Eugene Waight, Chief Agriculture Officer
Belizean consumers regularly use products from Nestle, Kraft Foods and other food imports. These popular products can be found at the dinner tables on the farthest reaches of the country. However; these food products which have attained the highest level in value added form, contain constituents that can be produced by our local farmers.
Our Belizean farmers must learn to compete with imported products. This is according to Hon. Gaspar Vega, Deputy Prime Minister, who in a recent speech to telecommunication workers, stated that farmers must remain competitive despite the odds.
“…our farmers are not only competing among themselves, but must learn to compete with imported food items from multibillion dollar, multinational conglomerates.”
Additionally said the Minister of Agriculture and Natural Resources,
“…do you know that the price of corn in Jalacte is directly linked to corn prices in Guatemala which in turn is directly linked to imported American corn for which the reference price is obtained from the Chicago Commodity Exchange…”
Even with these challenges, Belize is moving ahead and gaining footholds on new markets for non-traditional exports. New markets have opened for both corn meal and live cattle in Mexico, as well as chicken in Trinidad and Tobago. There is also a new demand for traditional exports such as sugar, bananas and shrimps
But farmers need to stay abreast at the marketing intelligence front to remain competitive. The Ministry of Agriculture for its part is constantly reaching out to farmers, giving them information on which crops to invest on. Chief Agriculture Officer, Eugene Waight, recently visited the Toledo District where he made efforts to convince farmers, who traditionally grow cacao, beans and corn; to diversify into new markets like sheep and cattle.
The Ministry of Agriculture, in addition to providing pointers about markets trends, also assists farmers in capacity building and technology.
“…one of the big things we have been pushing is agro-industry and value adding…” says Eugene Waight.
“The Minister of Agriculture and Natural Resources is involved in the partial scope agreement, trying to find market opportunities for Belizean products,” he continued.
To give farmers that competitive edge, an incubator facility has been constructed in Central Farm with assistance from the Taiwanese Mission. Another incubator is being planned for the North of the Country. According to Eugene Waight, the Government of Belize, in addition to finding the technology, is looking at credit from the Development Finance Corporation.