The Sugar Season, or "La Zafra" has started. The Crop Opening Ceremony was held this morning at the the Tower Hill Factory in Orange Walk. Now, usually the start of the season is an auspicious event - much anticipated - but this year, it is being met with some trepidation. That's because world sugar prices are tanking really badly. And so stakeholders are saying that in this time of challenge opportunities have to be seized:..
Gabriel Martinez - Chairman, BSI Control Board "This 2017, in particular, had been the year which we had been talking about as the year of truth. We all know that the prices in the EU market are not favoring our industry. So, we are ready to start our crop for 2017-2018."
Olivia Avilez- Cane Farmers Relations, ASR/BSI "For this Tower Hill milling facility this crop is a really special one as it marks the 50th crop season since it opened its gates in 1967 by then Premier George Cadle Price. As part of the ASR group, this now marks the 6th crop season. We are living in challenging times but one faced with opportunities. Communication and collaboration are key to solving the challenges ahead. An important step for the mill and farmers is that we have ensured our commercial agreement reaches its full maturity period of January 2022."
And while the commercial agreement is in place, the priority now is to get refined sugars into CARICOM. ASR's William Neal says the entire orientation of the sector has to shift to the Caribbean market:...
Belize is one of only four sugar producing countries remaining in CARICOM.
The production estimate for this crop is 1.37 million tons.
The new sugar crop got off to a good start this morning at Tower Hill where relations between millers and farmers seem to be on a good footing. A projected one million three hundred thousand tons of sugar are to be produced during the seven-month crop. News Five’s Duane Moody reports.
Duane Moody, Reporting
After a record season this past June, the new 2017-2018 sugar cane crop season was officially opened today. While there are a number of factors that can affect the productivity of the industry, Communications Director William Neal says that all associations have come on board for the commercial agreement, which will help to ensure the viability of the industry for the factory and farmers.
William Neal, Communications Director, ASR/B.S.I.
“What we try to do is to make sure that we are ready to respond very quickly and that we continue to work to increase efficiency and better our production on an annual basis. Last year was a record year in terms of sugar production and we are hoping that this year we will be able to better our production level than last year. Sugar production on an annual basis is depending on one, the weather; it’s dependent on what happens in the fields in terms of best practices; how good the farmers are in terms of maintaining best practices. What we do at the factory is that we do our part in terms of making sure that we are working on efficiencies, etc. But it is really a collaboration between the mill and the factory. If it is not done at the field level, then you can’t expect to get a good production at the factory level.”
The Sugar Industry Control Board is composed of the Sugar Cane Production Committee and the Sugar Industry Research and Development Industry. Chairman Gabriel Martinez says SICB has made concerted efforts and planning to appropriately assist our cane farmers in these areas.
Gabriel Martinez, Chairman, Sugar Industry Control Board
“For this crop, the SICB and its departments will be more aggressive in terms of assisting farmers with their harvest plans, variety selection and all the agriculture husbandry that it requires because the aim is productivity—to produce more in less space—so that we can have available space for potential diversification of other crops.”
There have been many upgrades to the mills and the facilities and Production Superintendent Nolberto Leiva says that they are more than prepared for deliveries to the factory. Most recently seam trials as well as repairs and equipment testing were successfully completed in anticipation of the new crop season. A total of seven thousand metric tons daily can be milled.
Nolberto Leiva, Production Superintendent, A.S.R./B.S.I.
“We embarked on a comprehensive maintenance out of crop repairs in both BELCOGEN and the factory plant, knowing the challenges that we were going to have with the phase one expansion for the DCS project that we have and also some improvements that were going to be done in areas of the milling plant and the power plant. Immediately after the season was completed we also continued with the water boiling program whereby we continue to generate electricity to sell to the national grid.”
“The areas in which farmers need most assistance and that is specifically to reduce cost of production—that is the key area—increase yield of fields where it can and maximize really what they can get out of products that they are producing.”
According to Martinez, the Government is likely to provide fuel subsidies to the cane farmers to cut costs in transportation and address the rehabilitation of sugar roads by the Ministry of Works. Duane Moody for News Five.
Another set of challenges for sugar cane farmers are those faced in the fields. Their cost of production continues to be high, farmers also have limited access to finance to make adequate investments in their crop, and there is also the issue of sugar roads which is an annual problem for producers.
Salvador Martin, Management Committee Chairman, BSCFA
“That is something that is damaging our cane farmers drastically right now. It’s hard to come out of the sugar roads and streets and it’s an extra expense and we know that the price that comes out right now it’s really hurting us as cane farmer.”
Gabriel Martinez, SICB Chairman
“We have been promised that work will commence very soon, the Ministry of Works I understand has initiated to do some work and that will be addressed very shortly, that is the information that I have up to now. So that should bring some alleviation in terms of cutting costs especially in the transportation sector of the farmers. It’s unfortunate that we can’t, well not all the feeder roads can be attended to because it’s quite an amount but some roads have been prioritized and I understand that those will be the roads that will be dealt with on a priority basis.”
The Sugar Industry remains to date one of Belize's premier industries. The back bone of the Belizean economy. But similar to many other industries in Belize, the sugar industry has faced its share of challenges over the years, and is expected to face many more as the prices of sugar in the preferential market are currently at an all-time low and are being projected to fall even lower in coming years. These problems though, did not dampen the celebratory spirits of Sugar Industry stakeholders who were present this morning for the official opening of the 2017/2018 Crop season at the gates of the Belize Sugar Industries Limited.
THE CANE SEASON HAS STARTED: THE SUGAR CANE AND THE NORTHERN MAYA OF BELIZE
The Sugar Cane was introduce in Northern Belize by the Yucatec Maya who fled Mexico during the devastating Yucatan Caste Wars of the 1840's. As the Maya fled to What would become Belize they moved to land already inhabited by a local Yucatec Maya group known as the Icaiché Maya. Also many of the Yucatec Maya rebel group known as the Cruzoob Maya came to Belize during and after the War.
As a result, the area has been the scene of bloody skirmishes between the Maya Masewal and European loggers and other settlers. After the Guerra Social Maya (Caste War) from 1847-1930's many Yucatec Maya in Northern Belize became Cane farmers. Sugar cane became the main income for the Yucatec Maya(Maya Mestizo) communities in northern Belize.
Best wishes to the Cane farmers for a fruitful crop.