Ra cane farmers are seeking a $10 per tonne special payment from government to assist them recover from the massive devastation caused to crops, farm equipment and machinery by Cyclone Winston.
The resolution for special assistance was unanimously adopted by about 100 growers at a Special General Meeting of the National Farmers Union in Ra this morning (Saturday 25 June).
NFU general secretary Mahendra Chaudhry said while the farmers appreciated the government’s Help for Homes rebuilding programme, the scheme, unfortunately, did not cover losses to crops, farm equipment and machinery.
“Growers are also very concerned about problems created by the closure of the Penang Mill. No definite arrangements have yet been made for transporting cane from Ra to the Rarawai Mill, particularly for those using rail,” Mr Chaudhry said.
Ra growers want government to instruct the Fiji Sugar Corporation to forthwith commence repairs to the Penang Sugar Mill so as to make it operational as soon as possible. They do not accept the statement by the Executive Chairman of FSC that the mill has been substantially damaged and that repairs may take two or more years.
Growers have been advised by qualified and experienced engineers who are former employees of the mill, that the damage can be fixed within a short time provided remedial works are commenced and the required parts ordered without delay.
They are calling for an independent assessment of the state of the mill to be carried out as soon as possible. Meanwhile, FSC should be instructed not to cannibalise the mill for parts to be used in the other mills.
The growers have also objected, in the strongest term, to FSC’s plan to downgrade the Penang Sugar Mill to a syrup mill as announced by its executive chairman Abdul Khan even though the Prime Minister had announced at a meeting of the EU-ACP Ministers last month that FSC’s co-generation and syrup mill projects had been suspended.
The growers point out that a syrup mill is not a technologically/financially viable proposition given the fact that almost 85% of the crystallisation process is completed by the syrup stage and only 15% remains to convert it to sugar.
It, therefore, does not make any sense to transport the syrup to the Rarawai Mill (70kms away) to complete the conversion process.
They are demanding a clear assurance from government that the Penang Mill will soon be repaired and will operate in the usual manner.
In other resolutions taken at today’s meeting, Ra growers are seeking:
• A Guaranteed Minimum Cane Price of $85 per tonne:
They expressed concern at the reductions in the price of cane for the 2014 ($80.70) and 2015 ($75) seasons compared to that for 2013 ($88.49). They point out that in view of the escalating costs of cultivation, harvesting and delivery of cane, exorbitant increases in land rent and the high cost of living as a result of substantial increases in indirect taxes, cane farmers must be paid a guaranteed minimum price of $85 per tonne to make it worthwhile for them to plant cane.
Growers wish to remind the government that they were promised cane price of around $110 per tonne by FSC and the Sugar Ministry in the lead up to the 2014 general elections.
• Sugar Cane Industry Reform Bills 19 and 20 of 2016
Cane growers reject the Bills as its provisions are not in the best interests of the industry. They support the submissions made by the National Farmers Union representatives to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Economic Affairs in Lautoka and Vaileka, and urge the government to withdraw the Bills to maintain peace and harmony in the industry.
• Sugar Cane Growers Council Elections
Growers call on the government to reinstate the Sugar Cane Growers Council through direct elections of their representatives by the growers themselves as was provided in the Sugar industry Act of 1984. They reject the SCGC as presently constituted by government nominees who are not mandated by cane growers.
• Payment of Union Membership Dues
Growers call on the government to restore the payment of NFU membership dues through deductions from their cane proceeds as was the practice before it was arbitrarily withdrawn by FSC in 2010 on instructions from the Sugar Ministry. Failure to do so would be in breach of the recent agreement reached between the government and FTUC under the aegis of the International Labour Organisation.
• Fiji Sugar Corporation Investigations
Growers expressed grave concern about the financial mismanagement and irregularities in the affairs of the Fiji Sugar Corporation as reported in the media recently. Growers note that serious criticisms were directed at the Executive Chairman FSC, Mr Abdul Khan. Growers demand that in the interests of accountability and transparency, an independent investigation be carried out into the allegations against Mr Khan and appropriate action taken on the findings of the investigation.