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#423220 - 11/25/11 02:08 PM Is Belize importing rice from Uruguay?
Marty Offline
Protection of fertile natural resources is not only to maintain stable ecosystems but also for supporting agricultural production. The sale of locally produced rice, according to several grain growers in the north, has seen a dramatic decrease since May of last year. It is rumored that the Belize Marketing and Development Corporation (BMDC) has been importing rice from South America despite sufficient harvests in the 2010 and 2011 crop seasons. Undoubtedly, if the allegation is true, the importation from South America has resulted in major losses for farmers like Stanley Rempel, one of a number of large growers in Blue Creek. Rempel told News Five via phone today that a recent customs seizure netted five sacks of rice believed to be shipped from Uruguay. The introduction of imported rice and the subsequent drop in sales of the locally grown staple has a handful of farmers in the Orange Walk District abandoning their paddies.

Via Phone: Stanley Rempel, Manager, Circle R Products Ltd.

“We have been experiencing low sales in the last year and a half or so and we believe that rice was being imported right, but we didn’t have proof or anything but in the last couple of weeks we have heard reports that it has been confirmed. The Customs [Department] has confiscated some rice that was illegally imported into Belize and this confirms what we have been believing for about a year and a half why the sales have been low. Right now we’re just finishing up milling the 2009 crop and we’re milling the 2010 crop and we’re harvesting the 2011 crop right now so we have a lot of rice. There’s absolutely no reason for anybody to be importing rice.

Isani Cayetano

“Yeah. Can you speak to us somewhat on the losses you have incurred personally as a producer and distributor of rice?”

Via Phone: Stanley Rempel

“Well the biggest losses that we have [are the] rice that we have from a year ago are still sitting in the bins which we haven’t been able to get paid for yet so we’ve lost a lot of farmers because they just can’t make it. They can’t afford to just have the rice sitting there and it’s spoiling in the bins right.”

Isani Cayetano

“Have you made an effort either individually or concerted with other growers to address this matter either with the Marketing Board or with the powers that be?”

Via Phone: Stanley Rempel

“We have previously. We believe that the Marketing Board was involved with importing the rice and we have consulted them and always and again they have said that they were not, they were not involved with it. They were not responsible for the rice coming in but from the reports that we have heard it has been confirmed that somebody is importing it. The customs have confiscated some rice and the stores that had bought it reported that the persons they had bought it from resembled or were wearing uniforms resembling the ones from the workers from Marketing Board.”

News Five attempted to get a comment from the managing director of the BMDC earlier today; however, all efforts were fruitless.

Channel 5

#423567 - 11/29/11 01:44 PM BMDC Denies Uruguayan Rice Allegations
Marty Offline
This year, there is a surplus of locally produced rice in Belize - in fact, we might not even be able to consume all of it! And that's why the allegation that rice is being imported - with the involvement of the Belize Marketing And Development Corporation - has caused an uproar in the north.

That's because Uruguayan rice has appeared in retail outlets in Orange Walk - and in the absence of any explanation about where it came from - it has been pinned on the BMDC, formerly known as the Marketing Board.

Six sacks were confiscated from a Chinese Shop in Orange Walk by Customs; it was being sold 17 cents a pound cheaper than the local rice. And there's a particularly insidious report coming from rice producers that Uruguayan rice is being put into Belizean sacks - thus disguising the origin.

For sure, something's up because sales are down all around, and Belizeans are known to consume over a million pounds of rice a month, even in hard times.

And, we're sure they still are, but the local sales don't reflect it.

Well, the BMDC Boss Roque Mai says don't blame him. He today made the media rounds and said that they have no part in distributing or permitting any Uruguayan rice:

Roque Mai, BMDC
"Well as far as I am concern Jules that we have not brought rice from about 2 years ago since the disaster of the hurricane that struck Belize. At this moment there is a false allegation brought against BMDC that a rice product which comes from Uruguay that was allege by a group of producers in the Orange Walk district which is in Blue Creek. Rice farmers are saying that BMDC are the ones that are importing the rice. As far as I am concern Jules there are protocols that we have to go through. We have to go to the supplies control to get a permit, it has to be granted, we have to apply if we want to bring rice in. There are also people in the Indian community who also bring in rice for their personal consumption and those are the Jasmine and the Basmati which BMDC approve of but on minimal basis and also there is the pack rice which is the Rice-O-Roni. We are not allowed to bring in the whole grain rice Jules; we have enough in this country. We have surplus of rice in this country. Why would we have to bring in rice when we have problem right now to market our rice and to sell the rice.

"Remember we are a part of Caricom. There are procedures that we have to go through."

Jules Vasquez
"So you can't freely import Uruguayan rice?"

Roque Mai, BMDC
"No, not even Mexican nor Guatemalan rice."

Jules Vasquez
"You first have to import it from the Caribbean?"

Roque Mai, BMDC
"Yes, for example I would say Guyana."

Jules Vasquez
"So if Uruguayan rice is available in Belize, it was most likely contraband you are saying?"

Roque Mai, BMDC
"That's right, contraband. But where did it come from? That's the question I want to ask myself. I haven't seen any, so I don't know where in Orange Walk it's been seen."

Jules Vasquez
"Are you concern about the presence of contraband rice on the market because we have such overabundance?"

Roque Mai, BMDC
"Of course I am concern because if the other producers are seeing a drastic decline in sales of marketing their product, even us at this side we have problems marketing our produce, so somewhere someone is bringing that in."

The BMDC only imports onions - which turned into a disaster last year. This year, it is being much more conservative in importation, which the last scheduled shipment of Holland onion in mid-December, making way for the local crop which should come in as those imports are finishing.

Channel 7

#423799 - 12/01/11 02:21 PM Re: Is Belize importing rice from Uruguay? [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

The Real Story Of The Uruguayan Rice

As we reported last night, BAHA approved the importation of 960 sacks - two containers full - of Uruguayan rice as recently as May of this year.

It wasn't supposed to be sold; the rice was approved for a Charitable Group called A Hand To The Needy.

That group's main warehouse is at the Price Barracks in Ladyville; Lieutenant Colonel James Requena told us it is a NEMO warehouse - which is what we reported. That was an error, the warehouse is only for A Hand To The Needy - which does assist NEMO in times of natural disaster.

But that aside, we're talking about Uruguayan rice, and it turns out that the charitable organization has been bringing in Uruguayan rice for about a year, giving away about twenty two thousand pounds a month to school feeding programmes, and persons living in poverty.

They distribute rice and many other staple foods all over the country - in bulk to feeding programmes and by pounds to poor rural communities.

They've been doing that for over a decade, at times importing low cost rice from Guyana, Surinam and the USA.

Well, this year, it's been Uruguay, and that has brought them right into the cross hairs of rice producers who are looking for someone or something to blame for a sharp dip in rice sales on the local market.

Six sacks of Uruguayan rice were found selling cheap at a Grocery Store in Orange Walk.

We today asked the operations manager for A Hand To the Needy, how could that have happened?:

Jules Vasquez
"What do you think of; first of all, when you heard that your Uruguayan rice had turn up at a supermarket in Orange Walk?"

Brian Sabido - Operations Manager, A Hand To the Needy
"Well it puzzled me to a very great extent because I can't imagine how it got there to begin with. There are really only two possibilities: the people who issued it went back out and sold it, or it was stolen from somewhere. Those are the only two possibilities."

Jules Vasquez
"But are you all selling rice through the backdoor to put on to the market?"

Brian Sabido
"No, we sell nothing. Nothing can be sold. That's a part of the permits we get from the Ministry of Finance that nothing is to be sold. As a matter of fact, if we find anybody selling our stuff, or get complaints that they are selling, they are taken off the program immediately, because there is no chance of us doing something like that and damaging the operation. It's too important to us to do that."

Jules Vasquez
"However, you did have a breach in the building when Tropical Storm Harvey came through Belize in August."

Brian Sabido
"That's right; we lost about 6 or 8 sheets of zinc, as you can see from the building, right, and I understand that the door popped open as well. But when we got up the next morning, there was a BDF guard inside. I imagine that he was there to stop anybody from going in, but like I said, I am not pointing any fingers at BDF, not by any stretch of the imagination. But, there's always a possibility of somebody getting in there."

Jules Vasquez
"Well, a theft has occurred here in the past from BDF."

Brian Sabido
"In the past, yes, as a matter of fact, the last time was late last year, and it was brought to our attention by BDF themselves."

Jules Vasquez
"Don't you have an inventory that you can know that, 'Well, I'm short of 6 sacks. Or, I'm short of a certain amount,'?"

Brian Sabido
"It's not an inventory in the traditional way."

Jules Vasquez
"So you wouldn't notice the disappearance of 6 sacks, but you would notice the disappearance of 60?"

Brian Sabido
"Yes, definitely."

Jules Vasquez
"So, now if it's 60 sacks, or 600, because this Uruguayan rice is being looked at as perhaps the reason that these rice wholesalers have sales that are down 20% and over, and they're saying that it's because this Uruguayan rice is in mass circulation. Is that a plausible theory in your mind?"

Brian Sabido
"As far as I'm concerned, they are being disingenuous because, to begin with, 600 sacks of rice is more than a container. And there is absolutely no way that we could lose a container of rice."

Jules Vasquez
"So, you can have some skimming, maybe somebody tricked the charitable system, but it wouldn't account for a great volume of sacks of rice."

Brian Sabido
"No, certainly not."

Jules Vasquez
"How much is the most you think that might have slipped out unto the market though graft or skimming."

Brian Sabido
"Well, I'll tell you something, this could have only happened somewhere in the last 3 containers that we got in. 2 containers came in. Each container os 480 sacks, and the last one that came in over-lapped those 2, because a container usually lasts about 2 months. So, you're talking about 1,300 sacks of rice. I'd be surprised if they find more than six sacks out there. I really be surprised."

Jules Vasquez
"I would imagine that it greatly concerns you, the reputation of your organization, that you all are now linked with a sort of contraband rice, or backdoor rice that's appearing on the market. It hurts your reputation greatly when this appeared in a Chinese supermarket."

Brian Sabido
"It hurts more than our reputation. It will hurt, depending on what next move that the Government decides on, it will hurt thousands of people who get stuff from us. So, it's more than our reputation. Our reputation is at stake, but we run a very tight ship, as far as possible, as we are concerned."

Jules Vasquez
"How many years have you all been doing this, and how many people depend on subsistence supplies from Hand to the Needy."

Brian Sabido
"Jules, it's quite a few thousand people that get stuff from us."

Jules Vasquez
"And they depend on it regularly for how long"

Brian Sabido
"Every 3 weeks we go out. Our turn over is every 3 weeks."

Jules Vasquez
"And how long have you all been doing this."

Brian Sabido
"Well, I've been here for going on 10 years now, and this was here before me."

Jules Vasquez
"We have so much rice produced locally, and if it's broken rice you want, we have a lot of that produced locally as well."

Brian Sabido
"Don't get me started with broken rice because they way that they quantify their broken rice is not our standards. The rice that we get from Uruguay or from anywhere recently, is like about 35% broken pieces. We have tried to buy from the Marketing Board in the past, and whatever percentage was available, 40%, 50%, it meant that the entire sack was 40% broken pieces. And on top of that, they couldn't supply us with the quantities that we wanted anyway."

Jules Vasquez
"If you make a price comparison between the Uruguayan rice that you get, and if you were to access it locally, what would the price comparison be?"

Brian Sabido
"It would be a big difference in price."

Jules Vasquez
"More locally?"

Brian Sabido
"Yes, for me to get the rice at the price that we get it at, it would be 30 to 40% broken pieces, and that's like dust. It's extremely difficult to cook."

Based on a price comparison, the locally produced rice would cost more than the Uruguayan.

Presently, the Charity has no Uruguayan rice right now - their last container which came in August is finished and they are now distributing pasta instead.

Sabido says the decision on who receives the donations is made by The Charity's Boss, Ralph Fianney.

Channel 7

#424479 - 12/07/11 03:07 PM Re: Is Belize importing rice from Uruguay? [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

Uruguayan Rice May Be Mexican

Yesterday the Ministry of Agriculture sent out a press release saying that at their meeting with rice producers on Friday - the position on Uruguayan rice remained that it has only been imported to the country in limited quantities by a charitable organization. What we didn't know was whether the rice producers accepted that.

Well today we got an e-mail from Stanley Rempel of Circle R rice who told us that they have discovered that Mexico imports Uruguayan rice as well. He takes this to mean that the rice found in an Orange Walk supermarket could have come from Mexico as well as contraband.

The PUP also weighed in on the issue today with a press release, which says that, quote: "The PUP is of the firm belief that the steep decrease in sales is a direct result of the unsound marketing policies and unfair marketing practices implemented by the Government's Belize Marketing and Development Corporation." the PUP demands that the Government of Belize:

1. Remove the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Cooperatives and his Chief Executive Officer and
2. Terminate the services of the incompetent Managing Director of the Belize Marketing and Development Corporation.

Channel 7


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