The Belize Times of Sunday November 9, 2008 featured an article on page 26 entitled “London BSI Complains to PM about Cane Farmers” [below]. There are several inaccuracies and accusations in the article that I felt compelled to respond to, since all stakeholders must be made to know the real facts surrounding the crisis which is presently threatening the sugar industry in our country.
Firstly, there is no such thing as a “London BSI”. There is a Belizean BSI; 90% owned by Belizean interests. This has been so since the first Esquivel Administration signed an agreement with Tate and Lyle in 1985 to transfer the majority ownership of Belize Sugar Industries to Belizeans. To subtly suggest that there is a big white benefactor out there in London with a bulging bank account willing and able to bail out BSI is total mendacity. I am of the opinion that the writer of the Belize Times article is keenly aware of this, but chooses to ignore it, or intentionally hide it from the people whom he is trying to convince with his article. There must be an agenda in this article.
Then we see the light. The article then proceeds to attack the Hon. Nemencio Acosta, an elected UDP area representative appointed by the Prime Minister to chair the Sugar Industry Control Board (SICB). The writer suggests that BSI is acting “sinister” since the Hon. Acosta is rumored to be “seen meeting with Executives of BSI”.
As far as anyone is concerned, the Chairman of the SICB was charged with ensuring the growth and development of the entire sugar industry, and to properly address inefficiencies in any of the sectors, be it factory or field. The attack against Hon. Acosta should not be taken lightly, and the writer is hiding behind the politics of numbers in the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association (BSCFA) to vent some past personal frustration or disappointment with the Government.
The writer is most likely a representative of the previous government on the SICB, probably appointed by Florencio Marin, and still keeping to the directives of the latter in an attempt to embarrass Hon. Acosta. This is the same type of situation we are witnessing with a high ranking CEO of the BSCFA, whose appointment it is understood was strongly supported by Vildo Marin and is now towing his line by discriminating against farmers who are not of his political inclination. That is what triggered a member of the United Cane Farmers Association (UCFA) to publish a letter condemning the CEO for turning a blind eye to this type of practice.
The demagoguery displayed by the Belize Times writer is again made manifest as he tries to pander to the emotions of the farmers by attacking the managers at BSI. He completely misses the boat by ignoring the real problems facing the industry: quantity and quality of sugar cane. If those two issues are not addressed with urgency, we will soon not be here arguing about whose fault it is. What should be of concern to our Northern Ministers is the fact that the writer makes reference to a letter allegedly sent to the Prime Minister. He is apparently using privileged information to create chaos in an already delicate situation.
Our sugar industry is in crisis. If the writer’s interests are selfless, then we should all be searching for solutions instead of stroking our own bruised egos. In part 2, we will talk about the PUP-supported Carlos Magaña and the manner in which he is disbursing the Fairtrade money.
November 09, 2008
London BSI Complains to PM About Cane Farmers
A number of important issues surrounding the present and future status of the Sugar Industry have been constantly arising over the past months.
On September 5th 2008, Barry Newton, Chairman of the Board, BSI wrote a lengthy letter to Prime Minister Dean Barrow entitled “The Challenge to Accelerate Industry Reforms.” Newton, in the opening paragraph of his letter complains to the Prime Minister that although Hurricane Dean caused damage to the sugar cane fields the greatest problem was the extremely low quality of cane delivered to the mills which led to the factory grinding 25% more cane to produce one ton of sugar. He states that poor organization of harvesting and cane delivery is what attributed to the poor quality.
Newton continues to say that due to a lack of commitment and organization throughout the crop, the mill was out of cane for 578 hours while slow deliveries resulted in factory slow down leading to significant underutilization of the mill.
In his letter to the Prime Minister, Barry Newton explains that the cane growing sector and BSI are “inextricably bound together” and hence both parties must move along together in their commitment to the Adaptation Strategy. He explained that both farmers and BSI will suffer from the 36% cut which will be fully felt in October 2009. He explained that BSI is becoming frustrated due to a lack of urgency on behalf of the cane farmers to undertake the reform measures. Newton goes on to accuse the members of the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association (BSCFA) of obstructing progress, “Indeed there is evidence that there are elements in BSCFA which are not committed to the reforms and are obstructing progress.”
Newton announced that BSI’s cane growing operation will be expanding from 75,000 tons to 175,000 tons. “These plans include contracting out field services to a group of Mennonites who have the required resources.” Ironically enough, BSI has recently invested millions of dollars in new machinery, land clearing and cultivating equipment. Yet they will contract out field services?
While it is important to note that the BSCFA has not been moving expediently to implement reform measures to mitigate the effects of the 36% cut in sugar prices which will affect the industry significantly; in his letter Newton makes no mention of revenue sharing with farmers on the Co- generation Project. While Newton’s letter is blasting the performance of the local sugar cane producers, on the other hand BSI is denying the farmers CO- GEN’s revenue.
It is now clearly understood that sugar cane farmers need to adapt to the changes brought about by globalization. There is little future in the Sugar Industry if corrective reform measures are not taken into serious consideration. Farmers believe that BSI’s position on the delayed reform on behalf of the BSCFA is genuine; however, BSI’s greatest concern is strictly to safeguard their interests. Information gathered from informal conversations among farmers and senior BSI personnel is that BSI has no immediate intention of sharing CO-GEN’s revenue. BSI can be seen moving quickly forward with the Cogeneration project securing additional revenues from farmer’s fiber, while cane farmers and the BSCFA are still struggling to understand the concept of reform. Most recently there has been a serious movement by farmers to seek ways to accelerate the reform process. At the last two general meetings farmers have been entrenched in serious discussions regarding reform and have mandated that the BSCFA take the lead in the process. It is reported that a reform plan will be revealed at the next AGM to be held in Corozal shortly. As a part of the reform and improvement plan onlookers believe that since BSI and Farmers are “inextricably bound” the least that BSI could do is to consider sharing CO-GEN’s revenue.
Internally, and while it is fact that the BSCFA wrote a letter to the Government requesting that the Chairman of the Belize Sugar Cane Board Hon. Nemencio Acosta be removed; Barry Newton, in his letter indicated that the company is supporting Acosta’s stay on the board. Farmers and outsiders view this as a sinister move on behalf of BSI. Never before has BSI defended the position of the Chairman of the Sugar Board. This is simply due to the perception that the Chairman of the Board is always viewed as “farmer sensitive and farmer inclined.” The fact that BSI’s expatriate, Newton is defending Hon. Acosta has caused eyebrows to be raised and heads to turn. Rumors are that Acosta has been seen meeting with BSI Executives a number of times, though it is not certain in what capacity. Farmers are speculating that he has been seeking BSI’s support in exchange for one-sided arbitration.
In the closing paragraph of his three and a half page letter to the Prime Minister, Newton states, “ It is my intention to challenge FAIRTRADE, and Tate and Lyle on the management of the very important structural support." Newton also believes that the FAIRTRADE funds have not been used for priority areas, hence his challenge. He ends his letter by saying that FAIRTRADE funds were conditionally awarded to Belize for field improvements which would benefit BSI indirectly. With this defaulting, he believes that BSI employees equally deserve.
Among the trend of events of continuous internal and external struggles within the sugar industry farmers learned today that third payments for the sugar cane crop 2007- 2008 will not be issued by BSI on the second Monday of November of the current year, as is agreed between BSI and the Cane Farmers Association. In a letter addressed to the chairman of the Committee of Management, BSI stated that payments may be made to farmers on the 17th of November if they are liquid enough. Farmers are in awe!
The iniquities of the industry; while BSI Executives live luxurious lives and drink expensive wines, drive in fancy cars, their children attend universities and their spouses engage in expensive hobbies, the farmers suffer in silence; waiting and waiting for his seven dollars and small change bonus to feed his family.
Yet Barry Newton blames the farmers!!!