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#424145 - 12/04/11 09:33 AM Biggest rice producer in Belize out of business!
Marty Offline

Blue Creek Rice storage

(courtesy of CTV3)

Largest Rice Producer In Belize Shuts Down His Business

It is one of Belize’s basic commodities which lately has been receiving much attention. With all the allegations lately about the importation of rice all eyes are basically focusing on the end results of an investigation which the Ministry of Agriculture says will be conducted in order to bring to light how is it that imported Uruguayan Rice ended up in stores here in the north. But while the Ministry of Agriculture, through a press release issued late Tuesday evening, gave a fancy explanation justifying there actions when It comes to the approval of the importation license, the three major rice producers here in the north are not buying GOB’s story. Today when we visited the community of Blue Creek we found disheartened rice producers and even brought back the bad news that the country’s single largest rice producers will be closing down for business.

Carmelita Perez-Reporting

For the past 20 years Hill Bank Agricultural Company Limited, located in the community of Blue Creek, has been producing the famous Uncle Johns Rice. But this year, instead of Cypress rice planted in the fields, this is how the company’s 2000 acres of land looks. They are dried up, covered with dry weeds or in this particular case adorned with beautiful Blue Wing Teals.

Hill Bank Agricultural Company Limited is the country’s single largest rice producer. The company produces 40% of the rice consumed by Belizeans on an annual basis. Over the last six years the company has been producing 5 to 7 thousand pounds of paddy rice per acre of land, adding to a total of 14 million pounds of rice. But things have changed and according to the company’s Managing Director Peter Dyck, they have decided to no longer continue producing Uncle Johns Rice.

Peter Dyck- Managing Director Hill Bank Agricultural Company Limited

“This year those fields will not be producing rice and most of those fields will be doing some experimentation with some other crops and if we can come with another way to make use of our investment that we have built up for the last twenty years. We have come up to a point where we just cannot compete against government funded subsidies rice being grown by ourselves any longer.”

Presently the company has 9 million pounds of paddy rice in storage which was planted in December of last year and harvested in May of this year. With sales down, it will take the company up until 2013 to sell all that rice which is presently stored in these silos. But who’s to blame for the vast reduction in sales?

Dyck- Managing Director Hill Bank Agricultural Company Limited

“BMDC which is a statutory body is selling rice to the general public at sixty cents per pound wholesale meanwhile we are selling at eighty five cents a pound and we just cannot reduce our prices any further because we have to pay full taxes in our inputs that we grow and we have to pay full taxes in the products that we sell and BMDC all these taxes are avoided by them and we just have road conditions that are absolutely terrible and taking our products to town is of fight at many time when we are on rainy season we have to go and fix the road ourselves and we have other criminal issues that affect our production over the last year and so and that make things really distressful for us.”

But rice producers believe that the Belize Marketing and Development Corporation, is not only subsidizing rice from the Toledo District. According to Dyck, in order for the Government agency to be able to sell a pound of rice for 60 cents something must be wrong.

Dyck- Managing Director Hill Bank Agricultural Company Limited

“Yes they are selling more rice that the Toledo District, I have been contacting the mill in Punta Gorda and they were telling me that they were selling more than a hundred bags of a hundred pound rice, that is about ten thousand pound of rice a month, for many months and BMDC is out there selling lots of rice and we have a question where is all that rice coming from. It is very easy to figure out that something is very wrong because if you go back to news cast over the last year or so the BMDC stock has never declined and yet they are selling a substantial amount of rice because our sales have dropped 50% from exactly a year ago.”

Sounds unbelievable right? Sales down by 50%? Well, here’s the prove. This chart shows that in 2009 the company sold 4,920,210 pounds of rice. In 2010 the company sold 4,945,240 pounds of rice and so far in 2011 the company has only sold 2,542,620 pounds of rice. But sales have not fallen drastically because Belizeans have stopped consuming rice. Rice producers believe it is because somehow rice is being imported into the country.
Peter Dyck- Managing Director Hill Bank Agricultural Company Limited

“ I wouldn’t want to say that the BMDC is maybe elements of the BMDC or maybe joint effort with ministry officials and BMDC because watching the news last couple of weeks there are certainly a lot of things that doesn’t make sense that has been reported to one media house to the next, one media outlet get the different story from the same ministry and the next media outlet too there is something very fishy is going on. I don’t our consumption should drop, what we have seen in our sales I think our consumption should continue to increase because we have more tourist arrivals according to the tourism board.”

And even a meeting held with the Prime Minister back in July has not helped.

Peter Dyck- Managing Director Hill Bank Agricultural Company Limited

“He requested that we come up with the issue of evidence and I told him I could not, it was more a matter of just importing rice which we believe it is a combination of contraband and money laundering because that is what is happening in Guatemala, where the rice industry has been taken over by the mafia where they import rice and convert that into money and that is how they move money down from north and we believe that something similar to that nature could be happening here and I said am sorry I cannot provide evidence I think that’s where we have the police department for, obviously something is not working somewhere.”

But no one is carrying out an investigation and with Uruguayan Rice being imported into the country and somehow finding its way into retail outlets here in the north, just makes things worse.

Peter Dyck- Managing Director Hill Bank Agricultural Company Limited

“It is a very questionable issue because in the news I read last night is that BAHA issue a permit, I think that whole thing is a farce, BAHA does not issue permits, the ministry of agriculture who keeps information, statistical data gives a recommendation when they see that the rice stocks are low and then it is taken to the ministry of trade where the supplies and control issues a permit based on the recommendation of the ministry of agriculture, BAHA is there to inspect the cargo when it comes in, they are not there to issue permits, let’s stop telling the Belizean people lies that just won’t exist.”

With sales down and with no one able to assist right about now, the future of rice producers here in the north looks quite grim.

Peter Dyck- Managing Director Hill Bank Agricultural Company Limited

“It’s taken Belize from 1970’s to about three or four year ago to become self sufficient rice, what government has done right now I would say we would wait another thirty or forty years before we our self self-sufficient in rice again because there is not reason to make an investment in rice production at this point in time, fuel costs are so high, labor is high, taxes are not helping us a lot w don’t get incentives for rice production in this country and so I don’t think there is any future in rice I honestly believe that.”

When it comes to Hill Bank Agricultural Company Limited Dyck says they are tired of fighting against a government that just won’t listen and it is with a heavy heart that they have decided to hang their gloves.

Peter Dyck- Managing Director Hill Bank Agricultural Company Limited

“We cannot continue to grow rice, I want to take this opportunity to thank all the customers and the people of Belize in the past that they have supported Uncle John brand of rice by buying it and consuming it, we are sorry that we have to make the announcement that we will be closing our doors for rice production in this country but we have come to this point that where it is necessary to do that and thank again Belize for supporting us all this years.”

Tomorrow we will bring you part two of our story where we speak to two other major rice producers in Blue Creek who also say that the BMDC is the one causing all the chaos in the rice industry.

**** There have been other failed rice ventures in Belize in the past history. These kind of things give serious qualms and serious thought about investing in Belize. We are also re-considering building an electric producing power company with steam generators. There are so many government political tax things, permits and such we cannot control. While our hammock cottage industry business is still perking in the slow start up, learning/financing phase, we are also seriously considering diversifying into Guatemala, to build a backup fail safe, for the hammock making export proposed venture, because of the uncertainties with the government tax and permit climate here in Belize. The government we consider is predatory.

Western Belize Happenings

#424179 - 12/04/11 04:05 PM Re: Biggest rice producer in Belize out of business! [Re: Marty]
Katie Valk Offline
I'm not sure of all the figures above, but we consume about a 1 million lbs of rice per yr in Belize. The Blue Creek Mennonites started up this operation originally to export and packaged as they did for value added. I can tell you all kinds of ras gone on with rice in many communities, where groups applied for land for one reason, but ended up growing rice. There was a plan to organize rice production for use here and for export aboard and a lot of that plan was put in place to protect and foster economic development in Toledo, our poorest district, who now get screwed and will have to be subsidized. There's always a story behind the story.
Belize based travel specialist

#424181 - 12/04/11 04:53 PM Re: Biggest rice producer in Belize out of business! [Re: Katie Valk]
SP Daily Offline
For better or worse...government should NEVER be involved!

#424182 - 12/04/11 05:05 PM Re: Biggest rice producer in Belize out of business! [Re: Marty]
elbert Offline
Amen, few people realize the Vietnam war was over rice!
The Dive Shops Daily Blog

#424221 - 12/05/11 06:38 AM Re: Biggest rice producer in Belize out of business! [Re: Marty]
Amanda Syme Offline
I love our locally grown rice and buy specialty imported rice occasionally. But imported rice is expensive. This is a national staple. I hope the price and availability of rice does not mean more hungry bellies.

#424350 - 12/06/11 08:24 AM Re: Biggest rice producer in Belize out of business! [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

A Cure For The Rice Crisis?

Last week when we spoke to rice producers from Blue Creek - they were up in arms blaming the Belize Marketing Development Corporation for meddling with the market and for somehow sanctioning either the importation or the distribution of Uruguayan rice. Well, as we told you, their calls had not fallen on deaf ear: The Deputy Prime Minister went to the area on Thursday night and we hard news of emergency meetings on Friday.

Today there was a release form the Ministry of Agriculture. It says that on Friday, in Belmopan the Minister of Agriculture along with his Technical Staff met with the rice farmers of Blue Creek to discuss a way forward for the Rice Industry.

The release says, quote: "A commitment was made from the Minister and the farmers to work together and find solutions that will enable the Industry to remain sustainable and keep our self-sufficiency in rice production." A follow-up meeting is scheduled for the 16th of December 2011 which - according to the release - will focus on identifying specific problems which require Government's intervention.

And, according to the release, the matter of Uruguayan rice was, quote, "clarified," meaning that the position was reiterated: that The BMDC did not import any rice from Uruguay. Whether that satisfied anyone that the BMDC is not somehow involved in its distribution of the rice is another matter completely.

The Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries is grateful with the Blue Creek rice farmers for the frank and genuine discussions and their willingness in working together with the Government in resolving the issues facing the rice industry and chart a way forward.

Channel 7


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