Posted: Thursday, March 23, 2023. 10:24 pm CST.
By Aaron Humes: Two of Belize’s three major industries took a beating in 2021 and 2022 while a third took a step back, leading to shrinkage in the agriculture sector according to Agriculture Minister Jose Abelardo Mai. Nonetheless, he credited the hard work of industry leaders and stakeholders: “A leader without followers will go nowhere.”
After a boom in cattle sales in 2021 caused by the re-opening of the borders, there was a drop of 10 thousand heads of cattle sold while the national herd grew by about the same amount, which the Minister attributed to two reasons: “Two markets, one to Guatemala and one to Mexico, the Guatemalan market paid more for a small animal and paid less for a bigger animal, [while] the Mexican market would pay a set price for any size; therefore the farmers hold the animals for a longer time and sell for a better price…the race to the border to export cattle in 2020 was a race to get rid of the excess animals we had…”
Citrus conditions stabilized due to better weather and the implementation of a migrant labour support program, supporting an increase in grapefruit deliveries and a stable orange crop. But the industry is battling citrus greening (HLB) disease and higher input costs, so the acreage under production is already down 15 percent. He warned, “The 2022/2023 citrus crop is not going to be good and with the combined production of oranges and grapefruits projected to be less than eight hundred thousand boxes for the first time in recent history. There is an urgent need for the citrus industry to diversify into other fruit juices. CPBL [Citrus Products of Belize Limited] is investing in a much more versatile type of processing, focusing on coconuts, passionfruit, soursop, and pineapples. In the 2022/2023 crop, pineapple deliveries to CPBL are expected to be 1.2 million pounds, soursop is expected to reach 50 thousand pounds and passion fruit, which currently stands at just under 20 thousand pounds, is expected to reach 60 thousand pounds which is a new record.”
The climate that helped citrus, Mai said, hurt banana production: “…the production fell from 5.7 million boxes to 4.6 million boxes, equivalent to thirteen percent mostly due to much rain in 2022. Climate change is real, and it is affecting the productive sector. The banana industry will recover and the BGA [Banana Growers Association] is engaging the financial institutions to obtain operational funds to address fertilizer and other inputs urgently needed to ramp up production.”
‘King Sugar’ performed to expectations, increasing 157 thousand metric tons in production even while quarrels continued between the leading growers’ association and the miller over a long-term Commercial Agreement.
And vegetables have recovered for the most part in production, even while prices of inputs increased due to inflation: “Onions, an increase of 31.8 eight percent; potatoes that shrunk a little; coconuts, 18 thousand acres of coconuts now; limes and lemons an increase of 2.9 percent; tomatoes 15.8 percent, hot peppers 21.9 percent, lettuce, 23.7 percent; broccoli a hundred percent increase this year; cauliflower 3.6 percent – all this is in line with our policy of food sovereignty.”
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