Posted: Wednesday, May 26, 2021. 2:47 pm CST.
By Rubén Morales Iglesias: Corozal is the smallest district in Belize but it has the most farms; 4450 farms, 32.1 percent of the country’s total of 13,866; according to the Belize Agriculture Information Management System (BAIMS), and while the Department of Agriculture in the Ministry of Agriculture, Food Security, and Enterprise (MAFSE) is not directly responsible for all of them, the extension officers might just be the busiest.
“We have five extension officers for five zones. That’s Corozal. It’s a small district, even though it’s a huge number of farmers,” said District Agricultural Officer Elsner Campos at the end of the MAFSE tour of the district on Friday, May 23 at Sarteneja.
“It’s a great job to do. We try to accommodate ourselves,” he added unassumingly after he and his staff lead Minister Jose Abelardo Mai and the Ministry’s staff through a shrimp farm in Estrella, a vegetable farm in Concepcion, a dairy products farm in San Joaquin, an animal farm in Ranchito, and a beekeepers apiary in Sarteneja. Campos moved the entire team like clockwork finishing the tour on time by 4 pm, definitely an achievement if you know anything about ‘Belize Time.’
“Well, I will be sincere, we try our best. We love our job, we try to reach as much as we can,” Campos said. “Some of these guys have 200 farmers each or more, but nevertheless we are always trying to re-zone things and trying to assist as much as we can.”
“We cannot touch sugarcane or other entities, but then we try to be part of it. We try to take part. Also, with other commodities we try to assist as much with technical service visiting them, helping them with their other projects, helping them with different activities that occur.
“So even though we are a small group, we try to be everywhere that we are able to.”
So, what do the Extension Officers in Corozal deal with?
“We deal with different vegetables, from carrots to cabbage. Onions are our main crop. We are considered to be 60% of the total production, local production of the country. Total of 67 acres. This year it will be more. But, also livestock, from sheep, goats, cattle, dairy cattle, and all sorts of other things,” Campos said.
But farming is not without it’s problems. Agricultural products are affected by pests or climate change. Campos said the pests are a big problem for farmers. Cabbage is affected by the Diamond Back moth while carrots and onion are affected by a fungus, to name just a few.
“The most affected are the onions. For example, this year we had a shortage, even though the price was high, the shortage was caused, not because of a pest, it was caused because of climate change. With that, we try to be more resilient and try to innovate on all the different aspects of the crop. Some we cannot change, but whatever we can change, we try to emphasize the different ideas or technologies that are out there.”
Corozal’s honey production is affected by a high level of infestation of beetles because of the number of beehives in the district. So, he says as extensión officers they have to keep visiting the farmers to ensure the pests are under control.
“What’s important is what Extension Service we’re providing to them. We normally do visits to their apiaries to find out what’s the situation and report to the farmers what exactly they need to change, right?”
Campos said that it’s their job as a department to create alternatives for the apiculturists. But he added that the farmers must have to have a good system of management and maintenance of the apiaries and they should be open to innovations, not necessarily to eliminate the pest, but to keep it under control by good management practices.
“We have already seen that there are alternatives, like other traps that are not necessarily the ones that they have used. We are trying to teach the farmers so that they will know exactly what to do when the situation becomes too problematic for their apiaries,” Campos said.
Campos said that despite the problems, “This kind of honey is high quality honey. Everybody knows that the honey here is high or better quality.”
So, do the Corozal farmers respond positively to the MAFSE’s service offered by the Extension Officers?
“I would say yes, because part of it is to try to facilitate for them to have direct contact with markets and direct contact with the buyers and sellers and try to create a system that will assist him not to lose emphasis, not to lose coordination, but mainly not to lose their money because it’s their investment,” Campos said.
“So, facilitating all the possible coordination of their marketing, that’s part of what we do as Extension [officers], as the Department.”
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