Posted: Tuesday, May 26, 2020. 4:47 pm CST.
The views expressed in this article are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Breaking Belize News.
By John Saldivar MSc (Econ): Since March 2020, the Belize economy has come to almost a grinding halt as a consequence of the worldwide pandemic COVID-19. Tourism, the mainstay of the economy, collapsed immediately after the closing of the international airport and with it has gone over fifteen thousand jobs and millions in foreign exchange. Due to the effect of the pandemic on other sectors, tens of thousands are already out of a job and with more to come, social collapse is staring the country in its face unless urgent economic recovery measures are implemented to stimulate the economy, create new industries, buttress existing ones, and create new jobs.
People need help, jobs need to be created, industries need to be established, our economy needs to be rebuilt. We must now focus on the economic recovery of our country. This economic recovery at least for the next twelve months will have to be mostly internally driven. Agriculture, infrastructure and construction, industry expansion, digitization, and tourism can be the five pillars of our economic recovery plan. Part II of Belize’s Economic Recovery Plan focuses on agricultural revival.
AGRICULTURAL REVIVAL – Belize with its large land mass compared to other countries in the region especially the Caribbean, enjoys an advantage in agricultural production that has been brought into focus by the COVID-19 pandemic. Agriculture can ensure national food security, alleviate rural poverty, and earn foreign exchange. Designing new agricultural policies to stimulate production must focus on the inputs, the methods, the marketing and the financing of agriculture.
We must eliminate the systemic biases and fetters against agricultural production. Agricultural inputs from seeds to fertilizers, pesticides, insecticides, machinery and equipment for earthmoving, planting and harvesting must be brought under more favorable taxation policies, where this is not already the case. The idea is to reduce or eliminate all pre-production taxation on agriculture.
We must expand and improve research, marketing and extension services for farmers both large and small. Farmers need assistance to help to improve know-how, efficiency, productivity, and profitability of production. This will contribute to the good of their family, community, and society. To this end the Belize Marketing and Development Corporation (BMDC) must be reconfigured and repurposed to serve as the national market research institute for the agricultural sector to link farmers with markets, local, regional, and international. The Agriculture Department Extension Services Division must be revitalized and refocused to provide greater assistance to an expanded number of farmers.
As the amount of small farmers grow, we must encourage a return to cooperative management of agriculture. Small farming does not have to mean small management. The cooperative movement is an opportunity for many to become one and enjoy the benefits of economies of scale enjoyed by large firms by coming under one management in certain aspects. The Department of Cooperatives in close collaboration with the Department of Agriculture and the BMDC must begin again to work with farmers to re-establish the cooperative movement in the agricultural sector.
The Lands Department in conjunction with the Department of Agriculture must identify arable tracts of land across the country for a new Small Farmers Development Program which will see a hundred families co-located on a thousand acres of land parceled into five-acre plots. The extension department will provide extension services and the hundred plots will be managed cooperatively, from land clearing and preparation to planting, harvesting, and marketing. Financing will be sought from multilateral institutions under COVID-19 relief programs. It is anticipated that at least fifty thousand acres of land across the country can be identified and earmarked for this program which will benefit at least five thousand families and put ten thousand persons back to work, this time in agriculture.
We must also connect agriculture with digital technology. Farmers must be put in direct contact with consumers using available technology. This will enable farmers with the assistance of the extension department and the BMDC to start predicting demand and make proper production plans thereby increasing efficiency and profitability.
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