Posted: Tuesday, May 31, 2022. 6:24 pm CST.
By Rubén Morales Iglesias: “There are no carrots rotting in the field. It is totally untrue,” said Minister of Agriculture Jose Abelardo Mai in response to a social post by the Opposition’s Tracey Taegar Panton that a farmer in San Carlos, Orange Walk, had said that their carrots were rotting in the field.
Panton subsequently wrote another post saying she had been called by Clifford Martinez from the Ministry of Agriculture, Food Security, and Enterprise (MAFSE) saying she was ‘sincerely impressed by your proactive approach and for providing further insight into this matter” and referring to ‘the planned interventions you shared will be well received, I believe, by this entire farming community”.
Minister Mai said that he had been to San Carlos two days in a row and had been talking to the farmers. He acknowledged that the farmers have been having trouble selling their products because there has been an overproduction of carrots by farmers throughout the country, as Max Hernandez, the Chairman of the New River Farmers Cooperative Society told Breaking Belize News on Monday.
Like Minister Mai, Hernandez also said that their produce wasn’t rotting.
“That’s not true. We couldn’t sell our carrots because there was too much product in the market; the market was saturated. The selling price was too low,” said Hernández. “The price is rising now because production is going down. People weren’t selling because the prices weren’t good enough, and the market was full. They were only paying $0.30 per pound. Now it’s at $0.50. And it’s going to continue rising,” Hernandez said.
“There’s no such thing as carrots spoiling in the field,” Mai reiterated.
“There is a slow movement of cars on the market because Corozal is producing, Orange Walk is producing, San Carlos, Indian Church, La Gracia, the Mennonites in Barton Creek, and the other villages are producing carrots. So, there is an abundance of carrots.”
Mai said that farmers this year planted twice what they planted last year and that the Ministry of Agriculture had expected the slow movement in the market because Belize again had a bumper crop.
“We are victims of our own success,” said Mai explaining that farmers planted more because they saw how excellent the production was last year. That caused a surplus which slowed the market.
Mai said that with the help of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), they have put in place 40-foot cool storage units in places like Bomba, La Gracia, and San Carlos/Indian Church but also said that carrots don’t last too long in storage.
“You have to understand something. Carrots don’t store too long. Carrots spoil in the fridge if you put it for a week,” he said.
As a solution, Minister Mai said that MAFSE has been looking at the processing of carrots to make carrot juice.
“We’ve also trained families of the farmers to process carrots to make carrot juice,” said Mai.
Additionally, he said that MAFSE has had Citrus Products of Belize Limited (CPBL) do some tests in producing carrot juice. He said the juice is of excellent quality and now they have to look at a way of marketing the product.
Apart from that, Mai said they have also been looking at the export market so that farmers can get their products out. However, right now the country is in a bind because “we have too little to export but too much for our local consumption.”
Mai said that for next year, his ministry will seek to avoid this situation by going into carrots agro-processing and accessing the export market. Earlier this year he visited El Salvador to see what and how much Belize can export.
Meanwhile, Hernandez said that after three months of low sales, this week the New River Farmers Cooperative Society had been able to move 4,000 pounds of carrots this week.
“This week the demand was 4,000 pounds. Next week it’s going up. That means Cayo, Stann Creek, and San Carlos are closing their harvest, so now only San Carlos is left. We are going to have a higher demand,” Hernández said.
Hernández said so far this year, the New River Farmers Cooperative has sold 150,000 pounds of carrots and projects to sell 60,000 more during June when the harvesting is expected to close.
Hernández acknowledged that there is contraband, but said the quantity is very small.
“There are people who cross it by the river, but the quantity is small so it’s difficult to control. But it’s not a quantity that affects us,” Hernández said.
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