Sugar cane farmers of the north continue to be anxious and overshadowed by a bitter sweet deadlock crisis in the sugar cane negotiations between the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association (BSCFA which represents over 5,000 plus cane farmers of the North) and the multinational company ASR/BSI.
Uncertain whether the Sugar Cane Crop Season will begin December 8th, cane farmers have been diligently seeking to negotiate and come to terms with ASR/BSI on a least the date for this crop (taking into account conditions of the rainy weather and proper access to their cane farms).
Though a breakthrough in coming together to the table occurred yesterday, no substantial agreement relating to the 3 points of contention has conceded. According to BSI's Belizario Carballo yesterday, both sides are clearer on the three major areas they have not been able to agree on.
It can take as little as 3 days from the signing of an agreement to commence delivery of crop.
BSI has asked for time to consult BSFA's recent proposal.
In an article written by CB Hyde titled “BSCFA on firm ground” he writes: “ASR/BSI, a serious business, tried a little play to break the ranks of the BSCFA, and failed. The BSCFA response, that they are ready, eager to bring their crop to market when the bell rings…has received loud applauses from every corner.
When the crop is ready in the field, it is time to harvest. Somewhere in Nelson Reed’s book on the Caste War, there is a story that the Mayas were on the verge of glorious victory, that the Spanish elite were surrounded and about to surrender or be slaughtered. But the rains had come. The flood flies were swarming from their saturated nests. It was time to plant the sacred corn.
Earlier it did appear that the BSCFA was threatening to hold back on the harvest. It is really their only bargaining chip. But two can play this game. The ASR/BSI can threaten to hold back on milling. To their favour they have not made overt threats. But insisting that the farmers sign a long-term agreement in which the bagasse situation has not been resolved is unfair.”
This Corozal Daily has always been firmly behind the BSCFA and its farmers in their present position and continues to greatly support the sugar industry as a crucial part of our country's economic growth. They cannot and should not sign a seven year agreement which they consider one sided, unfair. The “zafra” – crop must begin. Roll the sugar cane crop season now.
A brief history of the Sugar Industry in Belize by Rachel Campbell PhD, University of North Carolina, Greensboro. "The first Europeans landed in Belize in 1511 after being shipwrecked. It was not until the 1670’s, however, that the British were drawn to the forest for wood-cutting logwood and mahogany because of its profitable export value. By the 1860s, the British were trying their hand at sugar production in the colony, adapting methods from their other Crown holdings.
The New World sugar industry has a long and varied colonial history and its effect on settlement patterns, political economics, food ways and other cultural traits reverberate today. Belize has a successful sugar cane industry. The country relies heavily on its sugar and rum exports and the development of the sugar industry has played a pivotal role in Belize. This industry has evolved significantly since its early development in terms of ownership, labor and methods of production.
Because the primary economic activity throughout most of the post-1492 period has been agriculture, several previous industrial sites have been protected, especially some of the old sugar mills, boiling houses and the distilleries.
Sugar cane was introduced into the Corozal District in 1848 by Yucatan, Mexico immigrants and was grown in small amounts and molasses and sugar produced by animal-powered mills. The British arrived and were initially more concerned with wood cutting than with growing crops, but eventually, sugar cane became the crop of choice for future immigrants to Belize. The industry took root and grew with the arrival of the American expatriates during late 1860s and 1870s. By the late 1890s and early 1900s the East Indians, brought in as indentured laborers, achieved success by use of local and imported labor sources.
The role of the sugar industry in Belize has evolved over the years from its introduction by the Yucatan immigrants where it was being grown on a small scale, to becoming a main source of income via export. Sugar, a plant transfer, was embedded in the economic and social system and used as a tool of colonialism and/or imperialism during that period to maintain control and authority over the workers.
During the periods of sugar production and export by the expatriates from the American South after the Civil War, imported labor and indentured laborers for planting, harvesting and exporting the crop were used. This was complicated by the fact that Great Britain had freed the country’s enslaved Africans and they were part of the society of British Honduras, now Belize. For Americans who sided with the Confederacy and fled after its collapse, now entering a world where slavery had been abolished, one asks how would they handle the free African population and maintain their perceptions of control and authority? Also, how would subsequent East Indian migrants to Belize, regard their relationship to sugar, labor patterns and slavery?
Much of this rich history of Belize is still buried physically – many of these sugar mill remnants are either hidden and/or buried architectural features. Some historic mills (mill sites or mills with historic machinery), however, are still standing and can be investigated through archaeological work. There is a treasure of archival data awaiting analysis to provide a glimpse into the collective history for different time periods in Belize, specifically related to the evolution of the sugar industry and comprising major factors such as migration, labor, technology and tourism.
Two of the old mills that were still standing and I had the privilege of visiting were the Serpon and Lamanai Sugar Mills as well as the Tower Hill sugar factory and the Forest Home cemetery. Serpon is located near the Sittee River in Stann Creek County and is no longer in use but its remnants are visible. It was one of the older sugar mills that once helped produce enough sugar to contribute to the country’s economy. It was established in 1863, after being bought and run by William Bowman, and there was also the mill located on the other side of the river which was owned by Young, Toledo and Company between 1868 and 1874. They were steam-powered mills and both were abandoned in 1910 when sugar became a more profitable venture in the Corozal and Orange Walk districts. Due to its previous huge economic contributions, this sugar mill has played a role in putting Belize on the map in terms of sugar production and exports.
At the Serpon Sugar Mill, the site is well cared for with cut grass and a small hut that houses pictures and some history of the sugar mill on the inside along its walls. It is all cleared out and very close to the main road. However, it was located on one of the less popular roads in the country so a visitor will have to know what they are looking for to find it and is unlikely to be stumbled upon by accident. The Serpon Sugar Mill is at the southern end of the country toward Punta Gorda in the Toledo District, which was the area where the Americans settled and where many died and were buried.
Lamanai, meaning “submerged crocodile,” is located on the banks of the New River Lagoon in the village of Indian Church and is famous for its Maya temples and ceremonial centers. A twelve-minute walk from these magnificent sites reveals the remnants of an old British sugar mill location that also originated in the American/East Indian migration era dating back to AD 1860-1875. This mill location was selected for sugar production in the nineteenth century because it was close to the New River. There was also a cheap source of Mayan labor nearby, however, the Maya eventually rebelled and then when diseases began to affect the mill workers and owners they eventually abandoned the mill.
There is a road traveled by car after getting off the highway to get to the Lamanai center and it is also accessible by boat via the New River. Here information is distributed about the Maya temples and their histories. However, the old Lamanai sugar mill, a short walk away along a dirt road, is not readily advertised unless specifically inquired about. Remaining elements include the boiler and boiling house and evaporation tank amongst others. The mill was probably in operation for only 15 years because of its unstable brick foundation being unable to handle the amount of vibration stemming from the iron operations of the mill.
Today the Tower Hill Sugar Factory in Orange Walk is the only operating sugar mill in Belize. It is owned by ASR/Belize Sugar Industries, Ltd. and is supplied with cane by more than 5000 farmers, from an estimated 40,000 acres each year.
The Forest Home Cemetery is the main burial ground where many of the southern Americans that fought for the Confederacy are buried; because they preferred to “keep to themselves”, they had their own separate burial areas in the Toledo District. The cemetery is remaining evidence of the community that founded Forest Home (Camille, 1986). Others are also buried at the PG cemetery in Punta Gorda, Belize according to local belief by residents.
This study provided a glimpse into how this particular plant, sugar cane, has influenced the political, economic, geographical and cultural landscapes of Belize. This sugar history is similar in many ways yet so unique when compared to many Caribbean islands such as Trinidad and Tobago, my homeland, which is why I took interest in this particular study area and country. It also demonstrates how the colonization and plantation history of the country has been incorporated today through technological advances to promote the tourism industry and encourage not just the leisure seekers, but the more culturally-inclined tourist to Belize".
Power to the sugar cane farmers in the struggle!!