Relations and production of Sugar Industry sweet
In October 2012, American Sugar Refining, ASR, acquired majority shares in the Belize Sugar Industry after a turbulent period including near bankruptcy and sustained factory/cane-farmer tension. Since then things have been quiet, until a release last week from B.S.I. stating that dividends of three million had been approved for the 2012 period. That’s big news, especially since more than five million was owed to shareholders by the financially insolvent pre-ASR, B.S.I. But it’s not the only big news or good news. News Five was in the sugar city and freelance reporter Mike Rudon found out that production is good and relations between the factory and cane farmers is sweet. Here’s the story.
John Gillett, Factory Manager, B.S.I.
“Up to this morning we have milled six hundred and three thousand tons of cane. At a comparative time last year we had milled five hundred and thirty three tons. We have produced sixty-two thousand tons of sugar already. Last year at this time we were fifty-three thousand tons. One of the main things is that we’re milling at a higher rate than last year. We are averaging at this time three hundred and five tons an hour as compared to two hundred and eighty-two for last year. The TCTS ratio is also lower this year than last year. We are currently averaging nine point seven six as compared to nine point nine nine last year. So I must say overall we are having an excellent crop.”
Mike Rudon, Reporting
That figure is right on track with figures from last year, which was declared one of the best ever in terms of production and quality of sugar-cane. And the players in the sugar industry, which is the lifeblood of the north, say they plan to do bigger and better things. Alfredo Ortega is the Chairman of the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association, which oversees eighteen branches in Corozal and Orange Walk.
Alfredo Ortega, Chairman, B.S.C.F.A.
“On our side we have been working under the Fair Trade program. We have been investing over a million dollars last crop, and this year we are investing also a million dollars in regards to our planting program. ASR has also mentioned to us that they are interested in helping the cane farmers in a strong replanting program because their plan is to increase from one point one million tons where we are within the next five-seven years to two million tons of sugar cane. So we have to do a plan in regards to the stretch of this six years on how we will be addressing this issue and on how we will be increasing production on our side and ASR on their side will be increasing capacity at the mill. So our plan is to meet very shortly next week with a team of technical people to develop that plan so that within the next three years we can more from one point one where we are at the point to one point five million tons of sugar cane.”
“The farmers are quite happy. Last year we used to have a base of six thousand tons of cane that we received on a daily basis. This year the base is seven thousand and many of those days we have exceeded the seven thousand. The overall response right now is very positive in the entire sugar belt. We would want to eventually get up to about two million tons of cane that would be within the next five to ten years or so. But in the foreseeable future we intend to get up to one point five million tons maybe within the next three years.”
And the high production, quality and increase all seem to be eminently possible, since relations between the factory and the cane-farmers are as sweet as, well, sugar.
“We have been having a very good relationship. We meet with the farmers every two or three weeks and we go through our problems. Whenever we have any difficulty I liaise directly with either of the chairmen of both divisions, either Mr. Ortega, Mr. Aban who is the Vice or Mr. Javier Garcia who is the manager of the Sugar Cane Production Committee.”
“We have seen a very good performance from since this crop started and we have had better relations even with the people from ASR. And we have seen that attitudes have been changing within the administration of BSI. We have had more, better dialogue now than before and I think that this is the atmosphere we should create within the sugar industry. We need the mill and the mill needs the producer so we need to work hand in hand like a marriage so that we can benefit the sugar industry.”
“I must commend the great improvement in cane quality. This has been made possible by the better performance of the factory as well as the farmers controlling their delivery of cane…meaning from the time the cane is killed until it is delivered. And I want to encourage farmers especially at this time of the year when we know they could have accidental fires to be very careful so that we do not have an oversupply of cane. If we have an oversupply of cane, the cane will get stale and cause the quality to go down. So I would want to encourage them to be very attentive, to be alert so that we can maximize the sugar in the available cane that we have.”
Mike Rudon for News Five.
In other B.S.I. news, a new Board of Directors of the company has been appointed, and will be chaired for the first time by a Belizean, Arsenio Burgos who represents the Employee Holdings. American Sugar Refining, with the majority shareholding has four representatives on the board – Jonathan Bamberger, Ricardo Lima, Celestino Ruiz and Armando Tabernilla. And representing the government on the board will be Manuel Esquivel.