Galleries more

Videos more

Audio more

Dictionary more

Continuing Upheaval in the Sugar Industry

21.06.2011

On Friday, the Cabinet of Ministers announced that CESS-funded services would be taken over by a “Mauritius Cane Industry Authority” that is about to be set up. The Mauritius Sugar Authority, the Mauritius Sugar Industry Research Institute, the Cane Planters and Millers Arbitration and Control Board, the Sugar Planters Mechanical Pool Corporation, the Mauritius Sugar Terminal Corporation and the Farmers Service Corporation are all parastatals that are run by CESS money obtained by a levy on sugar sales. Since last year, union federations NTUC, MTUC, MLC and CITU with affiliates in CESS-funded sectors have been warning that the reduction of the CESS Fund would bring about massive job loss. Now, big changes are on the agenda with the setting up of a Mauritius Cane Industry Authority that will replace services provided by CESS-funded institutions.

Navin Ramgoolam’s Ode to the Sugar Industry
The Cabinet decision comes a week after the Prime Minister announced changes in the energy sector. In a long-winded and bombastic speech of Prime Minister Navin Ramgoolam punctuated by gongs at the Mama Tuke temple on the occasion of the cane harvest opening, Navin Ramgoolam announced that big developments were imminent in the energy sector: the last part of the “historical agreement” with the sugar bosses in the MSPA concerning energy production is currently being negotiated.

Navin Ramgoolam’s whole speech was centred on how his father had made a conscious choice to support the sugar industry, had refused to nationalize it, and had negotiated a 500 thousand tonne quota and guaranteed price for sugar. “Sugar is at the basis of Mauritian economic development” he said. He announced that his government had made a political choice to assist the sugar industry in its restructuring by allocating it EU compensation money (mezir akonpaynman) even though sugar represents only 2.9% of the economy. EU compensation money, he said, amounts to some 127 million Euros.

Navin Ramgoolam also announced that he “believes” in the transformed sugar industry, including electricity and ethanol. Navin Ramgoolam said “what the government wants is for everyone to get a share” (tu dimunn vinn parti-prenant ladan) in this new industry. What he really means is not “everyone”, but rather for sugar planters to get their “share”. That is why, he said, the government negotiated the “historical agreement” that took 6 months to negotiate in 2007 so that planters, meteye, cane labourers and sugar mill workers got shares in the new cane-based industry, for the government to get 2,000 arpents of which 1,000 will be used for agricultural diversification and food security.
This is the first time that the government has made a public admission that it had made a political decision to back the sugar industry.

Jacques d’Unienville, Omnicane CEO, who also spoke at the Mama Tuke sugar ceremony curiously, talked about how sugar has a special place in many religions, as if sugar not only has State-backing, it also has god-backing. Throughout his speech, Prime Minister Ramgoolam made constant references to “my comrade Jacques” – quite obviously referring to Jacques d’Unienville. Omnicane controls sugar milling, sugar refinery and large scale IPP power production in the South, has acquired Alcodis, an ethanol plant and is awaiting State authorisation to embark on ethanol production;
authorisation that seems to be imminent given Navin Ramgoolam’s conciliatory speech towards the sugar oligarchy and announcement that a final phase of negotiation concerning the energy sector is underway.

New historical bloc
If there is anything that confirms LALIT analysis about what the Labour Party represents, this speech of Navin Ramgoolam does it. In LALIT’s article “New budget as systemic crisis bites and historic bloc wobbles” posted in our New section in September last year, we wrote:

“Under bourgeois democratic regimes, capitalism does not, in general, manage to reign over us for any length of time without cobbling together some kind of "bloc historique" that includes a number of classes and parts of classes all in one big political "consensus", and in Mauritius this has always been cobbled together around the sugar industry, and has for 60 years nearly always been formed around the Labour Party. The historic bloc is what assures the hegemony of the ruling class. The particular form that the "bloc" has taken in Mauritius is not surprising because the sugar industry was no less than the raison d'etre for the country, while the Labour Party is the one that has been in power almost all the time, over the past 60 years.

The new "bloc historique" being formed now is no exception. If they succeed in cobbling it together, it will be multi-class in its nature and yet it will rule, in the final analysis, in the interests of capitalism, and the capitalist class. The consensus upon which the "bloc historique" is built, takes place once again around the sugar cane industry.”

(Click on http://www.lalitmauritius.org/viewnews.php?id=1042 for the full article).

Food Security: More Lip Service
Navin Ramgoolam in his Mama Tuke speech declared that the government was taking the food security crisis very seriously. He announced that on top of the 1,000 arpents that would be allotted to agricultural diversification, 2 billion rupees had been injected into the Food Security Fund.

In April 2008, as LALIT had predicted, the effects of the food security crisis was starting to be felt in Mauritius. At the time, LALIT organized an action in Port Louis, calling on the Minister of Finance to initiate an emergency food security programme that would force the sugar industry to produce food on a large-scale and to provide the necessary infrastructure for food production. The sugar oligarchy reacted a week later: Il faut faire attention à ne pas prendre des décisions qui vont totalement à l'encontre de la logique économique en essayant de libérer plus de terres sous canne pour d'autres produits. (Gilbert Espitalier-Noel 24 April 2008 Le Mauricien). In other words, it was warning government: “Don’t touch sugar-cane land”.

The government in 2008 made a few timid concessions: it created a Food Security Fund and a food security plan.

The contract of the head of the Food Security Fund, Jean-Cyril Monty was not renewed no-one knows why. Since the beginning of the year, Jean-Cyril Monty has been warning that there will be another tough phase of food crisis this year. In an interview at the end of last year, Mr. Monty stated that money is not enough to stimulate food production. There needs to be a technical framework to support such production and its development and this is what the Ministry of Agro-Industry and (so-called) Food Security is not providing. (L’Express 31.08.10).

Not surprisingly, the government’s food security plan is a failure. Without bold measures to force sugar estates into food production, without creating the support structures for food production, without liberating cane land for food production, the plan was bound to fail. Since 2008, local food production is on the decrease.

Government and Sugar Oligarchy responsible for Food Crisis
At least one thing is clear from Prime Minister Ramgoolam’s Mama Tuke speech: he confirms that the sugar oligarchy and the government backing it are responsible for the food crisis today. They are responsible for the massive job destruction by the thousand in the sugar industry. They are responsible for the impending job destruction in CESS-funded parastatals.

LALIT calls on workers’ organisations, unions including unions in the sugar industry and in CESS funded parastatals to mobilize for an alternative economy that forces the sugar industry to produce food, to create new jobs on a large-scale in agro-industry to replace the massive job losses in the sugar industry, and to provide the infrastructure and services necessary to support food production.

We are re-posting the ten-point emergency plan that we proposed in 2008 to address the food crisis then. The plan has renewed significance today.

“The situation is grave. LALIT therefore proposes a TEN-POINT PROGRAM of urgent measures from you, as Minister of Finance. We will be mobilizing support for this program:

”UNDER THE BUDGET AND IN THE BUDGET SPEECH: The Prime Minister has already announced that he has called on you to "encourage" food production in your coming Budget. We call on you to bring in massive measures in this direction, and to break with your tradition of token gestures to agricultural diversification and agro-industrial development (encouraging a few plastic-topped green-houses here and there). Food production must be mainstreamed in your next budget. In particular, we call for five simultaneous measures

* Allot financial and logistic support to planters of food crops and animal rearers in both Mauritius and Rodrigues now, while the knowledge is still available in peoples' collective and individual memories. Dams must be built in Rodrigues, and terracing organised alongside the people.

* Introduce a tax on sugar estates that refuse to set aside a proportion of their land for food crops, or alternatively re-arrange their fields so that all their interlines can be used for food crops.

* Call on the University to immediately organize Conferences and Seminars uniting traditional knowledge that planters and animal rearers in Mauritius and Rodrigues have with scientific farming. We strongly advise you to steer clear of the GMO crops that the Leader of the Opposition suggests.

* Organize for all Ministers concerned to get out of their "tirwar" all past studies on food production, including fishing, and put them into action.

* Vote a budget for the promotion of food products abroad, similar to that of the Mauritius Tourist Promotion Authority. Food production on a large scale will be more stable if such units preserve and transform food crops for both local consumption and for the export of any surplus. 

WITH EUROPEAN UNION MONEY: To at once divert the European Union "accompanying measures" money from cane to food production. This will entail:

* That the de-rocking and grouping of small farmers should no longer be on the express condition that they plant cane. On the contrary it should be on the express condition that they plant food crops.

* VRS should be halted and workers be transferred to agricultural diversification on present work conditions.

* To plan conversion of closed-down sugar factories and their infrastructure into modern agro-industrial units to preserve and transform (canning, oil-production, freeze-drying, pickling, etc) the food crops as they are produced by farmers and planters. Maize can be used for food, for animal feed, the cobs for animal feed, and the stalks and leaves can be used as bagasse.

PREPARE LEGISLATION: Laws will need to be prepared together with other ministries in case the sugar estates do not diversify into food crops fast enough, in the same way as was done when merchant shipping collapsed during the Second World War. This will ensure maximal use of agricultural land already served by existing infra-structure (irrigation and roads). The laws will force estates to either:

* Re-organize their cane so as to permit interline-cropping in all their cane fields, i.e planting two rows of cane close together and leaving a large enough space to allow interline cropping, OR 

* To set aside a sufficient proportion of their agricultural land for food crops, so as to feed the people of the country.

If the Government and private sector cannot work out how people will have food security, people will have to do it themselves. There is no other alternative.