Posted: Tuesday, January 4, 2022. 3:32 pm CST.
By Rubén Morales Iglesias: “Let’s join hands, put our shoulders to the wheel and do the necessary work to revive the citrus industry,” said the Minister of Agriculture, Food Security, and Enterprise Jose Abelardo Mai in his remarks as guest speaker at 45th Citrus Growers Association (CGA) Annual General Meeting on Tuesday.
At the AGM held at the CGA headquarters in the Stann Creek Valley, Minister Mai said he wasn’t going to “preach a picture of gloom and doom” but rather “offer some hope and to help bring back some level of confidence in the ability of the citrus industry to rise again”.
The citrus industry is ailing, he said but it can bounce back and perform as it did in the 1990’s peaking at almost 8 million boxes in 2005.
He reminded the citrus growers that the robustness of the industry made it survive “the dreaded 2004 year, a year when orange concentrate prices were the lowest they had been since the 1960’s”. He said the CGA was the backbone of the industry. Coupled with “a practical research and extension program run by the Citrus Research and Education Institute (CREI), the constant modernization of Citrus Products of Belize Limited (CPBL)’s processing system and capacity” plus “the vertical diversification into other citrus products,” the citrus industry was transformed.
He said that at present if the industry were to be left alone, its production could “fluctuate between 1.5 to 2.0 million boxes until it dies a natural death”.
But he said that’s not going to happen as “the Government of Belize and the Ministry of Agriculture (MAFSE) intend to get the wheels of the citrus industry spinning once again”.
“The rest is going to be up to you all, and your collective will to make an ailing industry that has been damaged by citrus greening and other ‘tsunamis’, survive,” he told the CGA AGM.
Mai said his government started planning the revival of the industry even before being elected.
He said under PlanBelize, they planned to “work with the Citrus Growers Association and Belize Citrus Mutual (BCM) in facilitating access to capital for the propagation of disease tolerant/resistant plants to distribute to the citrus growers, replanting citrus orchards with better genetic material, and diversifying with alternative and complementary cropping systems”.
Mai added that while it has taken a bit longer than expected, MAFSE is now working closely with the farmers and Citrus Products of Belize Limited (CPBL) in expanding “the processing of other local fruits into fruit concentrate for local use and exports: limes, pineapple, mango, soursop, passion fruit, etc.”
The Agriculture Minister said he appointed a high-level Citrus Working Group in April of 2021. The Working Group, he said, has relied on input from CGA and the technicians at CREI.
In August, Cabinet declared that “the citrus industry is critical to Belize’s economic development” and gave “full support for the recommendations being made for interventions in the citrus industry”. The Government of Belize followed through allocating $15 million over the next three (3) years in loan financing through the DFC and gave the go-ahead for the diversification of the citrus industry.
But despite all the financing and expertise, MAFSE is putting together, Mai told the citrus growers that they are “the most important element for success”.
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