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Sugar Cane, rare partnership secure local livelihood

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   Santa Cruz sugar cane growers and refinery workers have a unique relationship that fosters a livelihood, security and future for the people of the city.
   This partnership is based on a guaranteed exchange between Santa Cruz's Guabirá Sugar Cane Growers Union, or its Spanish name, Unión de Cañeros Guabirá, and the Guabirá Sugar Cane Refinery, or Ingenio Azucarero Guabirá. The growers promise to sell their sugar to the refinery, which promises to buy the growers' sugar in return.
   Such a partnership is rare.
   "Guabirá is very uncommon in the world," Mariano Aguilera Terraddelles, president of the processing plant, said in Spanish. "I have been in many seminars in the Dominican Republic, México and Colombia to share the model of Guabirá," and people often don't understand how the partnership works.
   The growers and workers make their relationship work, though, and the result is economic stability and the ability to improve the quality of life for members and the surrounding community.
   One of the benefits for Guabirá members is access to medical care. Workers, farmers, their families and the migrant workers who assist with harvest receive adequate health care through Guabirá.
   Guabirá also gets financial support from area banks.
   "Bankers have seen that our institution is a serious work," Francisco Dorado, president of the growers union, said in Spanish. "We have gotten loans from $1,000 to $30,000 for refinancing. We do not have any support from the government."
   With support from banks, Guabirá is able to finance a research institution similar to university breeding programs in the United States. At the institution, technicians and engineers work to develop seeds that have desired characteristics, such as a higher sucrose yield or a resistance to certain pests. Farmers in the union then have access to these seeds.
   Along with providing innovative products to farmers, Guabirá helps farmers rent tractors and trucks to aid with planting and harvesting. The union also owns a gas station that provides diesel fuel to farmers.
   "We have an agreement with the office of substances to control diesel," Dorado said. "The purpose is to be aware that the combustibles provided are used in an adequate way. We need to be sure that combustibles are not going to be used for drug production."
   Guabirá also operates a radio station that reports weather, crop conditions and other items of interest to farmers in the area.
Beyond helping its members and farmers, Guabirá strives to make a difference in its local community.

A refinery employee jumps from the pile of sugar cane to the platform next to it. The refinery process turns the sugar cane into sugar and uses the by-products to feed local cattle. [patrick Breen]
A machine dumps sugar cane at the Guabirá refinery in Santa Cruz. [patrick Breen]

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  • Story by Carrie Brauer
  • Photos by Patrick Breen

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