Cane growers grossly shortchanged
The country’s cane growers will have a bleak Diwali because they have been shortchanged following the announcement of the final payment for the 2015 season, which they will receive this Friday (28th October).
The total payment for 2015 season cane is only $71.86 per tonne inclusive of the $1.38 per tonne top up to the final cane payment of 72 cents to make it $2.10 per tonne. And without this top up, the payment would have been $70.48.
Over 70% of cane growers numbering over 9,000 will have received $4,029 as net income for the 2015 season minus the average cost of production of $45 per tonne. . This is almost $1,400 less than $5428.80 earned annually by a worker on the meagre minimum wage of $2.32 per hour.
The Fiji First Government, Fiji Sugar Corporation and other stakeholders in the industry who are controlled by Government are hoodwinking growers by claiming the total payment is much higher and around $76.66, are including the special payment of $4.80 in their claim.
The NFP points out that the total payment includes two special payments totaling $4.80. The first special payment of $2.80 was made on 9th November 2015 while the second special payment of $2 was made on 15th January 2016.
These special payments do not and should not form part of the total payout because cane growers have repaid $3.80 of the total amount of $4.80, with the remaining $1 to be deducted next year.
This is confirmed by the Prime Minister and Minister for Sugar in a written answer to my parliamentary question (71/2016). Cane Growers have already paid this amount in two deductions of $1.40 from the 2nd payment in December 2015 and $2.40 from the 4th payment in May.
The total price is therefore $71.86 per tonne inclusive of the $1.38 top up to the final payment. This is $9.14 less than $81 per tonne growers received for the 2014 season. This raises the question of how effective the former CEO of FSC Abdul Khan was in terms of marketing our sugar because he was solely responsible for this important task that previously was an industry effort inclusive of growers as the most important stakeholders.
Last year, Government through the Fiji Sugar Corporation topped up the 4th cane payment by almost $8 per tonne and the Attorney General is quoted as saying ”this was because of tremendous performance of FSC under its present management especially Executive Chairman Abdul Khan”. The AG said last May Government was committed to the welfare and prosperity of individual farmers.
Where has the Government’s commitment to the welfare and prosperity gone in 2016? Where has the delivery by Fiji First Government of real outcomes for farmers and their families disappeared, as proclaimed by the AG last May?
Has it disappeared because growers are overwhelmingly and vehemently opposed to the Reform of the Sugarcane Industry and Sugar Cane Growers Fund Amendment Bills?
Growers expected the Government to naturally top up the payment to ensure the total price was over $80 per tonne, given a similar action last year.
More importantly, growers expect direct assistance from government after devastation to their crops caused by TC Winston.
At a time when growers need assistance the most, government is ignoring their plight and the fact they will have a bleak Diwali.
Any government should not ignore the plight of growers because to do so is inhumane. That is why we repeat our call for Government to implement our proposal of allocating $50 million every year for the next three years, which will not only guarantee a minimum price of $90 per tonne but also boost the industry.
Authorised by: -
Honourable Professor Biman Prasad