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Outgoing Belize Agriculture CEO praises response as the region looks for foreign direct investment in agriculture

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Posted: Friday, July 3, 2020. 11:51 am CST.

By Aaron Humes: Outgoing CEO of Belize’s Ministry of Food and Agriculture, Jose Alpuche, praised aspects of Belize’s COVID-19 response in the area of food and agriculture at a seminar held by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in collaboration with the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Secretariat, which looked at private and public sector partnerships in agriculture and fisheries.

According to Barbados Today, the regional agriculture sector must look at new financing models to encourage foreign direct investment (FDI), as it seeks to rebuild from the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Alpuche said Belize had “diversified input,” with vegetables, fruits, sugar, bananas and citrus all playing a role, meaning Belize was “not too adversely affected” in terms of food security. He added that the response team of public and private sector focused on food stock availability for the local population as well as exports.

“Now, our government has cut its budget by 40 percent across the board, but we had an agricultural continuity plan in place so we kept on producing despite the curfews and other restrictions. In terms of our future, we must see agriculture as a business and therefore we need to create an environment that will encourage both local and foreign direct investment into the sector,” Alpuche added.

From the point of view of foreign direct investment, Ralph Birkhoff, Chief Commercial Officer at Alquimi Renewables, a US-based company involved in several agricultural projects throughout the Caribbean, pointed out several factors: the extent of returns long term and revenue short term; room for expansion and disasters both natural (hurricanes, crop pests) and man-made (theft, criminal damage).

In 20 years, he added, the Caribbean had tripled its food import bill to US $6 billion from US $2 billion in 2000, $1.6 billion alone in fresh produce.

In Jamaica, the president of its Jamaica Promotions Corporation (JAMPRO), Diane Edwards, cited the building of greenhouses, orchards and divestment of sugar lands to produce other crops. Edwards also cited efforts to bring in Jamaicans in the diaspora to invest directly in agricultural products and to turn over idle lands to grow crops. Agriculture comprises 7.1 percent of Jamaica’s GDP, and a significant portion of manufacturing, which was about 8.5 percent of GDP, was agro-processing.

 

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