There was a brief re-signing ceremony this afternoon of a Memorandum of Understanding among the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers’ Association, the Belize Sugar Industries Limited, the Belize Sugar Control Board and the Government of Belize. Earlier this year, in August, the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association made a proposal to purchase majority interests in the B.S.I., and thereafter, its executive members went looking for potential financing in order that the deadline to pay ING the more than thirty million dollars was due by the end of this month. The B.S.C.F.A. executives met potential investors from two Central American countries and another from the US, but Honduras’ Banco Atlántida, another interested investor, was the name ringing for the past several weeks as the most poised to land the deal. But that idea was met by resistance by industry stakeholders. After today’s panel attached their signatures to the newest piece of agreement reached, Prime Minister Barrow, Chief Executive Officer of the BSI, Joey Montalvo, and President of the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers’ Association, Alfredo Ortega, shared the details and what it means, since ING had extended the deadline for its payment for twelve months, with conditions.

Prime Minister Dean Barrow
“Basically this was one of the conditions for their agreeing to extend their forbearance for another year. Another condition was that Government has to put back the repayment schedule of the $10 million loan that we had extended so the grace period, there is another year added to the grace period. What we are signing is an extension of the MOU that was signed last year, we are signing it for two reasons, because it was a good MOU and it produced the best crop in years but also because ING would not extend their forbearance except we were able to re-sign the MOU and except Government were able to push back the payment due on Government’s $10 million so basically is what has caused the re-signing to take place. I insist though that even if there had not been a formal re-signing, my understanding is that the industry partners were going to proceed for the upcoming crop year to operate on the same principles on which they operated last year which are the principles enshrined in the MOU. But to make assurance doubly sure and in order to satisfy ING so that the loan which would have been due day after tomorrow can be suspended, the calling in is at a standstill for a year, this was also necessary.”

Joey Montalvo – CEO, Belize Sugar Industries
“It gives us an opportunity to take off the crop, in addition to that we have Tate and Lyle Sugars with whom we are currently agreed for an amount of $7 million to be advanced to us as advanced money for sales of sugar for next year for us to be able take off the crop. In addition to that, we requested the government of Belize to extend the grace period for the repayment of the $10 million loan and that again also is a part of the request by ING for us to be able to get that extension.”

Meanwhile, as far as the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association is concerned, its Chairman Alfredo Ortega, said that the past year’s accomplishments and the commitment of farmers for this crop year promises to yield a favourable outcome this time.

Alfredo Ortega – Chairman, Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association
“In this coming year the farmers are really engaged to continue and to better off where we had some weaknesses in it. So we are to work towards these harvesting conditions that will grant us more opportunities in getting more value for our sugar cane. On the other hand the other question you asked, of course we are working very diligently to get the support, presently we have the support from a group and we are working very diligently to develop the plan because the plan will entail what would be the way forward for us within the industry, what would be the investment within the mill and at farm level. We are at that point right now developing that plan so that we can present. What we are looking for is a equal opportunity as other groups within the sector to move to the step, to the ladder where we want to go. We want to see a crop where it can flow very good for us, that we shouldn’t have any stops like we had this past crop of 23 days. Farmers are looking towards that goal, that we have a fluent crop that will enable us to deliver our product in time so that we can maintain a coordinated harvesting season.”

I think that certainly last year when we had the problem with the turbines and we had 23 days of downtime but even so, let bygones be bygones, we are ready to go and even we look to last year and analyse our factory time efficiency we need to improve both overall time efficiency as Mr. Ortega said organizing the harvesting and the delivery, the coordination of that to ensure that we maximise overall time efficiency and indeed ourselves factory efficiency for us to be able to get the cane through the mill.

Alfredo Ortega – Chairman, Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association
“This year the Association is investing $1 million in replanting, the farmers are doing their own and there is an ongoing program under the DFC program of $3 million that the Government has put available that many farmers are already engaged in loans in this program so there is a sound re-planting program at this point. We were able to distribute to farmers $2 million worth of fertilizers in February and farmers were able to distribute this fertilizer on their field so the investment has been there at field level and we are seeing a promising production for this coming crop.”

Prime Minister Barrow said that a new strategic investor must be found in order that the industry can continue to be viable and so that the Government can receive their repayment of their ten million-dollar loan. The panel at today’s signing included Hugo Pott from the Sugar Industry Control Board, President of the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association, Alfredo Ortega; Mr Novelo; and Deputy Prime Minister Gaspar Vega.