Who will the farmers blame when the sugar industry has to cope with reduced sugar prices from the European Union without the aid the EU has promised to help cope with lower prices?Prices are going to fall, and I mean really fall. A small drop this year (2008/9) of 14 percent less than 2006/7 will be followed in 2009/10 by a drop of 36 percent in the EU internal price which is the basis of prices for countries with preferential access to the EU.
If farmers are struggling now, how will they fare when the price of sugar is slashed?
Before the coup the sugar industry was already in a mess. Leases were expiring and land was remaining idle. Under the leadership of Mahendra Chaudhry. the National Farmers Union had no chance of finding a solution to the lease problem. Chaudhry’s divisive style means that he is distrusted by landowners and he could never support a solution that involved compromise on rent levels.
Chaudhry also damaged the sugar industry by extracting from the FSC a share of the sugar revenue for his farmers that left the FSC nothing to reinvest in proper maintenance or new equipment.
Chaudhry could always tell his faithful followers that it was the fault of the Qarase government but after nearly two years of Chaudhry and his minions running the industry things are worse than ever. Mill breakdowns are a daily occurrence and transport of cane to the mills is hampered by poor roads and rail systems.
But what about the rest of the world? It hasn’t stood still while we allow a vital industry to decay. There are many new producers who will make it hard for Fiji to compete.
In 2000 Mozambique produced 45,000 tonnes of sugar but had no exports to the EU. In 2007 they produced 243,00 tonnes and exported 77,351 tonnes to the EU. Uganda, Tanzania Swaziland and even Sudan, are also increasing their production steadily. They all have new investment in irrigated cane and new mills.
Unless we can dramatically lower costs, our sugar industry is doomed. We have to replant with higher yielding varieties and consolidate farms to achieve efficiencies of scale. And we have to get our mills modernized and working properly.
A lot of our smaller farmers will have to leave the industry, which is why the EU has offered assistance to allow our farmers to adapt to
the drop in prices and the opening of the EU market to foreign competition.
Are our cane farmers aware of these dramatic changes and the impact they will have on them? Not yet.
Mahendra Chaudhry has always built his support base among cane farmers by focusing on his enemies within Fiji, creating conflict to allow himself to look like a hero. The Qarase Government and the people it appointed to the FSC board and the Fiji Sugar Cane Growers Council were always easy targets for Chaudhry.
But Chaudhry has had to keep quiet for the past two years because all of his people now dominate the FSC Board and the FSCGC.
But what will he say now that EU aid is under threat because Frank has decided to thumb his nose at EU representatives?
Chaudhry will go on the attack because it’s the only game he knows. His problem will be who to target? It can only be Frank.
But who will the farmers blame? Some will follow Chaudhry wherever he goes, like the rats behind the pied piper, but the majority will have no doubt that Frank and Chaudhry are both to blame for wrecking an industry that feeds a quarter of our workforce.
Bloggers, don’t forget to register on www.solivakasama.org because our smart strategies beginning next year will be lobbying Governments about their citizens involved in treason in Fiji and people like John Samy lobbying his former employer like the ADB to ensure, they do not touch him again for the rest of his natural life!