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The plight of local farmers in light of COVID-19 – let’s listen before our food security is threatened

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Posted: Sunday, April 12, 2020. 5:08 pm CST.

The views expressed in this article are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Breaking Belize News

By Hugh O’Brien: As I write this article and from the onset, we must applaud the Government of Belize for continuously acknowledging that farming is an essential service and as such farm activities are allowed to continue without any major barriers. This is no rocket science decision but kudos is still due.

It is my firm view, however, that the Ministry of Agriculture and the Government in general is failing both the citizens of Belize and the farmers as well when it comes to food distribution and securing our food production systems. In light of the unpredictable circumstance caused by COVID-19, special effort is needed to ensure that Belize continues to produce local food, not only for the short term but for the medium to long haul. In fact, a major effort has to be made to reduce our dependence on imported canned and other foods, and move to further strengthen our local production systems and produce as much local food as possible.

Rather what I see happening is a Ministry of Agriculture that lacks leadership, is out of touch with the realities on the ground, and does not even have a staff member assigned to stay in touch with the producers of any of our major food commodities or to the chicken, cattle or pig producers.

What I see is lack of sensitivity to the needs of farmers by a newly appointed Minister of National Security who believes that cows should not be milked on Sundays, and that the export of surplus eggs, cattle, pigs and hens to Guatemala must come to a stop due to COVID-19.

What I see is an Area Representative that puts politics before our farmers and insists that the export of cattle and pigs is illegal and that the residents of Bullet Tree are not benefiting so it must come to a stop.

Clearly, the recommendations to have the export of cattle and pigs continue under a more controlled system using protective equipment and transferring the animals right at Calla Creek/Santa Rosa border crossing have fallen on deaf ears. And if farmers are not allowed to export the surplus pigs then arrangements have to be made to slaughter these pigs, process at Running W and other processing plants, and store these for the hard times ahead as pigs cannot be held for long after reaching market weight as they consume a ton of feed.

The recommendation to have the main food stocks tallied and recorded was an easy task as the main producers/processors of our staple foods had their information mostly at hand. The Mennonite communities in particular are very good at keeping good records of their farmers’ acreage, production and storage of basic food, or are able to rapidly put the data together for the staff of the Ministry of Agriculture.

However, the recommendation to order and secure some of these stocks from the rice, beans, corn and other farmers were not taken seriously into consideration. As these supplies dwindle, stockpiling by the rich will ensue and the fair distribution of these basic food items will become a major problem. Locally produced chicken, egg, milk and cheese stocks are piling up and no effort is being made by the Government to purchase and supply these to the needy.

The availability of fresh bananas and oranges have dwindled despite excess supply down south. No effort is being made to ensure that these very cheap and nutritious local fruits (and with high Vitamin C contents) reach the needy.

As surpluses, including vegetables now, have begun to accumulate, many are scrambling for food while white collar bureaucrats sit comfortably at home and believe that all is well. Some farmers have already begun to dump their surpluses, and the dumping of surpluses will get worse.

I personally made some great recommendations to the national effort through Orange Walk’s Jose Mai. It looks like hardly any of the recommendations were taken into consideration.

If we are not careful, listen to the plight of our farmers, and plan accordingly, more and more people will go hungry, and more and more farmers will get discouraged at a time that we need them the most.

Our farmers have to deal with the COVID -19 threats, they have to deal with consecutive and extended harsh dry weather, pastures drying up and water running extremely low, let’s ease them from having to deal with hard-headed bureaucrats and hard-ears politicians as well.

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