Saturday, February 7, 2009

Sugar export crop in Belize is DEAD!

cutting cane in Belize
Sugar Factory in Northern Belize

There was a bunch of articles on the sugar industry this weekend in the different newspapers, representing different details. The question that comes to mind, is who really owns the sugar industry?

Perhaps we should re-phrase that? Who CONTROLS the sugar industry? While BSI and the Cane Farmers Association, local citizens are supposed to be the owners of the FACTORY and their individual crops of sugar cane, it became apparent from reading the research in the weekend newspaper media articles, that the local sugar industry is not their own master. In fact, the sugar industry of Belize is very much still a colonial operation. Despite having some different markets for their sugar production. The major buyer is still TATE and LYLE an Irish company selling to the UK and European buyers and by the BUYERS RULES.

The recent squabble over the quality control machinery in the shape of the CORE SAMPLER, was based on erratic readings of sugar cane quality from samples, sometimes within the same truck, or with sugar cane from the same patch of fields, treated when growing exactly the same way. The cane farmers were dissatisfied with the quality control readings by the core sampler machine, which effected about 20% of the growers with low readings. Other researchers accused some farmers, about 20% of them of stuffing the weight of their trucks with trash cane using the sale of cane by weight loads. It seems more fair to pay by weight than by quality of sucrose, because of the limitations of the delivery and processing system at the factory? Trucks nowadays carry between 20 and 30 tonnes to the factory in one load. The trucks today are mostly 12 wheelers, bigger than before. Payment is stated to be around $40 a ton. Poor quality sucrose by this core sampler machine readings, dropped a load payment to as low as $26 a ton. I have to confess, I do not know what the difference is between good cane and trash cane taken from the same field?

As Lord Ashcroft has shown the public of Belize. It is not who owns local industries, but who CONTROLS the local industries. In the case of BTL it is done by votes and the Board of Directors to establish CONTROL, and disbursements of dividends, or consultancy contracts, management dispersements, etc. The government of Belize actually had to cancel taxes on PROFITS of BTL, because the profit figures were not deemed to be accurate and much of the revenue was believed to be skimmed using imaginative accountancy. So the GOB actually placed a tax on revenue instead of profits, in order to overcome the suspected machinations of imaginative bookkeeping, beyond their expertise to decipher. In the case of the BSI factory and the Sugar Cane Farmers, it is the contract holders ( buyers ) of the majority of the crop of sugar that is produced, who own the crop. It becomes even more murky than that, for an outsider like me to understand. For Tate and Lyle the buyer is an Irish company, which I’m not even sure they are part of the European Union? Yet the European Union is lending money to BSI and the Cane Farmers Association, to upgrade the quality of sugar content in the cane that is grown in Belize. Either way, the Government of Belize and BSI the FACTORY and the Cane Farmers Association have been forcibly obligated to abide by rules of the PURCHASING CONTRACT, to increase QUALITY of the cane in Belize and sucrose content. There has been separate technical assistance from the European Union also, with binding obligations on those contracts, ( strings ) on the sugar business of Belize, which includes the Government of Belize who negotiates these things, in return for financing improvements in quality production, including the Cane Farmers Association and BSI the factory that processes the sugar. The upshot of all the double dealing, is that the sugar industry of Belize is still a European controlled style operation, despite (hic) alleged ownership by the local population.

On the surface of all this, is the fact that it should be to the advantage of the farmers to increase their quality of cane. Unfortunately, the experts explain that there is a TIME FRAME, from the time of burning, clearing, cutting, loading and delivery to the factory of about 36 hours, after which sucrose content is rapidly lost, making the sugar cane cheaper and perhaps ultimately worthless. The farmers argue, there is not much sense in going for quality, if the FACTORY is too small to handle the crop within the TIME FRAME required for delivery. Indeed, all the evidence indicates the FACTORY is too small and long lines of trucks queue that take hours and hours of waiting, much more TIME from the beginning of harvesting to the delivery, than is practical for quality and a fair price. Part of this problem seems to be the road system, which is in bad shape and part of the problem seems to be, too low a processing capacity at the factory.

Looking at this from the outside, it is obvious that the existing sugar factory is too small and another sugar factory needs to be licensed and built to handle cane as a crop. Secondly, BSI, or any other new factory producer operation should seek alternative markets for our sugar. Obviously we are prisoners of a colonial applied exploitive system, that is not to the advantage of local production. We need a different set of markets for sugar than Europe, or Tate and Lyle. We were recently double crossed by the Europeans who knowing that our Euro centric pseudo black ROYALIST Englishmen ( called Creoles ) in the port town controlling our government, continually look backwards, rather than forwards for newer ways of dealing with existing problems. The recent half year fuss over a European FREE TRADE ( EPA ) area agreement, for our CARICOM countries including Belize, was based on our being locked into the mind set, that our sugar industry majority buyer is the EU market. ( we do have some other markets, but not enough ) To save those 6000 jobs or more, the Government of Belize signed a 5 year contract with the EU if they would not cancel our market for sugar in the EU. The EU honored the agreement when our Royalist controlled government signed the agreement ( EPA ) along with other CARICOM, African and Pacific countries and we can still sell our sugar to the existing buyer. What happened though was outside the experience of our CABINET and bureaucrats. A month or two later after the arm twisting and blackmail and the signing of the EPA to open our markets to tariff free EU goods, the sugar price was immediately SLASHED by 36% from our EU buyer and is now being threatened with another slash in price. Obviously we in Belize are going to be forced out of the sugar producing business, as the writing is on the wall for everyone to see, if you will only look. In favor presumably of European sugar beet growers. The Europeans opened our import markets in that teaser EPA agreement and got the customs duties lifted for 5 years and now they are screwing us over again. Europeans PAAH!

With or without the EU sugar buyers, it is obvious we better find some other agriculture pursuit for those 6000 cane farmers. While the EU is giving us some grants in foreign AID, we are getting far more from both TAIWAN and VENEZUELA in amounts. Just raising sugar cane quality is not going to solve the problem of EU sugar beet competition, or the rapaciousness and deceitfulness of ex-colonial masters, double dealing which is going to kill our sugar industry. This industry is dead in Belize, we are just flopping around like a chicken with it’s head cut off right now, at the mercy of those EU people wielding the axe.

If you want to keep the sugar industry, it is going to have to be smaller, leaner and more competitive. Even then it is not too sure! It is time to find a new game. The deck in this one is stacked against Belize right now, unless we find newer markets in ASIA, or CANADA, or someplace else than the EU. Otherwise lets find markets for vegetables or something else and switch our agriculture mainstay crops and diversify our markets for a change.

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