Frustrated sugar farmers want answers from govt
Ahead of the start of this year’s sugar crop set for March 15, independent cane growers are accusing Government of keeping them in the dark about the true state of the industry, even as a top industry official insists that this is not the case.
An upset chairman of the Barbados Sugar Industry Ltd (BSIL), Patrick Bethel told Barbados TODAY this afternoon his members, who produce about 40 to 50 per cent of the local sugar crop, were being left out of the loop and treated with ridicule and utter contempt regarding the crop and outstanding payments for the farmers.
“The sad part is, there are younger members who have come into the industry, some of whom are university-trained . . . and here it is you got a bunch of young people who are now committed to going forward and they are being ridiculed and treated with utter contempt,” Bethel declared.
Asked to explain, the BSIL chairman replied: “You don’t know it is contempt that nobody would talk to you and tell you what’s going on? But yet other people can abandon their lands and get permission to cut it up; and those who are struggling to play their national responsibility and to grow the crop that we need have to be begging.”
Bethel said he would like to be in a better position to say exactly what was the status of the sugar crop or when the farmers would collect their outstanding payments for last year’s harvest.
“But I can tell you the money has been received,” he said.
However, he pointed out that while the funds were previously disbursed by the Barbados Agricultural Management Company (BAMC), “we have now been advised that the BCIC [Barbados Cane Industry Corporation] will disburse those funds as part of the Barbados Cane Industry Restructuring Programme (BCIRP), which I find rather strange”.
He explained that the BAMC was the state entity in possession of all the necessary information on production, acreage planted, farmers involved and factory operations.
“And we were led to believe by the Minister of Finance when we met with the Prime Minister . . . the BAMC and the farmers would be working with that. So now we heard it is the BCIC that would be distributing the funds. I honestly can’t tell you what will happen. If we are going to be summoned to a meeting and explained to, or if we would suddenly get a call from the BAMC or the BCIC, saying a cheque is ready for you, come for it.”
Bethel said he hoped his organization would be invited to a meeting and told how the funds would be distributed “as partners in the team, so we can work together”. However, the BSIL boss said it seemed that his group was “to be treated without any form of co-operation or understanding”.
He also complained that some of the farmers whose lands were being leased by the Barbados National Oil Company (BNOC) had not been paid since June 2013, neither had the BAMC honoured outstanding rent for their lands since June last year.
“You are not hearing anything. VAT, over $2 million, cane replanting scheme, three-quarters of a million dollars, wages and support, $1.9 million. What we are led to believe for the cane [is that it is] $5 million? How is an industry supposed to go forward?” he asked.
Bethel recalled that Minister of Agriculture Dr David Estwick told a Democratic Labour Party branch meeting about two weeks ago that he would be meeting with the farmers the next week “to settle things and to put things to rest”.
“We have not heard [seen] that meeting yet. I don’t know if it was held. I certainly wasn’t invited. None of my members were invited.”
Bethel also referred to another meeting chaired by the BAMC and which involved the BCIC, where farmers were told that river tamarinds would not be planted on sugar lands, only on marginal lands.
“Where is the first you see planted? The Belle, the best sugar lands in Barbados,” he pointed out.
He noted that on one side of the Belle Plantation there was a field of about 10 to 15 acres of river tamarinds and a second field near the RBTT Roundabout along the ABC Highway.
“Excellent cane land, flat deep soil, beautiful rainfall, now in river tamarind. Yet we were told that would never happen. So you see, we are very skeptical. We keep seeing things changing all the time,” Bethel lamented.
In response, Chairman of the BCIC and director of the BAMC Dr Atlee Brathwaite told Barbados TODAY it was not true to say that the independent farmers were being left out of the loop.
Dr Brathwaite said meetings would be held and the BSIL would be invited as key partners in the industry.
He also explained said that the BAMC and the BCIC would be working together in the disbursement of the funds to farmers.
“He [Bethel] is putting the two institutions in separate cells. They are working together. You have got to understand this is a transition stage that we are going through and eventually, BCIC will be incentivizing the farmers to produce canes for the new factory. So they have a vested interest in ensuring that the farmer get the type of incentives and assistance that is required to influence them to continue producing sugar cane.”
Dr Brathwaite said, too, that the BCIC would be responsible for ensuring the agronomic practices and other operations were at a level to maximize the output of sugar cane.