As we've reported, the sugar cane season turned out ok after all - even after a much-delayed start. But, sugar cane farmers still aren't happy; they scheduled a meeting with their association to discuss bagasse.

As we've told you, the agreement for amicable industrial relations ended, two weeks ago, and by that time, the cane farmers and the factory owners were supposed to have arrived at a signed agreement for a bagasse payment. That never happened, but the factory owners have since moved from a flat out no to an offer of 51 cents per tonne of sugar delivered.

The association's negotiating team took that offer to the membership yesterday, and 7News was there for that marathon 5 and a half hour meeting in San Roman, Corozal. Daniel Ortiz reports:

Daniel Ortiz reporting
910 cane farmers and their families gathered for their AGM, the first since the 2013/2014 crop season finished. One of the main items on the agenda was an update from the negotiating team on the bagasse dispute.

Their CEO briefed them on the offer currently on the table of 51 cents as a payment for a tonne of sugar delivered.

When it was time for the cane farmers to address their peers, the overwhelming sentiment was a resounding no to 51 cents for bagasse. They verbalized quite a bit of distrust for the factory owners.

Cane Farmer 1 (male)
"Ladies and Gentlemen, it's clear that BSI is not playing with us how it should be. BSI is lying to us; it is another. They lied to us when they told us that they were going to pay 16 dollar per tonne of sugar. They never fulfilled their promise."

Cane Farmer 2 (female)
"Let's not accept that 51 cents. That can only buy one egg, and if we have 6 children, how are we going to provide for all of them?" "And I would like to tell BSI, that I know he is a giant company, and he is chancing us cane farmers. He doesn't know that at 3 o'clock these men are already out, and the women. And that 51 cents can't even buy a soap to watch the shirt and the pants that the men dirty at the fields. Please try to give us a just payment for our bagasse, because you know that you are making money out of our bagasse. Mr. Carballo, I'd like you to know that we are not fools. We know what our bagasse is putting into all your pockets."

Cane Farmer 3 (Male)
"How does that saying go, (dog eat dog). Belizeans are walking all over the same Belizeans."

Cane Farmer 4 (Female)
"We will not accept that 51 cents. Let's stand up, men and women. We are many. Those people are eat us all. They are also eating our brains, because they know how to talk pretty."

Cane Farmer 5
"Why are the people so dumb? People, let me tell you something, if we continue the ignorance, or continue to arguing, or do too much, we will never reach to a point."

Some 50 minutes later, the cane farmers passed a motion asking their representatives to go back to BSI and continue negotiating for a better price. They had turned down BSI's offer of 51 cents for Bagasse.

Alfredo Ortega - Vice-Chair, COM, BSCFA
"The farmers didn't accept the 51 cents. What they have pass motion for is that we look forward to SICB to seek their intervention into this situation and for them to look forward for exports that will find a way or a solution to this situation where we are at this point."

"The farmers have set a deadline of October 15, what is that in relation to?"

Alfredo Ortega - Vice-Chair, COM, BSCFA
"It is in relation to this, so that we can finalize this situation by October 15th so that whenever the upcoming crop is about to come we don't have interruption and we should be clear out of this situation."

"What are you expecting SICB to play? Are they going to take the place of the association to make negotiations with BSI?"

Alfredo Ortega - Vice-Chair, COM, BSCFA
"As you know within the industry we have 3 stakeholders which is the cane farmers, BSI as the miller and SICB that represent the government, so whenever two of the three cannot solve their problem then comes the third one. In this case it is the SICB we are looking forward so that we can become like the referee between us."

The letter that BSI had written to the farmers giving them until August 1 to decide on 51 cents per tonne of sugar was perceived as, quote, "disrespectful".

Alfredo Ortega - Vice-Chair, COM, BSCFA
"From the very fact that the farmer's didn't accept the 51 cents that means that we are not accepting their deadlines. I think that it is total disrespect for them to come to say we give you a deadline until August 1st, if you accept this then we want to have a clarification that who is the owner of the product of this and what's not. I think that is why we are in negotiations and we should finalize our situation into a negotiation in which we have been asking from them from last year. We started our proposal to them from since 2012, but we started last year between them and us. I think putting a timeline as they have done is total disrespect. With the magnitude of this matter, I think that we need to be very clear and very frank and respectful to each other."

The farmers are looking for a better deal than 51 cents, but their current figure is nowhere close to what BSI is prepared to concede.

Alfredo Ortega - Vice-Chair, COM, BSCFA
"We have presented to the farmers a proposal. When we first made our proposal it was ten dollars and we demonstrated to them how is it that we reach to that ten dollars. There was a farmer that came out this morning and he said that he has made his own investigation and within his investigation he saw that the price would be in the vicinity of eight dollars per tonne. What we are looking forward and what the farmers are looking to is something above the 51 cents. We clearly know that we can get a better price than 51 cents, so that is where we are at this point. Farmers want a just payment for bagasse."

As you heard in our story, the farmers have given their negotiating team further instructions to go back to the negotiating table with BSI and try to bargain for a higher bagasse payment. They've given them until October 15 to come up with a signed agreement. The farmers also approved another $50,000 in their budget for negotiating expenses.

One criticism brought against the cane farmers is that they haven't been approaching these negotiations with the level of seriousness required to reach a realistic payment figure. Today, the Vice-Chair told us today that they're attempts at negotiating with BSI for a bagasse payment has been so real it is costing the farmers money - as much as 150 thousand dollars up to this point:

Alfredo Ortega - Vice-Chair, COM, BSCFA
"We have already invested in the vicinity of $130,000.00 into this year that has passed with the lawyer and our expert that we have. As you know it's an investment that the association is doing so that we can get benefit out of this bagasse. Its $130,000.00 that we have invested and we have ask the famers for $50,000 more to see what will happen in the future of the negotiations."

"When that October 15th comes and the SICB cannot come to an agreement and BSCFA, what action possible are you guys looking into?"

Alfredo Ortega - Vice-Chair, COM, BSCFA
"That is where this $50,000 will kick off if SICB don't want to work with us then the association need to kick over again and seek more experts so that we can find what the forward - a just payment for the bagasse."

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