The recent announcement by Agriculture Minister Gaspar Vega that sugar production had already hit a record high—with production reportedly up by 32%—even before the season drew to a close may have suggested that cañeros would be “smiling all the way to the bank;” but representatives of the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association (BSCFA), the main organization representing thousands of cañeros in the north, told our newspaper today that whereas it is true that sugar production has hit a record high this year, roughly 80% of cañeros still have hundreds of tons of un-harvested cane, valued at tens of thousands of dollars, in their fields.
Alfredo Ortega, BSCFA’s Orange Walk branch chairman, told us that the Sugar Cane Production Committee (SCPC) is expected to conduct a survey to determine the extent of the un-harvested cane.
Jose Novelo, SCPC chairman, confirmed that they will embark upon that verification exercise sometime next week. He said that they will look at the amount of cane burnt and not harvested, the new acreage planted, as well as the “ratoon,” a word used in the industry for regrowth of harvested cane.
The SCPC had projected that cane production this year would reach 1.45 million tons, and Novelo said that when deliveries were halted on Sunday, cane received by the factory at Belize Sugar Industries totaled about 1.186 million tons.
Novelo said that this may be the most un-harvested cane they have had since the turbine at the factory broke about 3 to 4 years ago.
Ortega, a cañero himself, said that he has been able to deliver most of his cane, but an estimated 500 tons remain in his field. At $35 a ton, this has an estimated value of $17,500.
Javier Keme, chairman of the BSCFA’s finance committee and a cañero of Corozal, told us that he was unable to deliver 1,000 tons of cane out of his 1,300. This is valued at $35,000. Meanwhile, Lucilo Teck, a cañero of San Victor, Corozal, who accompanied Keme and Ortega today, said that he was unable to deliver 200 tons (valued at about $7,000) from what was a surplus amount produced this year. The BSCFA officials told us that preliminary estimates put the volume of undelivered sugar cane at 200,000 tons, valued at roughly $7 million – twice the amount of cane undelivered for last year.
We queried whether this was the usual reality for sugarcane to remain un-harvested at the end of the crop, and Ortega told us that it has been the case for the last three years, but this year, 2015, is the worst it has been for them.
The crop year was initially due to close last Wednesday, July 8, 2015, but after an appeal from cañeros and an intervention from Minister Vega, the Belize Sugar Industries conceded to allow the factory to remain open for 5 more days. Cañeros were lobbying for an extension to month-end; however, BSI has insisted that it has to remain on schedule to conduct factory maintenance in preparation for the next crop year, due to open in November.
As we reported last week, the 2014-2015 crop year opened more than a month behind schedule, because the cañeros and the factory were unable to reach an accord on their commercial agreement, which the company maintained had to be finalized before things could proceed.
The BSCFA officials say that apart from expanding the factory’s capacity to process more cane, which will not happen in time for next season, the only solution would be expanding the length of the crop year to allow more delivery of sugar cane and fewer losses to farmers.
Ortega went further to say that BSI should cease planting cane, so that cañeros, who expanded production on a promise from the factory that it would increase its processing capacity, could provide the quotas needed for production.
According to Novelo, the upcoming assessment will help them to plan for the next crop year, and to determine how much more sugarcane farmers need to replant and what management is needed in the field. The information, he said, may also affect the allocation of quotas, since, he said, there are some who are deemed cañeros who don’t really plant cane but who merely operate as brokers, and yet they get quotas to deliver. The verification exercise should help them “clean the system,” of such brokers, he indicated.
Novelo told us that a strategic development plan for the sugar industry is being developed through a collaborative effort by the Government of Belize, the cañeros and BSI. This plan, he said, should address some of the major issues, such as transportation, production, the coordination of delivery and sugarcane harvesting.
(The BSCFA officials closed their interview with us by extending condolences to the family of the late Kareem Clarke, as well as the Kremandala family, where he was employed up until the time of his murder.
Ortega lamented the loss of a person he described as “a very easygoing guy,” who, he said, always supported the movement and was always there encouraging them to move forward. “We lost a good asset to the gun violence that is ongoing in this City,” Ortega said.)
Official Record Numbers Released in Sugar Industry
Despite an almost two months delay in the start of the 2015 Sugar Cane Crop Season, this year’s harvest period has proven to be not only a good one but by far the best in the history of the sugar industry in Belize. Today the Sugar Industry Control Board released the official figures for this year’s crop which started on January 20. There was a high sense of uncertainty as farmers and the mill feared a rainy season would result in great losses. But after 24 weeks of harvesting the three main stakeholders in the industry are congratulating each for the best crop in the history of sugar production in Belize. Director of SIRDI, Marcos Osorio attributes the stupendous yield to several factors.
But despite the good news, there are reaping groups that have expressed dissatisfaction as there are a number of farmers who delivered less than half of their harvest; in some cases farmers were not able to deliver a stick of cane. Jose Novelo chairs the Sugar Cane Production Committee and told us they are currently gathering information to determine the exact amount of cane that remained standing and the plan to address the issue.
Novelo said that for future crop seasons SCPC will be monitoring individual reaping groups to ensure that all farmers get a fair chance to harvest at least 80 percent of their mature cane. It is hoped that by August, the Sugar Industry Management Information System, SIMIS, would be completed with precise data that indicates the actual quantity and location of cane in production. This will serve for better decision making by all stakeholders in the industry. Chairman of the Sugar Industry Control Board, Gabriel Martinez says that for next four months before the start of the next crop season the works doesn’t stop: as matter of fact it becomes more intense as all want to match or supersede the record breaking crop attained this year.
When the crop season closed on Sunday a total of 1,186,153 tons of sugar was delivered to the BSI factory. The two record breaking figures are the total amount of sugar produced which stands at 142,533 tons. The other figure is the lowest TCTS that is ton of cane needed to produce a ton of sugar which this year stands at 8.32.
La Zafra - the 2015 sugar cane crop was a challenging one - but at the end it was also a record breaking one. Today, ASR/BSI invited its partners - the cane farmers to review the year that was. We were there in Orange Walk for the final verdict and Jules Vasquez has the story:..
Jules Vasquez reporting
This morning at the Sugar Industry Crop in Review - it wasn't exactly a full house at the Muffles College Auditorium. But all the key players were there, the presidents of what are now three associations, sitting together with ASR/BSI- vested partners in a 7 year commercial agreement.
Elvis Canul, President - CSCPA "I can report that our association accomplished a little above 80% of the total production that we had estimated. We can also complement our cane farmers that we were 3rd in quality out of 19 test groups. So we have an association which is working with the quality program and that means more money for our cane farmers."
Abisur Loza- president PCPA "We are really glad and happy at the end of this sugar crop. Because we targeted and aimed in quality, in delivery we lost but we are still getting up there."
Jules Vasquez "Looking back at the season, it started out with all this division and it amounted in losses. But at the same time, that division is what gave birth to your association. How do you feel at the end of it? Is it a curse or a blessing?"
Elvis Canul, President - CSCPA "Well I see it as a plus. It has been gradually improving the competition level at the cane farming level. The team that heads the table is dynamic. We have different heads at the head table representing cane farmers."
Mac McLachlan, V.P. int'l relations - ASR "We've ended up producing not only more sugar but a lot more sugar than ever before in the history of the mill, so we've produced 142 thousand tonnes of sugar. The last record was 125 thousand and a lot of things worked out in the end. We had great quality cane coming in, there was no stop in delivery of that cane, brilliant factory efficiency."
Efficient BUT bittersweet for the sugar industry: sugar production was up to a record high, but deliveries were down - leaving many carners with cane in the fields:
Ezequiel Cano, President - BSCFA "It is a bit difficult to accept that a lot of cane stayed behind, and that is where our profits was."
Jules Vasquez "How many farmers were left out in the cold?"
Ezequiel Cano "The cane farmers who stayed at zero in the site of BSCFA is very small. There is not a huge number with zeros, but yes below 50% of them are deliveries. Yes there are many cane farmers."
Jules Vasquez "Is there any chance that some of these farmers will go underwater? Because they have their banking obligations, and family commitments, that some of them might have to say 'Mein I sold my field and cut my losses'."
Ezequiel Cano "Well that's the most difficult part that we are saying that maybe yes there will be cane farmers who will be in serious financial trouble. And up to now there is no help available for those cane farmers. That's the most difficult time for this part."
Jules Vasquez "Will any of the farmers have to go out of business or have to sell some of their assets maybe in order to keep up? Because we know they have obligations at the bank or credit union."
Abisur Loza- president PCPA "The truth for this year, I don't see the necessity of doing that because we are trying to get involved with other organizations to get some grants or try to help our farmers to survive."
Jules Vasquez "Some guys got left with cane in the fields."
Elvis Canul "Yes we do have a bit concern at this time, there is a process of reporting the stand-over that has been left in the field. And it's quite significant."
Jules Vasquez "Will some of your farmers be suffering losses?"
Elvis Canul "No, definitely the stand-over represents that there will be next weight for the next crop because it loses weight and sucrose contents. So we will see a decrease in quality for the first weeks in the crop for the next period."
Mac McLachlan, V.P. int'l relations - ASR "We were supposed to finish this crop on the 28th of June. The factory needs to be repaired, it's not built to be grinding wet Cain. We conceded to extend that by a week first of all and then following interventions by farmers and then the government, we agreed to a further five day extension, so I think we tried to do our very best to accommodate those who hadn't managed to deliver cane. I really think we need to look at the harvesting and delivery system."
And while the shortened season created losses, all parties have eyes on a challenging future:
Mac McLachlan "Rapidly falling world and EU sugar prices, which will have an impact on all industries in the world."
Abisur Loza- president PCPA "The queries that I have is for the next crop season, because we are being told that we will have a reduction of 30% in the price estimate. That is something that we all have to confront."
But, it will be confronted in partnership rather than as adversaries:
Jules Vasquez "Now I see you welcoming your various partners. Now these same people, these directors whom you are so cordial with at the start of the season, you all were at daggers drawn. They didn't trust you."
Mac McLachlan, V.P. int'l relations - ASR "We have a lot of things to discuss, we have a lot of issues to overcome. I think I would say one thing about this year is that we have a new focus which is our strategic development plan."