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Making better tomatoes: University of Belize to lead research with Resilient Rural Belize program

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Posted: Wednesday, April 27, 2022. 11:25 am CST.

By Aaron Humes: A memorandum of agreement between the Resilient Rural Belize Programme (RRB) under the Ministry of Finance, Economic Development and Investment and the University of Belize (UB) Department of Agriculture in the Faculty of Science and Technology, based in Central Farm, Cayo District, aims to support research into tomato production in Belize.

A study by agriculture experts attached to UB, including Zoe Roberson Zetina, Ina Iris Sanchez, Dr. Gerardo Aldana, and Francisco Tzul, will study “Performance Evaluation of Tomato Production in a Cover Structure and Open Field Environment of Belize”. This includes the variables that affect tomato production under covered structures and the benefits and costs; and locating a tomato variety that can best grow under such structures in Belize’s climate.

Interim University President Dr. Vincent Palacio explains, “The primary role of agricultural research is to heighten the knowledge and improve technology. It heightens understanding of the interaction and the interdisciplinary mode in which we operate. This requires a holistic – we have to look at the holistic and interdisciplinary role – we all serve a role.”

The RRB program will provide financing of $200,000 to support the research and use its results to promote climate-smart technologies and practices amongst farmers’ groups to improve their production and sustainability. The RRB also hopes to replicate this study with various other vegetable commodities in the final year of the project.

As summarized by Minister of State in the Ministry of Education Dr. Louis Zabaneh, “We are now promoting research which is very important to impact on productivity, to impact on efficiency, to impact on the quality of our products. So, the students at the University of Belize now have an opportunity with the resources that will be provided, to engage in meaningful research, and then our farmers, in particular our smaller farmers who are targeted in this project, would be able to benefit from that knowledge to improve the quality of their product.” He added that the project takes advantage of the prior training, ability, and competence of Belizeans that need an opportunity to exercise that training.

CEO of the Ministry of Economic Development Dr. Osmond Martinez noted that the program was signed up in September of 2018, but it only paid salaries and there was no implementation. The funds were almost recalled, according to Dr. Martinez, and Belize’s political leadership had to intervene to ensure we had at least another year with the project.

The RRB Program’s primary focus is using Climate-Smart practices to enhance the production of six vegetables (onions, tomatoes, sweet peppers, hot peppers, cabbage, and lettuce), pineapple, honey, and related products. The inclusion of other products/commodities is dependent on market opportunities and the interest of small farmers.

The program particularly targets poor rural families; vulnerable rural families; households with less than 25 acres, engaged in part-time or full-time farming; and formal (co-operatives, associations, collectives, etc.) and informal farmer organizations with the willingness and potential for improving productivity and farmer market access. The program expects to reach 6,000 households or approximately 30,000 persons, from which 24,000 are expected to have strengthened resilience. Consistent with the importance of women in the rural economy, and in smallholder farming generally, at least 40 percent of program beneficiaries will be women; similarly, recognizing the importance of youth for the sustainability of the sector, youth will comprise at least 20 percent of program beneficiaries.

 

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