Like farmers from many other developing countries, sugarcane farmers, in the north of Belize, face many barriers to agriculture financing. These barriers include ease of access to affordable financing and also access at affordable interest rates among others. Over the years, agriculture financing has remained a major concern because it limits efforts to increase productivity, modernization and also diversification. In response to these challenges, a portion of the interventions funded by the European Union-Accompanying Measures for Sugar Program (EU-AMS) makes monies available under the Sugar Cane Replanting Program (SCRP). Actually, the SCRP is one of the largest components of the EU-AMS offering a grant of 6.5 million Euros to the country of Belize. 5 million Euros of these funds is available to farmers and once drawn down will form a revolving fund administered by the Development Finance Corporation (DFC) offering loans for replanting and ratoon maintenance. To become a part of the revolving fund, however, these funds need to be utilized by 17 April 2018 otherwise these will be returned to the EU. Unfortunately these funds are not being accessed for the following reasons: (i) farmers are already committed financially with commercial banks; (ii) there is lack of coordination with the availability of funds with farming activities; (iii) farmers view the DFC loans process as inflexible.
However, the DFC has been working diligently to change that perception among industry
stakeholders and has made significant changes to the terms and conditions initially established for the SCRP funds. As a result the EU-AMS-SCRP remains potentially beneficial to the sugar industry for the following reasons: (i) loans offered are at a low 6% interest rate; (ii) repayment period is 7 years (iii) funds can serve as a cushion for farmers in this critical year (iv) when funds are disbursed these will be monitored for proper use by the DFC; (v) DFC is coordinating with the Sugar Industry Research & Development Institute (SIRDI) to provide technical support.
The sugar cane industry however, faces many challenges – one very critical one is the changes to the current EU sugar regime that will soon bring an end to the preferential prices that Belize enjoys.
The main players in this industry have been repeatedly warned about finding ways to become competitive, particularly the cane farmers, in finding ways to cut down on production costs. Furthermore this is the last assistance of any kind that the sugar industry will receive from the
EU. Farmers are encouraged to check with the local DFC offices in the North and also the La Inmaculada Credit Union (LICU) and Saint Francis Xavier Credit Union to take advantage of the SCRP funds under the new terms and conditions.
Contributor: William Neal, Susana Castillo