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Belize’s soybean industry making strides, record harvest expected

Posted: Saturday, January 7, 2023. 8:20 am CST.

Photo Credit: MAFSE

By Rubén Morales Iglesias: Belize’s soybean industry is making strides as production increases to record numbers and soybean oil and meal are now being exported.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Food Security, and Enterprise (MAFSE) said that after producing a record 38 million pounds of soybean in 2021 from over 28,000 acres planted, Belize expects to produce a record breaking 50 million pounds from practically the same acreage planted in 2022 due to a much better yield per acre.

That amounts to a projected surplus of 10 million pounds of soybean from the current soybean crop in Belize, so having export market outlets is crucial at this point.

Belize is making progress in that regard exporting soybean oil and now soybean meal. Since making its first export of soybean oil to Guyana in 2017, Belize has been exporting that commodity to Jamaica, Guyana, and Costa Rica. In 2022, Bel-Car Export and Import Company Ltd, according to salesperson Lyell Banman, exported 550 metric tons, the equivalent of 1,210,000 pounds, in 25 container loads in 2022.

The export of soybean meal is in its infant stage with the first container loaded with approximately 28 metric tons, some 61,500 pounds, just being exported to Trinidad and Tobago this month. However, Banman said Bel-Car is already exploring the possibility of exporting soybean meal to Costa Rica and is looking for a second buyer in Trinidad and Tobago.

When soybean is processed, soybean oil is extruded from it. What is left is the soybean meal which is normally mixed with corn and sorghum and used as animal feed.

According to the Ministry of Agriculture, the soybean industry is very important for food security in Belize. Up to recently, Belize has been dependent on imported soybean concentrates to use for animal feed and has banked on various imported oils and fats for use in our homes and restaurants.

To offset that imbalance, the Government of Belize, through MAFSE, has encouraged soybean research and production for more than 25 years. The country has gone from zero production in the 1990’s to 5,000 acres yearly over many years, and with a positive upturn of late, the industry has cultivated 28,000 acres annually over the last two years. The Agriculture Ministry said that with the present production, Belize won’t have to import any soybean concentrates and with the construction of a soybean oil processing plant in Spanish Lookout and a soybean extruding plant in Blue Creek, the country will start reducing its importation of cooking oil.

“Because of this continuous increase in production, soybean concentrates have been reducing annually from around $25 million BZD in the early 2000 and in 2022 Belize has not, and is not expected to, import any soybean concentrates for animal feed,” MAFSE said.

“However, most of our cooking oils are still imported. Belizean cooks and chefs use 5.7 million liters of cooking oil, valued at about 24 million BZD every year. Soybean oil accounts for a significant portion of these imported oils.”

MAFSE said that farmers sell the soybean to the local feed processing plants where the crude oil is extracted leaving behind the soybean meal, but while some of the extracted oil is used to mix back in specific feeds, the rest is mostly stored. However, with excess crude oil having no local use, Belize has been exporting some of it to the region, including Mexico.

“This crude soybean oil is sold at an extremely low price, is not profitable and incurs a significant loss to farmers and the industry,” MAFSE said.

That’s where the $12 million oil refinery comes into play.

“This oil refinery processing plant is a perfect example of a public/private partnership – the private sector invests, and the government supports by creating the enabling environment for the investment to flourish,” said MAFSE.

“Construction of the soybean oil refinery is an investment being made by Quality Feed Supply that will be able to produce 60% of Belize’s cooking oil demand and bring fresh locally produced cooking oil to the market,” MAFSE said.

The refinery will have the capacity to process oil from all the soybeans now being produced in Belize.

“The refinery can process 12 tons of oil on a daily basis,” MAFSE said.

“Belize currently extrudes 5 to 8 tons of soybean oil per day so the intention is for this refinery to buy all soybean oil from farmers in the north, and this will still leave the plant with some additional capacity for growth. Even so the plant would not be operating at full capacity.”

According to MAFSE, the refinery will employ an average of 30 people during its construction, and once the plant starts operating by mid-2023 it will employ 12-15 workers on a full time basis.

“The Government of Belize welcomes this US$12 investment and once it’s managed and operates well, this plant would be able to earn its keep and save Belize US$7.5 in foreign exchange annually,” MAFSE said.

To keep up with the increased production of soybeans, the Government also approved the construction of a soybean oil-extruding plant in Blue Creek in the Orange Walk District. This plant, which will be able to process 100 tons of soybeans in 24 hours, should also be operational by mid-2023

 

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