Posted: Tuesday, May 18, 2021. 6:28 pm CST.
By Rubén Morales Iglesias: The New River Farmers Cooperative Society based along the New River in Orange Walk in the area of San Carlos and Indian Church produces well over a ½ million pounds of onions, potatoes, over 200,000 pounds of carrots, cabbages, and watermelons and other vegetables in an area of 1,500 acres of land, but they are concerned about overproduction and competition from importers.
“Onions, potatoes, and carrots, we did well because we’ve sold all,” said Maximiliano Hernandez, secretary of the New River Farmers Cooperative Society, during the visit of the Minister of Agriculture, Food Security and Enterprise (MAFSE) Jose Abelardo Mai on Friday, May 14.
However, Max, as he is known in the San Carlos area, said that because of the national overproduction of tomatoes, farmers had to sell their product for as low as $0.10 a pound and that quite an amount was wasted.
And the very passionate Hernandez is very much concerned about that situation repeating itself.
“In November production comes but we cannot overproduce,” he said. “The quality of onions deteriorates after a month. If we overproduce, we will have waste. We have overproduction of carrots.”
Despite the high temperatures, Hernandez said he was foreseeing an overproduction of potatoes.
“We have to import seeds and I foresee overproduction of potatoes,” he said. “80,000 pounds weekly is the national demand for potatoes. We cannot make money if we overproduce. The middleman makes more money than farmers. We have to have good communication among farmers not to overproduce.”
Hernandez said that they are looking for better ways to store onions.
“We have had rotten onions and throwing away money is costly” Hernandez said. “Right now, we have onions in warehouses in Blue Creek.”
But the overproduction concern remains.
“Where are we going to sell onions if we overproduce and if we want to export, we need to improve the quality.”
“We’ve made adjustments,” Agriculture Minister Mai said, “But, without my staff we cannot move ahead.”
Hernandez agreed and asked the visiting extension officers from MAFSE to help them produce better quality onions, carrots and potatoes.
“To produce you have to invest,” Hernandez said. “We are using our own resources and loans to do so.”
“If farmers have money, we can buy and support other industries,” he concluded.
But, like Mennonite leader Ivan Martin said during Mai’s visit to Springfield, Cayo, the week before, Hernandez is also concerned that if importers are given permits to bring in what the Belizean farmers produce, it will cut a hole in their pockets.
“Every year we became enemies of the importers because the profits for importers per pound are better than if they buy locally,” Hernandez said. “I applaud Julio Castillo and a couple other middlemen because they supported the farmers.”
“Importing is easy but we will not do it if [the importers] don’t buy from our local producers.” Minister Mai said. “We need to improve harvests and storage, we need to process, we cannot overproduce because our market is small. We have to inform the farmers about the problems of overproduction.”
“We need to make difficult decisions,” Mai said. “You elected me so we are here to work.”
“We need to coordinate and program production, we need to develop storage,” Minister Mai added. “We want to use solar systems to manage storage.”
Mai said some sectors are making advancements in the storage area mentioning the potato storage in Barton Creek in Cayo where potatoes are kept at low temperatures.
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