Friday 28th May 2021
The government can provide a limitless loan guarantee of $455 million to Fiji Airways and a one year guarantee for a $170 million loan to be obtained by Fiji Development Bank.
So why is it so hard for government to look for funds to ensure cane growers receive not a handout but their just dues of $20 per tonne as 4th cane payment?
Today I was supposed to make a statement in parliament about the $20 cane payment for the growers. Unfortunately, the parliament has been canceled.
I understand the growers frustration, disappointment and the anger following the announcement by the Sugar Industry Tribunal, Fiji Sugar Corporation, as well as the Permanent Secretary for Sugar of a sum of $10.31 per tonne as the 4th cane payment for 2020 harvesting and crushing season.
I understand the growers pain. Their hopes, wishes and aspirations of a meaningful payment was burnt to ashes.
I say to government – angry, thoroughly discontented and disenchanted growers especially at time when we are suffering from two problems – economic decline and being affected by Covid-19, is a bad situation for the industry.
Especially when they are the largest and most important stakeholders in a industry badly needed at this time for economic revival.
For one and a half months, growers have been requesting government and the Fiji Sugar Corporation to ensure $20 per tonne as 4th cane payment.
In this case, adding salt to injury, the payment wasn’t announced until 12 hours before it was going to be disbursed.
While FSC released a statement last evening saying the Corporation would not make any deductions from the sum of $10.31 per tonne payment – probably in the hope of appeasing growers – the permanent secretary for sugar told a news media that growers had to make arrangements with commercial financial institutions they have loans with – especially Fiji Development Bank and Sugar Cane Growers Fund (which rightly is growers own institution) not to make deductions.
This is unacceptable.
The figure of $20 per tonne of cane was a fair demand from the growers. Growers knew that a sum of $25.30 was left to pay from the guaranteed price of $85 per tonne.
All they requested for was a $20 per tonne payment to help them prepare of the 2021 harvesting season – dates for which have already been announced.
These preparations include getting their tractors and lorries mechanically ready and roadworthy, hiring of cane cutters and equipping and stocking their food rations – and putting a seal to their readiness for harvesting by meeting and signing MOGA – Memorandum of Gang Agreement.
It is also to help them in planting of new crop. This is critically important due to the damage and devastation caused by Severe TC Yasa, TC Ana and flooding. We predict that last year’s crop of 1.73 million tonnes will dwindle down to less than 1.5 million tonnes or even lower due to the severe damage and destruction.
Unfortunately the $10.31 per tonne is not going to help in the recovery of the industry in any way.
Growers want what is due to them. They are not asking for a hand-out. While $85 a tonne may seem to be a very high sum for those not in the industry, it is a small amount given the high expenses of growers.
At a minimum production, harvesting and delivery of a tonne of cane of $60 – even with a payment of $85 per tonne – an average producing grower will earn a net income of $3,575 in a season paid over 16 months.
Even with all other subsidies, grants and guarantees, an average producing grower is in perpetual poverty. Even his or her gross income of a little over $12,000 for a season is $18,000 less than the tax threshold of $30,000 that applies to the working class.
Today, we all should feel the pain that growers do. In Nadi and Lautoka they are in containment zones, struggling to support their family members who are jobless as a result of the covid-19.
How does other industry stakeholders expect them to prepare for harvesting given all the problems?
And we should not blame them if they are not ready for harvesting given their financial crisis.
That is why growers requested for a $20 per tonne so that can prepare for cane cutting and meet the needs of their families.
Surely, it is not too much to ask from a government that itself doesn’t know how to survive and needs budgetary support from foreign nations to stay afloat.
We ask the government and FSC to pay the full amount of $20 per tonne without any deductions as soon as possible so that growers can prepare well for the harvesting season.
Professor Biman Prasad