Labasa cane growers are demanding an additional $10 a tonne payment to begin harvesting for the 2016 season.
About 500 growers at a National Farmers Union meeting held at the Labasa Civic Centre on Saturday said they did not have the funds to commence harvesting on 14 June because of the low 4th cane payment of only $11.12c a tonne.
“They want crushing at the Labasa Mill delayed until arrangements can be made for the additional payment,” said NFU general secretary Mahendra Chaudhry who was in Labasa on Saturday to hold the Union’s annual general meeting.
“The growers have asked us to notify the Sugar Industry Tribunal, Fiji Sugar Corporation and the Sugar Ministry of this decision with the request that crushing at the mill be delayed until the additional payment can be made,” Mr Chaudhry said.
“They do not have sufficient funds to engage labour and pay for all other costs associated with harvesting and delivery to the mill,” he said.
It should be noted that growers have so far received only $74.56c a tonne for the 2015 crop. They are not expecting any more than $75 as final cane payment for the season knowing that the 4th cane payment of $11.12c a tonne already carries a $1 topping.
The 2015 payment therefore will be quite low compared to the last three season’s payments which have been above $80 a tonne – $81.83 in 2012, $88.49 in 2013 and $80.70 in 2014.
Labasa growers pointed out that they had, in fact, been promised cane payments of around $110 a tonne by FSC and the Sugar Ministry in the lead up to the 2014 general elections. They now feel cheated because the promise has not been kept.
They are calling for a guaranteed minimum price of $85 a tonne. In other resolutions reached at the NFU meeting:
- growers want a guaranteed minimum price of #85 a tonne
- growers are calling for direct Council elections so they can elect their representatives to the Sugar Cane Growers Council – to ensure their voice gets through to the industry. They do not recognise the Cane Producers Association as true representatives of the farmers.
- an independent investigation into financial mismanagement and irregularities at the Fiji Sugar Corporation, recently highlighted in the media
- FSC to restore deductions at source of Union subscription that was arbitrarily ceased by FSC in January 2010 on the orders of the regime. Failure to do so would be in breach of a recent agreement reached between the FF government and the International Labour Organisation for check off facilities to be restored.
The Labasa growers have also categorically rejected changes to the 1984 Sugar Industry Act proposed in the two Sugar Industry Reform Bills that were recently the subject of public consultations.