For many years - we've heard talk of exporting cattle to a Mexican market that's hungry for as much beef as Belize can produce.
But, the hold-up has always been making the cattle fit for export. And what do we mean by that? Well, Mexico has very strict standards for livestock imports - meaning that every head of cattle they import has to be certified to be disease free - which means that they have been tested and traced, basically form birth to confirm that they are contaminant free.
And anyone who knows anything about Belize will know that generally, "we noh work soh."
Except that in this case, we've had to learn how to. And leading the way is BAHA which has teamed up effectively with cattle exporters in the private sector to conducts a cattle sweep - an immense exercise which will document and certify every exportable head of cattle in Belize.
It started this week in Blue Creek and we went to that Mennonite commune at Belize's northwestern edge to find out more:..
Jules Vasquez reporting
It's called a cattle sweep and it's not a business for the squeamish or easily startled - only cowboys and cattle-dogs can stay cool.
While cattle may shudder at the thought, cattle-men - gathered here in Blue Creek today get weak-kneed and woozy just thinking about the prospects:..
John Carr - Cayo Cattle Owner
"This is just the most important thing that ever happened."
David Dyck - Farmer for 52 years
"This is very important because we had way too many cattle for Belize, and we have no legal exports. We were just taking a risk raising more cattle, and didn't know if we would sell it tomorrow or not. For us, this is very important for this to go through so that we can have a market where we can sell our cattle tomorrow."
The sweep is important because it is a massive three year exercise which will take stock of every head of cattle in the country which is less than 30 months old.
Jose Alpuche - CEO, Ministry of Agriculture
"It's a lot of work. It takes a lot of time, and doing approximately 100,000 heads of cattle will not be easy."
It starts here in Blue Creek, appropriately at David Dyck's Blue Creek Farm - right across the river from Mexico:
Hon. Gaspar Vega - Ministry Of Agriculture
"Blue Creek borders Mexico. It's so easy for us to transport the cattle to Mexico."
All of them will go through the same test - which is a sample taken from the tail for two very specific bovine diseases that Mexico does not want in its country:
Dr. Homero Novelo - Veterinary Coordinator, National Sweep
"Today, we saw the testing of several animals that went through the devices known as the squeeze. Actually, we had a team leader who a Mexican veterinarian is taking a blood sample from the tail vein of an animal."
So far - in just a week here at Blue Creek, 2500 cattle have been tested and 3,200 have been tagged.
The tag is an electronic identifier that is placed on the un-happy cow's ear which is linked to a database and can be read remotely.
The blood samples from the tail vein are collected and documented - forming what is, more or less, a passport for the cow -complete with date of birth and inoculations. After this, he's ready for export:
Dr. Homero Novelo
"But, for the purpose of exportation, we have to run a test and tell the world that, indeed, scientifically we are clean. So, that is what we are presently doing with all these tests. That done also puts a higher value on the animals in Belize because we've run this, and we've told the world we are clean. So, by the fact that we are not, our animals cannot be bought at a good price, but given the fact that we're doing the sweep, that is value added to the animal."
"I've got this 150 heads ready that we see here now. They're just waiting to go across the border. They are ready in a month, 100%."
"How soon will these be sent across and formally exported with BAHA certification?"
"As soon as the paperwork is done, I have a buyer in Mexico City. He called me yesterday. He said that he would bring the truck as soon as soon as I called and said that it's ready; he'll come and get them."
He's chuckling because for the past years, Belize's cattle have been exported but mostly illegally and mostly to Guatemala because they didn't have the certification that will come out of this exercise:
Abe Froese - Cattle Exporter
"The export price in Mexico is better, but it's all illegal export."
"Are you able to attract a higher price, now that you're doing it formally."
"How much is the difference?"
"We'll be selling our best at $1.50, and I think that we should get at least $1.75, or a little bit more."
Hon. Gaspar Vega
"Jules, I think that the people are bit reluctant in giving you dollar value, but from what I am gathering, it should bring between 30% and 40% increase in revenues, just by us going through this process."
And while guesstimates vary - the answers will only be known when legal cattle exports begin in earnest - which is imminent:
Jose Alpuche - CEO, Min of Agriculture
"What will happen is that we believe that within probably 2 months, the testing could be completed here in Blue Creek, maybe even earlier. Within that period, we expect that probably within the very same 2-3 months, we could commence exports into Mexico, but I must caution that at the end of the day, that's a commercial arrangement that must be agreed between our producers here and buyers in Mexico. The National Sweep will - quite frankly - start while this process is still on-going here in Blue Creek. So, we're hoping that probably late September, the National Sweep should start."
And while Mexico is the first designated trading partners, the vision is far greater:
"It's a process that will open our industry to exports beyond Mexico. So, the initial focus is on the Mexican market. We believe that with cooperation of the Mexican Government, and the embassy here in Belize, that exports should commence fairly quickly to Mexico. Mexico alone can take just about what we have to export at this point plus more."
H.E. Mario Velasquez - Mexican Ambassador to Belize
"Every day more and more, we will be importing from Belize every time more."
"The cattle industry, I believe, is on a - if we were measuring the threshold of progress from 1 to 10, I think we're about a 2 or a 3 right now. I see in 10 years, a tremendous difference in the numbers of cattle, even with discounted prices, the number has doubled in the last 15 - 20 years in Belize. And I believe that if that we'll be able to sell, we're going to see such an increase in cattle numbers. We're really going to become a cattle state."
"This has a lot of potential to increase the numbers of not only cattle, but the entire livestock sector in Belize beyond recognition."
The only downside is that the exports of all this prime beef could drive up the price of meat on the local market.
We'll tell you more about that tomorrow.