The Political Use of Sugar Statistics

Below the line: Cane farmers leaving, Source:FSC and ACW.
I once read a book called How to Lie with Statistics.  If you know how —or even if you don't— it's easy. Compare two unequal periods or two dissimilar items; quote percentage changes instead of numbers or vice versa; select one statistic and not another; produce a graph with its zero base chopped off, leave some statistics analysed, or publish the correct statistics but examine them to produce  erroneous or limited explanations.  And that's just for starters.

Mahendra Chaudhry and the FLP website do not lie in their presentation of Fiji Sugar Corporation figures for 1994 to 2011, and much of their explanation for falling production cannot be argued with, but they were rather selective in their use of the figures and interpretations.  Which, I suppose, is to be expected since the unstated intent of their article  "Lowest even cane production" is to discredit the FSC and, by extension, the Bainimarama government, and maintain their support among cane growers. 

They say FSC officials are putting a brave face on declining numbers.  True, but their "dismal" face is no more accurate.  Things are slowly happening in the industry that have not yet had time to be fully reflected in the figures: For example,  the cane crushed and the sugar produced in 2011 was an  increase over 2010 (See Table).  

They are also not quite correct in saying that " since the military takeover almost 6 years ago, the sugar industry has taken a nose dive with both cane and sugar production drastically reduced." In fact, on the three variables cited (cane crushed, sugar produced and number of cane farmers), there has been an erratic but  steady decline since at least 1994, long before the 2006 Coup and including the period when Chaudhry was briefly prime minister..

Readers should be especially wary if a statistic is used to  try to prove a point, as the Fiji Labour Party has clearly been doing all along with its reporting on the state of the sugar industry.

Following talks with farmers in Labasa,  Mahendra Chaudhry identified these factors as causes for what he inaccurately called the "sharp drop" in sugar production:

• political instability and violence generated by the coups
• uncertainty over land leases, coupled with escalating land rents and premium demands from TLTB
• low cane price
• high cost of harvesting and transportation of cane to the mill, particularly from the three sectors in Seaqaqa
• high costs of fertiliser and weedicides
• milling inefficiency and breakdowns which disrupt orderly harvesting of cane thus forcing farmers to incur additional costs
• reluctance of the younger generation to engage in cane farming on account of its problem-ridden nature and low financial returns
• the arbitrary manner in which the industry is being run by the Sugar Ministry and FSC
• the disbanding of industry institutions in which farmers had a voice.

His  first cause arbitrarily apportions equal blame to all coups, when the table,  and especially the figure, show the Speight coup to have been far more serious. Some 3,500 growers left the industry in 2001 in the aftermath of the Speight coup and 1,112 in 1995 under PM Qarase's stewardship. The article makes much of the 3,000  growers who have left under Bainimarama's stewardship but this figure is for six years, not one, and the trend seems to be for fewer farmers to leave.

This is not to underplay the seriousness of the situation.  Fiji cannot afford to lose any more cane farmers if sugar production is to continue as a smallholder operation.  This raises the question as to why Chaudhry and the NFU  have not considered other possibilities such as. increased mechanisation, pooled equipment and resources, the merging of  adjacent properties, and subsidiary crops. Criticising past and present performances may be good short-term  politics, but the resurrection of Fiji's vital sugar industry needs more creative thinking and the co-operation of all parties.  It is easy to criticise but what are the solutions?

Government has little or no control of most of the other factors  Chaudhry lists. And he makes no mention of government  efforts over leases and mill efficiency or its subsidised weedkillers and fertilisers. The omission  gives the impression that these also are a cause of government failure.  Finally, his last two "causes" are the result of a government effort to de-politicise the industry by removing the influence of the National Farmers' Union, of which Chaudhry is the General Secretary.  Whether this was a wise or justifiable move, I do not know but Chaudhry presents it as denying the farmers a voice in the industry.

On the face of it, Chaudhry's economic report appears reasonable but in selecting what, and what not,  to note and emphasis, it reveals only another unhelpful  political commentary.

Sugar Statistics 1994-2011

Cane Crushed. Sugar produced  Active Growers Growers: Change from previous year Cane crushed per grower Sugar from cane crushed
1994 4060000 517000 23264 - 174.52 0.127
1995 4110000 454000 22449 -815 183.08 0.110
1996 4380000 454000 22304 -145 196.38 0.104
1997 3280000 347000 22100 -204 148.42 0.106
1998 2090000 256000 22146 46 94.37 0.122
1999 3950000 377000 22178 32 178.1 0.095
2000 3780000 341000 22179 1 170.43 0.090
2001 2800000 293000 18615 -3564 150.42 0.105
2002 3420000 330000 17773 -842 192.43 0.096
2003 2610000 294000 17362 -411 150.33 0.113
2004 3000000 314000 17639 277 170.08 0.105
2005 2780000 289000 16527 -1112 168.21 0.104
2006 3220000 310000 15730 -797 204.7 0.096
2007 2470000 237000 14948 -782 165.24 0.096
2008 2320000 208000 14096 -852 164.59 0.090
2009 2240000 168000 13903 -193 161.12 0.075
2010 1780000 132000 13251 -652 134.33 0.074
2011 2100000 165000 12791 -460 164.18 0.079
Ave. 3031667 304778 18292 -616 165 0.099

Source: FSC/FLP website. Author's calculations. Blue: Below average.

I have not used the estimated figures for 2012 published in the original table.
-- Crosbie Walsh

See related article.

CORRECTION.`...1,112 in 1995 under PM Qarase's stewardship. The article makes much of the 3,000  growers who have left under Bainimarama's stewardship but this figure is for six years, not one, and the trend seems to be for fewer farmers to leave.
Firstly, Qarase’s stewardship in 1995? Since Rabuka and not Qarase was PM then, I assume you must mean stewardship of something else or another date. In either case needs clarification/correction.
Secondly, more farmers have left during Bainimarama’s period as PM than under Qarase, so the last part of the sentence needs `far fewer farmers per annum’.
I think the relationship between governments and farmers leaving sugar cane production is much more complex than this simple bivariate explanation and it doesn’t help the discussion of why cane farmers are part of a wider phenomenon to be influenced by Chaudhry’s reductionism. All over the world, from the most to the least industrialised countries regardless of the crop(s) grown small farmers are leaving the land and Fiji sugar farmers are part of the wider trend, with the character of the government in Fiji a minor factor. -- Thanks, Scott, for taking time out. 


Not an FLP supporter said…
Mahendra Chaudhry should stop shedding crocodile tears. Yes, the facts are correct but what did he do when he was in government as finance minister for about two years? He did nothing. In addition, when he was PM he implemented a scheme of 28,000 dollars to farmers who wanted to leave the industry.
In august ANZ gave the FSC $120m loan. This loan is guaranteed the Interime Government of Fiji.

Now 3 months late the PS sugar announces that the FSC now has a debt of only $35m.

Perhaps, Croz, you could look into why these numbers don't add up and who is manipulating the figures in this case.
Use and abuse said…
Chaudhry is very astute at using farmers.
During 2000 coup, his FLP urged farmers to abandon farms for a refugee camp on the promise of farming jobs in Argentina.
The jobs never materialised, it was all political granstabding by chaudhry and FLP.
Many famers left never to return.
This is but one example of how chaudhry and FLP use famers, then discard them.
We all know how he raised funds in farmers' name and pocketed them.
Chaudhry and FLP have gained a lot from farmers, both politically and financially.
Farmers gained nothing.
Just empty promises.
Ian Simpson, Taveuni said…
Over 20 years of subsidised sugar prices from the EU, loans from Government, Fijian $120 million, Indian $85 million, = total over $1 billion.

In all this time, over 20 years, the sugar industry decided to stop using agricultural lime. For the previous 80 years of sugar cane farming lime has been mined locally at Tau Village, Momi and applied to our fields. Average yield 50 tonnes hectare, average now, 25 tonnes.

Thank God, we represent 20% of Tate and Lyle's volume, so they have a vested interest in ensuring our sugar industry survives. With their expertise, the sugar industry might be saved. If we have a return of Chaudhry and his NFU though, be assured, the industry will be destroyed. If Tate & Lyle are taken off the job and not supported, then goodbye.

The sugar industry research division needs new leadership if Frank Bainimarama hopes to be responsible for any improvement in sugar agronomy. Lime needs to be applied this growing season to see improvement in yields for next year.

Sugar cane fields need 5 million dollars worth of agricultural lime yesterday. This is a national issue to save the sugar industry and I might add, be off benefit to all other agriculture in Fiji, especially our dairy and dalo industries.

How do we pay for it?

Simple; get FEA to pay an economic rate for the electricity it buys from the mills, say 35 cents a unit. This allows the mills to invest in and produce all year around alternative power, thus saving the nation $20 + in foreign reserves spent on purchasing oil.
Actually lime is abundant locally so in fact cost of production of lime has no detrimental effect on our balance of payments, in fact application of lime will boost production thus having a positive effect. What do you know, a win-win.
How bad is that!

Without a demand for agricultural lime though, who will invest in lime production?
It's called the sugar industry, but this is a misnomer ( just like the copra industry, another misnomer ), because there is none. When you have production in free fall, mills in a state of collapse and productivity hampered by farmer and sugar mill workers unions , not to mention state ownership, then any mention of industry, is an oxymoron.

Anyway, if our Minister of Sugar wants to increase sugar cane production he needs to do something bold. A decree or two might be mighty handy to get our grog dopped farmers to apply lime. Apply lime or lose your cane quota, see, simple solution.

A tender for the supply of 100,000 tonnes of agricultural lime within 12 months might get some action happening. Production and delivery to start by 1st March 2013.

Failing such drastic action, the Minister of Sugar will not be able to claim any improvement in cane yields for the industry before September 2014. He will go to the elections empty handed and Chaudhry will smirk in his face.
Anonymous said…
Chaudhary has been nesting in the sugar belt for too long because he knows how to exploit the simple farmers. Remember he introduced himself as the champion of the poor farmers of Fiji and left them poor but himself became a multimillionaire, championing their cause! Chaudhary is not for the farmers but for himself and is a compulsive liar and a cheat devoid of morals and ethics. He has not only betrayed farmers but also shamelessly consumed hundreds of their goats, ducks and chicken adding to their poverty. It now appears that his apprenticed son, presumed successor to the FLP dynasty, would outdo his father and sooner the farmers get rid of them the better.

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