Posted: Thursday, December 3, 2020. 1:55 pm CST.
By Aaron Humes: Going into the Christmas season, consumers and vendors of the Michael Finnegan Market in Belize City and elsewhere are seeing higher prices for vegetables which have become scarce due to flooding in the center of the country.
But newly appointed Minister for Agriculture, Food Security and Enterprise, Jose Abelardo Mai, told us via telephone this afternoon that imports will be as limited as possible to give farmers a chance to recover.
“Our priority at the Ministry of Agriculture is to ensure that our farmers are doing fine; we have to ensure our farmers’ interest first and foremost. We are not saying we will not import, but we will import only enough of what we need. If we do not to have import then we won’t; we have to safeguard the interest of farmers first and foremost,” said Mai, agreeing that it would be risky to have to import and then end up flooding the market unnecessarily.
The recent flooding from Hurricanes Eta and Iota mainly affected the Cayo District and Belize River Valley of the Belize District, but no part of the country was spared from heavy rainfall over the last few weeks.
After meeting with his field teams this morning, the Minister noted that of the districts most involved in vegetable production – the Cayo, Orange Walk, Corozal, Belize and Stann Creek Districts (part) – not all were affected by floods, but all were affected by excessive rainfall, inviting a high incidence of diseases affecting crops.
At the moment, there is approximately 80 thousand pounds, or three weeks’ supply of carrots in the field, though this figure may change depending on the weather. In another two weeks, fields in La Gracia, Cayo District and San Carlos, Orange Walk District will go into production.
Some 130 thousand pounds of cabbage is available from the fields of Valley of Peace, Cayo District and La Gracia, as well as ten thousand from the Belize District villages of Maskall and Bomba, with cabbage production coming into effect in another 15 to 20 days.
The worry, as enumerated by vendors, is for beans and especially red kidney beans. Mai said this staple of the dinner table was exported in numbers during the COVID-19 lockdown period after being harvested in February, but as it turns out, too much of it was sold to keep pace with local consumption.
The Belize Marketing and Development Corporation (BMDC) has thus been forced to source red kidney beans for local consumption from Mexico, Canada, and even Argentina at less-than-optimal prices.
The BMDC is keeping mark-up low and selling directly to supermarkets at stores at $1.70 per pound wholesale, with the maximum retail price being no more than $2, though some sell for as much as $2.25.
As for the local production, which should be underway and completed no later than December 15 in normal circumstances, there are two issues: the ground is too wet to prepare red kidney beans fields, and there is a reported shortage of seed due to it too being sold during the bonanza of earlier this season. Mai expects that imports of this key product will continue for the foreseeable future until these issues can be sorted out.
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