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Guatemala developing environment-friendly sugar cane

Guatemala developing environment-friendly sugar cane
GUATEMALA CITY - Guatemalan specialists are developing environment-friendly sugar cane that can be easily harvested without the customary burning of swaths of agricultural land, private producer group Asazgua said last week.
Asazgua\'s environmental manager Byron Meneses said specialists at the association\'s cane research center hoped to create varieties resistant to Guatemalan pests and diseases which cast off their leaves naturally when ready for harvesting. Producers across Guatemala\'s southern coastal agricultural heartland set fire to cane fields to burn away chaff, to allow workers to cut more cane in less time, but the practice fills the air with smoke for miles around. Guatemalan President Alfonso Portillo called the practice an \"environmental threat\" on Wednesday, after flying over cane fields in a helicopter and said he would send inspectors to investigate. Responding to the criticism, Meneses acknowledged that the smoke was \"a nuisance\" but said the burning could not be described as pollution because it did not produce small enough suspended particles. Normal varieties of cane can be harvested without burning, but it takes longer and is, therefore, more costly. Cane is only currently harvested without burning in plantations close to major towns on Guatemala\'s southern coast. Meneses denied producers set fire to their fields simply to push up yields, saying that cutters were paid by weight of cane and demanded that the fields be burned so they could continue earning the same wage. All but 10 percent of Guatemala\'s sugar cane is harvested by hand. Asazgua says greater mechanization would increase productivity but lead to social chaos in the impoverished nation as it would put the jobs of 20,000 seasonal harvesters at risk. Meneses said the new variety would be offered to producers when Asazgua had proven its commercial viability. \"If we had a magic wand we\'d be using it already,\" he said. Guatemala expects its 2001-02 sugar exports to be 1.2 million metric tonnes, roughly equal to the level of exports from the 2000-01 season. Story by Greg Brosnan REUTERS NEWS SERVICE
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