continue to work towards receiving money for bagasse?"

Alfredo Ortega
"Not at this point. At this point what we are looking for is to have a commitment from ASR/BSI."

Mike Rudon, reporter
"Just to clarify the position, if ASR does not come with what amounts to some sort of olive branch agreement, that they will pay something, then the decision of the farmers to delay the crop stays the same?"

Alfredo Ortega
"That is the mandate that we have from the farmers and if anything would change, the farmers would have to approve any change on that. We cannot change that."

And while they differ on the bargaining tactics and the standoff - they also differ on another fundamental issue: the sore subject of the cane roads. Those roads have to be whipped into shape before the season starts so that the farmers can get their cane out. The responsibility falls to government, but the Prime Minister repeated to the farmers today, that if they aren't serious, he cannot prioritize their roads:..

Jules Vasquez
"When will you all start working on the cane roads?"

Prime Minister Dean Barrow
"Not yet, I have said and I repeated it, I can't start working until I know whether there is going to be a crop."

"The Opposition has criticized that position by the government saying that it's your responsibility to fix the roads not withstanding what's happening."

Prime Minister Dean Barrow
"It's my responsibility to fix all the roads in the country and I've indicated it's a matter of prioritization. There are people in Toledo who can't get out of their villages. There is only a certain amount of money that can be dispersed immediately. There is only a certain amount of work that can be done immediately. This would be a priority, but if there is not going to be a crop then you can understand why I will assign the priority elsewhere."

Alfredo Ortega, Vice President - Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association
"I think that there is not only the cane farmers that live in the North, it's not only us that use the roads. We have other farmers in other areas; the papaya industry, we have vegetable farmers, the Mennonites and we have the students that need the roads. I think that it is very important regardless of what happen with us cane farmers and BSI that the road should be fixed."

Today's meeting only lasted about an hour and ten minutes. Even with the PM recovering from spine surgery, that's especially short for the cane farmers who are known to hold all day meetings like they're sipping a cup of tea. But today's meeting came to an abrupt end when a bomb scare was called into the Biltmore at around 11:00. We asked Ortega about it:..

"The bomb threat, tell us about that?"

Alfredo Ortega, Vice President - Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association
"That is what we were told. That's why the meeting didn't finalize as we expected, but at least we went through the main core of our queries and they went up and say that there was a bomb threat and we had to evacuate the building."

"Any suspicions as to that bomb threat?"

Alfredo Ortega, Vice President - Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association
"I really don't know. It was told to the Prime Minister and he passed on the message to us and he told us that we need to evacuate the building because of the bomb threat."

"And the fact that you notice no one else was evacuated."

Alfredo Ortega, Vice President - Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association
"It's very funny because they said that each and every one had to evacuate the building."

Channel 7

#479388 - 12/10/13 09:54 AM Re: Cane Farmers Say Things Could Get “Nasty” [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

PM Mediates in BSI/ASR/Cane Farmers Dispute; Still No Resolution

The uncertainty hanging over the start of the 2013 sugar season continues tonight, and there is no clear resolution in sight, even with the intervention of the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister. As we've told you the cane farmers want to be paid for bagasse, but BSI says that it is a waste product with no value, so, the farmers are not entitled to payment for it.

With those hardlines laid down, the farmers are threatening to refuse to deliver cane so that the season can start in a week's time. To try and stave off the disaster which this would create, Prime Minister Dean Barrow and Deputy Prime Minister Gaspar Vega have been meeting with both sides to try to convince them to commence negotiations on the issue, but so far, they haven't met.

Today, trying to act as mediator, Prime Minister Barrow met with the representatives of ASR at the Radisson to explain their position on the matter. As, we've told you, Barrow supports the cane farmers on their claim, but disagrees with their negotiating method.

He presented the position of the farmers and his Government at this meeting, which lasted for about 1 hour and a half. Afterward, he came out and told the media that even though both sides realize that this disagreement has gone on long enough, they are still a ways off from a resolution:

Prime Minister Dean Barrow
"We've put our position to ASR. They will now reflect on that, consult among themselves and give us an answer in the shortest possible time, without actually saying tomorrow or the day after. They said they will get back to us in the shortest possible time."

Mike Rudon, reporter Ch. 5
"Sir, is ASR still sticking to its positions that bagasse is not a bi-product of sugarcane?"

Prime Minister Dean Barrow
"They will give us an answer on our position and you know what our position is. So, until they give us that answer, I can't say what the mindset is. They have listened to us, we had a frank discussion, but I don't even know if those that are here can make the decision on their own. I believe there are other principals with whom they must speak before they give a final answer."

"Have they given a timeline as to when?"

Prime Minister Dean Barrow
"That's what I've said, as soon as possible, but they haven't said tomorrow. Both sides have agreed that it has to be sooner rather later. Times are wasting and we need for the crop to start. We need to begin to fix the road, so they are well aware of that. It is in their interest to give us that answer as quick as possible. We have no doubt that they will do that."

Daniel Ortiz
"Everyone knows that it's best for everyone that it starts December 15th, latest."

Prime Minister Dean Barrow
"I'm not sure about December 15th, if you talk to the experts, people like the Deputy and Minister Pat who is a cane farmer. They will tell you that it may be a vein hope. The experts will tell you about sucrose content and what the weather conditions have done. So, I don't think December 15th...."

"This is a high level meeting and you said that they didn't send people who seem to make a decision..."

Prime Minister Dean Barrow
"ASR is a global company, the people that are here are extremely high level, but I don't think that they can make the decision without the input of perhaps the rest of their board. There are other principals. If there are 10 key people, they couldn't send the whole ten. So they need to consult with other principals that are just as high ranking as they are."

"After they've sent the position on the bagasse issue, will there be a meeting with you again with their representatives?"

Prime Minister Dean Barrow
"It depends on what they say, there will certainly have to be another meeting between us and the farmers because I will have to convey the ASR position to the farmers in order, depending on what that position is in order for there to be any possibility on starting the crop. So I am afraid it is a bit of a complicated dance, there are several steps, but we just have to proceed, we just have to press on."

"Is this what you expected PM?"

Prime Minister Dean Barrow
"We knew that their negotiators would have to refer back to the larger grouping, so we did not expect an answer today. There is no disappointment yet."

After the meeting, the ASR representatives were very reluctant to speak with us about the issue, but we did manage to get a brief comment from ASR's Vice President of Technical Services:

Daniel Ortiz
"Can we ask you for an interview sir?"

Ricardo Lima, Vice President, ASR
"We continue to try to find ways to bring the farmers back to the table. That basically what I wanted to say."

"Have you send another email to them, to the president of the association?"

Ricardo Lima, Vice President, ASR
"Not yet."

So, that's how the situation looks, there are at least 2 more meetings which need to take place, and as we've told you, experts say that December 15, which is this coming Sunday, is the latest the crop season can start without major losses. We'll keep following the situation.

Channel 7

#480046 - 12/17/13 10:13 AM Re: Cane Farmers Say Things Could Get “Nasty” [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

Cane Farmers Say BSI Must Sign to Bagasse Agreement Or “No Season!”

This weekend, Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association hosted an emergency general meeting to ask the farmers if they agree to the compromise hammered out by Prime Minister Dean Barrow.

As we told you last week, Barrow got BSI/ASR to change its position somewhat, agreeing in principle that the farmers should be paid for bagasse.

Still, there's no happily ever after, because there are still many sticking points in the letter BSI sent to the PM.

That letter was taken to the emergency meeting yesterday at Escuela Secundaria Tecnica Mexico in San Roman Village, Corozal, and 7news attended. Daniel Ortiz got a chance to gauge the reactions of the farmers; here's his report.

FILE: December 11, 2013
Hon. Dean Barrow
"We are preparing to start the negotiation between the BSCFA and B.S.I., which negotiations will proceed on the basis that the payment of which bagasse is due, but that of course quantum must be agreed."

Daniel Ortiz reporting
But while an agreement for payment in principle sounds good, the mandate coming from the cane farmers at yesterday's emergency general meeting is that BSI must sign a binding contract saying that they will make a payment for bagasse, or else.

Daniel Ortiz
"Will the farmers deliver the cane based on today's meeting, will that happen?"

Alfredo Ortega - Vice-Chair: BSCFA
"Deliveries will happen once and for all we sign a bargaining agreement with BSI that yes they will be paying the farmers for the bagasse. Then once we can sign that and we have that as a binding agreement then we can negotiate for the start of a new crop. If there is no signing of anything that will bind that yes there will be a payment for the farmers, because yes they have accepted right now, but what they have accepted is a letter sent to the Prime Minister not to us (BSCFA), so when we meet with them in our negotiation - that is something that the farmers has placed on our shoulders again. They have reiterated once more that for any other issue that needs to be dealt with in regards to a start of crop, we need to have a signed commitment between BSI and BSCFA that a payment will be done for bagasse."

Daniel Ortiz
"You suspect that this issue, this binding agreement based on the change in position and from the intervention of the Prime Minister that that binding agreement will be just a formality at the next meeting. Do you truly believe that?"

Alfredo Ortega
"We hope that that will happen because if that doesn't happen, we have a mandate from the farmers and we have to respect the mandate of the farmers. The mandate of the farmers is what we will be signing to the Prime Minister, so that he will have this dialogue with BSI people, so that we can meet."

And so, while they try to work out the dispute about the bagasse, there are two immediate issues with the letter addressed to Prime Minister Barrow. The farmers don't agree with the point number 2.

Their interpretation is that BSI is trying to block any discussion about future bi-products which could emerge from sugar cane, apart from those already known to be profitable.

Alfredo Ortega
"In regards to point #2 where t says "payment would finally resolve payment for bi-product under the memorandum of agreement." We quite well understand where they want to go in that area that this should be the final and they have it clear in the letter that once they pay us for the bagasse that should be the final for asking for any payment for any other bi-product."

"The interpretation is that BSI wants that once and for all once we agree on a price for the bagasse that that should be the final request for the farmers for any other bi-product that can generate economic value. This is the areas as how they have mentioned in two different press releases that they took out that the cane brings a bundle of things. They mentioned in their press release that the cane comes with water, sugar, molasses, mud, fiber and they said etcetera. That means that the cane comes with different thing and those are the things that we are looking forward that in the event there is another product apart from the three that we are negotiating with them that can generate economic value that farmers should participate also. Those are the areas that they are saying no, they don't want to talk anymore about that."

The next issue is point number 3, to "clarify ownership of cane and all its components upon delivery to the mill" They say that there is no need to clarify ownership; the farmers own the cane, even after it is delivered.?

Alfredo Ortega
"They want to negotiate with us to see the ownership in regards to the sugarcane once it's received by the mill and that's another area that the farmers say no because they are not buying cane from us. As you have heard even in the press conference that BSI had and in different press release that they took out, they say that they buy the cane from the farmers, so they are the owners of whatsoever comes form that cane. We as farmers are saying no, they are not buying cane from us because we share the risks, the losses. The farmers are saying that they are not buying our cane that they are just supplying you with the cane and they (BSI) are paying us. Now, if you want to continue with that same system then we as farmers should put price on our cane instead of BSI pricing our cane."

Daniel Ortiz
"That's a huge point of contention. How do you think they will received that difference of opinion there?"

Alfredo Ortega
"I cannot say on their part. I am speaking as vice chairman of the association on behalf of the farmers. What will be BSI's reaction, I don't know. We will see it whenever we meet on the roundtable."

The cane farmers have a proposed date for parties to meet on Thursday. One of the resolutions at yesterday's meeting is that the farmers are expecting a favourable negotiation, and if that doesn't happen, then the cane deliveries won't start.

Later, we'll have more from the sugar belt as we take you into a cane field to show you how water logged it is.

Sugar Season Can’t Start!: Cane Fields Are Waterlogged

At the top of our newscast, we showed you the latest coming out of this weekend's general meeting on the ongoing bagasse dispute. The reality is, however, that even if there was not an impasse between the factory owners and the cane farmers, they couldn't start the crop season - even if they wanted to!

And that's because of the rain. In November alone, Orange Walk and Corozal experienced rainfall that was almost 200 percent more than the 30 year average. That's like the difference between one cup and three cups!

This weekend, we also got an opportunity to see first-hand the damage that the rains have caused to this year's crop. Daniel Ortiz has that story:

Daniel Ortiz reporting
These fully mature stalks of cane look ready to harvest and deliver to the mill to be grounded for sugar extraction. But the truth is that they are nowhere near ready. The cane has been saturated for weeks on end, soaking up all the flood waters from the rains over the last few months. Because of this, they don't meet the standards set for sucrose purity, and if they were to be delivered now, the farmers would be operating at a loss.

Leocaido Javier Keme, Cane Farmer
"Obviously, these canes have been under stressed absorbing water from weeks I could say and even though you can see the cane has the height it looks as if it is ready, but if you test it, if will give you maybe 65%-70% of purity. Even though it looks ready for harvest - in other areas this would be ready for harvest."

Javier Blanco - Chemist Representing Cane Farmers
"Close to 70% of the content of the cane itself is part water, so in a humid environment, when we have a lot of rain the cane by nature absorbs water that is in the ground and if there is a lot of water then that sugar that is inside the stalk itself is diluted and it means that farmers is going to be transporting much more water during these rainy season and the content of sugar in itself is diluted. In that sense more cane is going to be used to get 1 ton of sugar."

How much is that loss? Well the chemist says that they will have to grind 50% more cane to get the same sugar content they would have gotten if the sucrose purity were up to the standards. That's a major waste for the farmers.

Javier Blanco - Chemist Representing Cane Farmers
"For example, we have done evaluations throughout the entire region and we have done a calculation of the theoretical sugar that we should be getting if in case we have been harvesting. It is very close to 16 tons of cane to 1 ton of sugar. That means that we were expecting 10 tons of cane to 1 ton of sugar - a TCTS of 10 going to 5 that means 5 more. Doing a direct ration and proportion to the price we have - it would represent that more or less instead of $72 for these tons that we have. If we would go to harvest, it will represent close to $48. Farmers are going to be operating in a sense of loss because weather conditions would cost much more the harvesting of that same tonnage and plus they are going to take out less sugar in that same tonnage."

Another challenge for the farmers are very poor conditions of the sugar roads. These roads, like the rest of the country, have been taking a beating from the excessive rains.

It's dangerous to try to cross over them, and if they try to come through with heavy equipment, they will get worse. The farmers are hoping that Government fixes them sometime soon.

Leocaido Javier Keme, Cane Farmer
"As you can see, you can take a good look on the sugar roads; these are the feeder roads that connect - bring the cane from to farm to the main roads. These sugar roads are in deplorable conditions. It is very difficult, it's really under water right now and it will really take a good 2-3 weeks so that we can work - to say that we can take out some product from there."

Prime Minister Dean Barrow has said that he will make paving the sugar roads a priority if the farmers agree to deliver the cane.

The farmers say that Government should act no matter what happens with the bagasse dispute because when it is settled, the road works will slow the cane delivery.

Leocaido Javier Keme, Cane Farmer
"It is very important: 1.) because we have to acknowledge that it cannot be done in 1, 2 or 3 days. It will take weeks, so it is very important that it is address as soon as the weather can permit in one or two days of sun dry that they can work. They should take good advantage of that opportunity. Because as you can see the weather is not promising that that it's going to be sunny to let the work be done."

And while that's the advice for Prime Minister, the chemist also had advice for the farmers. He said that there needs to be deadline to start, no matter what the challenges are, or their investment will be at risk.

Javier Blanco - Chemist Representing Cane Farmers
"At the end of December to beginning to January regardless of weather conditions in a sense, we need to start the crop because it means that the crop itself will be extended and it will go into the rainy seasons."

Ideally, the farmers want to deliver cane that has a sucrose purity of 81%. That would allow them to grind 10 tonnes of cane to produce 1 tonne of sugar. It is forecasted that with that purity, the 1.15 million tonnes of cane could be milled to produce 115,000 tonnes of sugar for 2014. Tests will be done later this week to determine how close the sucrose levels are to that 81%.

Channel 7

#480450 - 12/20/13 11:27 PM Re: Cane Farmers Say Things Could Get “Nasty” [Re: Marty]
Short Offline
Cañeros to BSI: pay for bagasse by January, or else!
December 20, 2013 at 3:06 pm

By Aaron Humes
Freelance Reporter

The members of the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association have decided on their own set of demands to give American Sugar Refining at an emergency meeting held Sunday.
The farmers agreed that the crop would start on an agreed-upon date, provided only that the farmers get a signed and legally binding agreement, with the input of the Government and that such negotiations be finalized by the end of January.
The association, with well over a thousand members in attendance, also reasserted that BSI must commit to a payment, the nature of which must be discussed.
The farmers also rejected ASR’s position that the issue must finally be resolved; they insisted that they initially own the cane which they supply to the mill, and refused to let that be a topic of the new cane supply agreement.
The farmers’ emboldened position follows last week’s announcement that ASR/BSI have communicated, via a letter to Prime Minister Dean Barrow, that they are willing to now discuss a payment for bagasse, a cane by-product that is used as bio-fuel to produce electricity that is subsequently sold to Belize Electricity Limited.
BSI’s Chief Executive Officer Joey Montalvo wrote to Barrow that the company would consider paying for bagasse, “and agrees to negotiate this issue with BSCFA.”
The letter further demands that this new set negotiations should “finally resolve the issue of payment for by-products under the Memorandum of Understand.”
BSI expressed that it would like to establish a new Cane Purchase Agreement that would “(i) clarify ownership of cane, all of its components and delivery to the mill; (ii) incorporate the bagasse payment and (iii) incorporate an agreement on the other pending commercial matters already discussed.”
Pending agreement, BSI proposes, “The crop will start on an agreed date and proceed without interruption to completion.”
BSI added that the negotiation for the bagasse should occur concurrently with the crop.
BSI also asked that “[a]ny negotiation will not be deemed to prejudice either party’s legal position.”
Speaking to the media after Sunday’s meeting, Vice-President of the Association’s Committee of Management Alfredo Ortega said, “Well, as you see, there are certain things that they (BSI) are trying to manipulate…I can strongly say that we are not the same association as 10 years ago.
“We have now changed. We have technical people with us and we are dealing with this as professional as they are.”
That change was demonstrated in the often lively debate accompanying each point raised in the BSI letter.
Already annoyed that BSI chose to write the Prime Minister rather than the Association directly, the caneros were not about to tolerate further disrespect.
They considered that BSI was trying to stall and shift the discussion more to their liking, citing the demand that the farmers give up their right under the Memorandum of Understanding signed in 1989 to negotiate payment for by-products found to have economic value, and attempts by the producer to dictate to the farmers who owns the sugar cane and how it would be handled from here on in.
A meeting was planned for this week, but according to Ortega the mandate from the farmers to their negotiators is that they must have a legally binding agreement on the table to review before any date for the start of crop is discussed.
Matters are complicated by the unpredictable weather, which has scuttled any thought of crop starting in this month because sugar roads in the North are impassable.
The back and forth between the association and the company dates back to late October, when the BSCFA executive walked out of a meeting with ASR/BSI, when the company had objected to discussing any payment for bagasse.

The Reporter
Live and let live

#481719 - 01/04/14 10:15 AM Re: Cane Farmers Say Things Could Get “Nasty” [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

Cane Farmers Want GOB To Agree To MOU And Enforce It On BSI

It's January 2014, and the cane season still hasn't started; what's worse is no one can say for sure when or if it will start. A part of the reason is the heavy rains since August, but the largest part of it is the still simmering dispute over bagasse.

The latest timetable says that the season must start on January 15, but once again, the stalemate between the cane farmers and the factory owners continues, so the season may not begin on that date.

The latest disagreement between both sides is that BSI wants to negotiate with the farmers on a payment for bagasse, but the farmers want them to put it in writing that a payment will be made before any meaningful negotiations can begin.

That fairly fundamental difference led to today where the branch chairmen of the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association met to discuss the latest letter to the association from BSI on New Year's Eve.

They also discussed an MOU that is in the works to be presented to the Prime Minister; the BSFCA says it is beneficial to all parties and we asked them to discuss it with us after that meeting. Here's what the Vice-Chairman of the Committee of Management told us:

Alfredo Ortega - Vice-Chair: BSCFA
"We had a meeting today to look up on the letter that BSI had sent us on the 31st of December and to take a decision on it today."

Mike Rudon - Reporter, Ch 5
"What came out of that?"

Alfredo Ortega - Vice-Chair: BSCFA
"We will be sending a letter to BSI today this afternoon to hold a meeting with them between Monday of next week."

Daniel Ortiz
"We were made to understand that you guys have drafted an MOU. Is that in the works or has that happened?"

Alfredo Ortega - Vice-Chair: BSCFA
"The lawyer is working on it. We sent it yesterday to the Prime Minister indicating to him that we would want to have a meeting with him where we can sign an MOU between BSCFA, BSI and the Government of Belize and the lawyer is working on that presently."

"We are looking forward in something that transpired in 2010 when BSI was in financial problems when we were called to sign an MOU together, so that they can get the 10 million dollars from the Government. We are seeking something favorable in that same regard."

Daniel Ortiz
"How hopeful are you guys that the Prime Minister will support or endorse this MOU that you have in the works to prepare?"

Alfredo Ortega - Vice-Chair: BSCFA
"When we met with the Prime Minister in the two different occasions, he said that whenever we are unable to reach to a dialogue with BSI that he will be ready to jump into the picture and to have something clear where we can both agree upon."

Daniel Ortiz
"Sir, can I ask you a couple of points that BSI has presented? I know the strongest point that they have made heard is the fact that they feel as if though the cane farmers are trying to strong arm them. Do you guys believe or have you guys considered that aspect of their argument; that they feel as if though you weren't giving them any legroom for negotiation even though you are asking for a negotiation."

Alfredo Ortega - Vice-Chair: BSCFA
"No, I think we have asked from the very beginning, from since December when we send our letter since we started negotiations in July. We started in July because they were the ones that brought the dates way down to that to start negotiations. We have always been open with them to come to the table and let us negotiate."

"What we are looking for is something that really demonstrates that yes there would be a payment for bagasse. The thing with them is that they are coming with only discussions; coming around and beating around the bush. We want something that is frank and that is clear that demonstrate that yes this will happen."

Daniel Ortiz
"BSI/ASR has said that that is too much of a request that the farmers are requesting. How reasonable is it to expect that the Prime Minister will endorse that if BSI has already said look, the cane farmers are pushing this issue too far. We can't commit this into writing because we give up our right to negotiate on this matter?"

Alfredo Ortega - Vice-Chair: BSCFA
"Look, when we were called in 2010 to go and be part of the round table to negotiate so that BSI can get the 10 million dollars that they were asking the government as a relief on their situation that they had, they didn't come with all these sorts of things. We were there and we negotiated in good faith and we were able to sign along with them so that they can be able to get that help."

"What we are looking for is that the Prime Minister is the Prime Minister of the nation, he is the Prime Minister of Belize and what we asking from him is that he should be taking care of us the cane farmers as any other Belizean in the country. We are not asking for anything out of the government pocket. What we are asking is something that is being a benefit to BSI and we are asking a share out of that because they are using our bagasse."

This evening, 7News contacted Prime Minister Dean Barrow for a comment, but up until news time, he had not responded.

The BSFCA will propose that they meet with BSI next week, after which, they will return to their general membership to report to them on the updates. No one is sure how long discussion on this new development will take, but Ortega told the media today that he isn't confident that they will meet the January 15 deadline.

Channel 7


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