The National Farmers Union has rejected an agreement reached between the Fiji Sugar Corporation and the Sugar Cane Growers Council on the 2003 crushing season, labelling it as a sell-out of cane farmers by the SCGC Chief Executive Jaganath Sami and Chairman Rusiate Musadroka.
Under the agreement the FSC is empowered to terminate crushing at any time should it consider it necessary for reasons of commercial viability.
“This is a dangerous and arbitrary provision and is a derogation of the powers vested in the Sugar Industry Tribunal to determine the terminal crushing dates at the various mills,” said NFU General Secretary Mahendra Chaudhry.
Under this agreement, FSC can decide to terminate crushing after accepting only 60% or even less of the crop and cite commercial reasons for doing so. Farmers will then be left stranded with 40% or more of their crop remaining unharvested for which they may be compensated.
“However, what will be the amount of compensation paid and where will the money for it come from are not a part of the agreement. These matters, quite stunningly, have been left for negotiation at a later date, said Mr Chaudhry.
“Under this sell-out agreement Jaganath Sami has given FSC an open mandate to do as it pleases. The point here is: Why were issues such as the quantum of compensation and its funding arrangements not settled?” Mr Chaudhry said.
“Is this compensation to be paid from industry money as in the past, which will mean that farmers will be paying 70% of the so-called compensation to themselves from their own share of the sugar proceeds? Nothing could be more ridiculous than this,” said Mr Chaudhry.
A notable omission from the agreement is the absence of any provision requiring FSC to ensure that its milling and cane transport operations are carried out efficiently. FSC must be held accountable and liable for its negligence and defaults. It must be required to reimburse, from its own share of the sugar proceeds, losses sustained by the growers because of milling inefficiencies.
In the absence of any such requirement FSC is likely to continue with its bad practices, causing losses of millions to the industry, said Mr Chaudhry.
Mr Chaudhry said that NFU’s national AGM on 31st May in Lautoka, will discuss the implications of this sell-out agreement and take a mandate from the farmers as to future action.