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Partnership with Fyffes to address malnutrition ‘is not just an agreement; it is a commitment to change lives’ – Minister of Agriculture Jose Abelardo Mai

Posted: Wednesday, November 22, 2023. 6:18 pm CST.

Minister of Agriculture Jose Abelardo Mai and Fyffes Chief Corporate Affairs Officer Caoimhe Buckley sign partnership – (Photo Credit: GOB Press Office)

By Rubén Morales Iglesias: On Wednesday, the Ministry of Agriculture and Fyffes signed a Public Private Partnership (PPP) seeking to address malnutrition among school-aged children in Southern Belize by supporting the Bella Vista Community and Community Feeding Program, with a specific focus on Our Lady of Bella Vista Primary School.

“Our children, grappling with physical ailments, compromised growth, and recurring sicknesses, face challenges in their development and learning abilities,” Minister Mai said at the signing ceremony at Our Lady of Bella Vista Primary School on Wednesday morning.

“Today, we collectively shoulder the responsibility to break this cycle and pave the way for a brighter and healthier future for our youth. The partnership we formalize today between the Ministry of Agriculture and Fyffes is not just an agreement; it is a commitment to change lives.”

Caoimhe Buckley, Chief Corporate Affairs Officer at Fyffes agreed with Minister Mai.

“As the largest employer in Belize we want to enrich the lives of the people who work for us, their families and communities,” Buckley said.

“Today’s signing marks our commitment to improve and expand access to nutrition for the children and families of our communities, using our health-giving bananas.”

Fyffes Chief Corporate Affairs Officer Caoimhe Buckley and Minister of Agriculture Jose Abelardo Mai cut ribbon signalling beginning of partnership – (Photo Credit: GOB Press Office)

According to a press release by the Government of Belize Press Office, malnutrition, particularly in the form of stunting growth and causing underweight, has reached alarming rates in communities near the Fyffes farms in the Stann Creek and Toledo districts.

“According to the Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS) of 2015 by the Ministry of Health and UNICEF, almost 37% of children under age 5 in Stann Creek were malnourished, amounting to 904 children suffering from stunting, wasting or being underweight,” the GOB Press Office statement said.

“Recent Ministry of Health data from 2020 reveals that 330 children in Bella Vista and Red Bank are being monitored case by case for stunting and underweight conditions. Additionally, childhood obesity poses a significant concern, with rates of 7% in the Toledo district and 6% in Stann Creek.”

The statement further said that malnutrition perpetuated by a lack of food or an improper diet causes common childhood ailments and hinders proper growth and development.

Fyffes Chief Corporate Affairs Officer Caoimhe Buckley, Toledo East Area Representative and Minister of State in the Ministry of Finance, Economic Development and Investment Michael Espat (4th from left), MAFSE Minister Jose Abelardo Mai, Chief Education Officer Yolanda Gongora (3rd from right), and other officials at Public Private Partnership (PPP) signing in Bella Vista – (Photo Credit: GOB Press Office)

The Fyffes-MAFSE agreement has the objective of improving the health condition of the children in Bella Vista through the Bella Vista School and Community Feeding Program.

According to MAFSE’s Agroprocessing Coordinator Earvin Gentle, during the two-year program, Fyffes will provide the Agroprocessing Unit the raw material and all ingredients to make a banana-based porridge. The nutritional food supplement will be made using formula developed by Fyffes.

Gentle said Fyffes will also acquire machinery, namely a pulverizer, for the Agroprocessing Unit and provide maintenance. The pulverizer will be used to mill the bananas from a dehydrated state to powder form. Once they have the flour, they will mix it with sugar, powdered milk, cinnamon, and vanilla to flavour it.

Fyffes will then distribute the porridge to local communities, including the school children in Bella Vista.

Gentle added that Fyffes will collect weight and height data over a period of time to determine if there are increases and if those are correlated to the consumption of the banana flour supplement.

Steps in producing banana flour at MAFSE’s Agroprocessing Unit in Central Farm – (Photo Credit: MAFSE’s Agroprocessing Unit)

MAFSE said the present agreement is a followup to an initial agreement, which started in November 2021. That agreement by Fyffes, the Ministry of Agriculture (Agro-processing Unit), the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Health, and the Central American and Panama Nutrition Institute (INCAP), had the objective of offering a well-balanced nutrient supplement to at-risk groups in Belize and was expected to “yield many positive benefits to both children by improving their health and the attendance and grades in school”.

The program was successful and went into a second phase from January 1 to May 15, 2023.

“School-based feeding programs have proven to be effective social safety nets, delivering positive outcomes such as improved school attendance, enhanced academic performance, and overall better health for participating children,” the GOB Press Office statement said.

“The collaboration between Fyffes and the Ministry of Agriculture aims to extend these benefits not only to students but also to their families and the wider community.”

The village of Bella Vista in the banana belt near Independence has a population that surpasses 3,500 inhabitants.

 

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