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The People’s United Party northern caucus held a meeting in Trinidad Village in the Orange Walk South constituency on Saturday November 4th to discuss a number of important matters affecting the sugar industry, which is the lifeblood of our northern communities.

The leaders in the eight constituencies agreed to support three key resolutions which they believe will serve the best interest of the industry and in particular the cane farmers. Today we spoke to Orange Walk South area representative and Deputy Leader in the PUP Hon. Jose Abelardo Mai to learn more.

Screen_Shot_2017-11-06_at_7.58.45_PMHonourable Jose Abelardo Mai – Deputy Leader Orange Walk South Area Representative

“We firmly believe that farmers must be included in the details on how the marketing is carried out, there are three associations and we are entirely convinced that farmers representing thee associations along with people from ASR or Tate & Lyle whoever do the marketing must be included, the resolutions state that it must be legislated, it must be embedded into the sugar industry act just as it is in other countries that produce sugar and who have many small farmers like we have here in Belize is not something new, is not something that is out of the world it exist already it is only duplicating what other countries do and it seems to be working pretty well for them so if it works for them then we say it can work for Belize so that is what the resolution was saying that a marketing committee must be formed and must include farmers of the different associations, this we are saying that must be embedded in the sugar industry act so that is very important.”

The second resolution deals with the amount of sugar cane which ASR gets to plant every crop season. The PUP northern caucus says that in order for cane farmers to deliver all their cane, BSI will have to limit what they have on the fields.

Honourable Jose Abelardo Mai – Deputy Leader Orange Walk South Area Representative

We are saying that ASR yes should be planting sugar cane and the sky is not the limit, they should have limited production to ensure that the farmers’ sugarcane can be absorb by the mill, the more they plant the higher a possibility that a farmer not being able to deliver sugarcane so we are saying that a cap must be put on the production capacity of sugarcane by the CGP which is the agriculture section of BSI, we must also note that and I think that they have accused the PUP of opening the quota to BSI because it was the government who gave them that quota at the time and it was needed because the farmer was under producing they were not producing the amount of sugarcane to suffice the mill but it was necessary at the time to opened up the quota for BSI but the farmers has raised to the challenge they have produce more sugarcane, they have produce more than enough sugarcane and millions of dollars are lost when farmers cannot deliver their sugarcane so tis not something new that we are talking about so we are convinced that we must also tell ASR hey you can produce sugarcane once you are able to mill it if you can’t mill it please don’t produce more cane.”

The third resolution speaks to the stakeholders in the industry focusing on efficiency across the table to ensure that there is more profits to share. Hon. Mai indicated that at the top of the list of expenditures that need review is the local handling cost of $12m which is paid to transfer sugar from to the ships for export.

Honourable Jose Abelardo Mai – Deputy Leader Orange Walk South Area Representative

“We have all agreed, I think all stake holders including ASR, the government and the farmers that for the industry to survive we must have efficiency across the entire production chain, the farmers have to reduce their cost of production, hey have to raise their productivity from fifteen, to seventeen to twenty or thirty tons they must do that but also ASR must make a serious effort to try to reduce their cost of local handling which means moving the sugar from the mill by river to the bay and out into the sea cost almost twice the amount as ocean freight and I think ocean fright I think it is seven million and the local handling I think it was twelve million this is unacceptable we cannot continue to have that high cost of local handling we also believe that whilst ASR believes and knows and convinced that this is far too expensive they have made no effort to try to address this matter, whenever it is raised oh yes, yes we‘ve made a study, we know the study was made to see how we can transport sugar by other means but we are convinced that they have done no serious effort to try to reduce this and it could be because the company that owns the barges and the tug boat is also a subsidiary to ASR.  So I think we are being reasonable in putting forward these points and we are being reasonable, we are being realistic and I think that if we do these things we are going to be in a better position, we believe that the industry can survive but we must take necessary steps to ensure that, it does survive we can’t just wish for survival and do nothing about it so the farmers have a great role to play in organizing themselves in reducing their cost, the government has a critical role to play we cannot continue producing cane and at the cost of ten dollars of fuel we got a little subsidy which helps a lot but it is not enough we would want to do better when you look across the river and you hear that farmers are getting a hundred and ten dollars Belize equivalent price for sugar cane you are getting here sixty dollars, sixty two dollars it make you wonder just across the river fifteen minutes where I am they ae getting a hundred and ten dollars per ton and right here at sixty two dollars per ton when I have a huge cost of production compared to what they have over there so these are the questions that the farmers ask and we want to address it when we get into government of Belize.”

A date for the next sugar industry crop season has not been decided on by stakeholders, but while it approaches, there are a number of issues that are yet to be resolved among stakeholders.

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