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#511563 - 02/12/16 04:45 AM Fruta Bomba To Close: 251 Nortenos Will Be Left Jobless  
Joined: Oct 1999
Posts: 52,664
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251 Employees of Fruta Bomba and Belize Fruit Packers were told today that the foreign owned papaya company would be closed down in 6 months.

If you don't know about Fruta Bomba, it's Belize's biggest Papaya Producer - located near San Joaquin village in the Corozal District - and it's been operating in Belize for 22 years. The Company is owned by Brooks Tropicals - a fruit company based in the US State of Florida.

Brooks Tropicals sent out a release today saying that it is closing its growing and packing operations in Belize by mid-August.

And why now? Well, they just aren't making money - or at least that's according to a press release.

The release says, quote, "economic conditions, particularly after hurricane Dean in 2007 have hindered the company's substantial efforts to rebuild a profitable operation."

It continues, efforts over the last three years to build and maintain efficient growing and packing operations in Belize have not been successful and as a result we have incurred substantial annual losses in Belize that the company can no longer sustain."

And just like that, one of the biggest employers in the north is calling it quits - putting those 251 breadwinners out of a job in just a few months. It's dismal news for the economy in the north, and for the government. Today CEO in the Ministry of Agriculture Jose Alpuche told us he just got the news two days ago:..

Jules Vasquez
"From your perspective as the chief executive officer in the Ministry of Agriculture, do you feel somewhat caught off-guard like they've pull the rug from under you all at the Ministry of Agriculture with such short notice?"

Jose Alpuche, CEO - Ministry of Agriculture
"I believe it was a bit abrupt. Government regrets the decision. There is not a whole much we can do at this point in time except to ensure there is a smooth transition and that all liabilities from the company especially liabilities to workers are actually taken care of. As it relates to the papaya industry, their assets that they have at this point in time will be up for sale. That is from the company and we will work acidulously to see if in deed there may be another buyer for this venture. I don't know what more could have been done to satisfy them. Quite frankly very little more could have been done to improve on the benefits that they were already enjoying. This company has enjoyed an EPZ for one of its subsidiary. It also has enjoyed fiscal incentives for another one of its subsidiary. And I believe they have enjoyed all the space that are afforded to companies to operate in Belize."

Jules Vasquez
"Are you satisfied that the government did all it could to keep Brooks Tropical or Fruta Bomba engaged in Belize in the most conducive situation for an investor?"

Jose Alpuche, CEO - Ministry of Agriculture
"Yes. I believe so Jules. There is an opportunity cost to everything and there comes a point where there is only so much concessions that could be afforded to companies. The only difficulty is we have been having with them over the last few months had to do with water rights and I know we have some difficulties with location of some of their fields as it relates to bee keepers an spray zones etc. But we've been working on that as the issues arose. They have said to us that they've been moving operations to the Dominican Republic and I believe sourcing product from Guatemala also. And I don't think that there is a whole lot government could have done to try to convince them to stay. Quite frankly to be fair to Mr. Brooks, he has said that they had no substantial reason to fault the government of Belize for why they decided to move out. The fact is that they said they've been losing money and that is why they are oblige to move now."

Jules Vasquez
"Now, how much of an emergency is this both from an industry perspective to try and keep this industry going and also from a social perspective in order to try and make sure that 250 wage earners in the north don't lose their livelihoods?"

Jose Alpuche, CEO - Ministry of Agriculture
"That is the biggest challenge in which we would need to try and see how they can be accommodated in other sectors of the economy. That is the number one challenge and the number preoccupation for government right now."

Alpuche says that there are no prospective investors at this time to buy over the operations - which Brooks Tropicals would have to sell in the first place.

We note that while the company will close down in six months - it will begin to phase out jobs before that as it winds down operations - so it's not like all 250 employees will be kept on until August, most of them will go home before that.

Jose Mai Says Government Bureaucracy Boxed Out Bomba

One man that sounded the alarm on Fruta Bomba months ago was PUP Representative Jose Mai. He warned the House of Representatives that the investor was unhappy because of delays in the Department of the Environment approving the digging of wells. At the time Mai noted that the company had gone down from packing almost 80 thousand boxes of fruit, to packing just 15 thousand.

And now he says the company closing will give rise to all the social issues that accompany unemployment:..

Hon. Jose Mai, Area Rep. OW South
"Today I think they've had enough and they decide to move. You see other countries have a lower cost of production and they are moving there. Why would they stay in a country that has high cost of production, high labor cost, unfit or unfriendly farm policies? When you can go to other countries and get labor for half the price in Belize. You have less disease incidents, you have friendly government who understands agriculture - who understands exportation and trade. Why would you stay in Belize? Why would you stay in a country where they tell you you can't dig a well until I approve it and it takes 30 days to approve a well?"

Our archives show that ten years ago Fruta Bomba had 7 to 800 employees, and now they are down to 250, showing that they have been steadily scaling down operations.

Channel 7

#511726 - 02/19/16 04:55 AM Re: Fruta Bomba To Close: 251 Nortenos Will Be Left Jobless [Re: Marty]  
Joined: Oct 1999
Posts: 52,664
Marty Offline
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Laid Off Workers Bombed By Bomba

As we told you at the top of the newscast, the Fruta Bomba mass layoffs began today in the Corozal District - and reports suggest that as much as 80% of the 251 staffers could be laid off by next week. From a distance, it's very unfortunate, but, up close, it's just plain devastating. Here's what some of the former employees had to say in Spanish today as they got their last pay checks:...

"It's very little, it is just exact to pay what we owe. The one without debt is good, but the one that is in debt, he's the one that is suffering. That's how it's going to stay - I can't do anything."

"Where do you plan to work now?"

"Well I don't know, find another company, where ever there is job. If one day there is work here again in the north. If not well everything is lost."

Employee 2
"I feel desperate, because they just gave me a little bit of money."

"What work are you going to do now?"

Employee 2
"That's what I'm wondering. Because I have debts. And it's not going to give me to even pay my debts."

In its release last week, Brooks Tropicals which owns Fruta Bomba said, quote, "all wages due employees based in Belize labor laws will be paid at the time employees are laid off."

Fruta Bomba Starts Sending Workers Home En Masse

Last week the papaya export company Fruta Bomba announced that it would be closing down its Belize operation in San Joaquin village - and laying off 251 employees. The company gave a six month time frame for its wind-up, but reports from the north are that the mass layoffs have started today, and will continue tomorrow. Those reports say that as much as 80% of the staff could be laid off by next week. The company will then reportedly keep a skeleton staff as it winds up operations.

It's a massive blow for the north in terms of employment, but Fruta Bomba sent out a press release last week saying that it had no choice because it was consistently losing money in Belize - despite making new investments in its operation. It attributed the downturn to Hurricane Dean way back in 2007. But we also know that the company had had problems with the Department of the Environment and with local farmers and a bee keeping co-op which claimed that pesticides had destroyed their bee populations.

Fruta Bomba had been operating in northern Belize for 22 years.

Channel 7

#511849 - 02/23/16 04:49 AM Re: Fruta Bomba To Close: 251 Nortenos Will Be Left Jobless [Re: Marty]  
Joined: Oct 1999
Posts: 52,664
Marty Offline
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GOB Has No Plans for the Papaya Industry; Opposition Leader Weighs In

Last Friday we told you of the over one hundred workers who were laid off at Fruta Bomba and Belize Packers Limited. In our story we did tell you that the Labour Department has reached out to them expressing their willingness to help in ensuring that they receive their just exit packages. Today, we had a chance to talk to the Deputy Prime Minister who also holds the portfolio for agriculture. We asked Minister Gaspar Vega on the possible rebuilding of the papaya industry in Belize and the fate of the men and women who were laid off.


“I don’t know if we have the ability to just bring back another Papaya plant or industry because as we all know one of the reasons why the people are leaving is because they are going to neighboring Guatemala where the labor is so much cheaper than here, that is one of our constant challenges with manufacturers in Belize, that our labor is a bit high but we have to live with that. We are hoping that since the sugar crop is on right now that they will be able to get some employment from there because most of them are laborers so we are hoping that that but for the long term we are hoping that they would be able to get stabilized in the sugar industry.”

Minister Vega told the media that the industry has never been able to bounce back since Hurricane Dean.


“I think they’ve been having some serious challenges since Hurricane Dean I don’t think they’ve been able to recuperate from that huge loss that they had at that time and it’s not only them we had other papaya groups in Blue Creek and in Shipyard and after that hurricane they both tried and tried and eventually they got out of the business because it’s a delicate business and yes we have one of the best papaya in the region but it’s too delicate and they haven’t been able to withstand the losses that they had. As you may have heard they have lost something like $15 million dollars and anybody would close down if they can’t get out of that deep hole.”

Love News had been informed recently that the demise of the Fruta Bomba Company was due to a lack of cooperation from the Government of Belize. Minister Vega has denied those allegations, saying that the Government has never been unfair to the company.


“At one time they had some claims that they were having difficulty with the permits for wells but like we all know if you make it too easy the public criticizes us, it’s a balancing act and I don’t think it was that difficult. We tried to facilitate and that is the only thing that I can recall of. I don’t think the government at any one time was unfair to them.”

As we mentioned over hundred persons have been terminated with the remaining 117 to be let go over the next six months. Recently elected Opposition Leader, John Briceno commented on the matter.


“It is unfortunate that Fruta Bomba whatever fruit packers they decided to cease and end their operations in. I believe that we produce a good product, the papaya that we produce are considered one of the sweetest and most succulent papayas in the region and that is why they stayed in Belize for so long but they are claiming that their operational costs were way too high for them to stay in Belize. The concern I have with that is that then we have a government that has been totally hands off with the challenges that these companies face. I remember that at least two or three occasions we have been bringing it to the attention of the government, something is going wrong with the Papaya industry because in the last budget debate I pointed out that production has already gone down by about 75%. At the height of the papaya growing in this country they had about 1000 people employed and it was down to 250 and now 130. Certainly before six months is up the rest are going to lose their jobs.”

Fruta Bomba has been in Belize for over twenty years.


#511877 - 02/24/16 05:47 AM Re: Fruta Bomba To Close: 251 Nortenos Will Be Left Jobless [Re: Marty]  
Joined: Oct 1999
Posts: 52,664
Marty Offline
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[Linked Image]


The papaya industry had its origins with a project funded by the United States. With the assistance of USAID (United States Agency for International Development), a company called Belize Agribusiness Company (BABCO) was created in 1985.

BABCO was successful agronomically, but it was not able to set up a lasting marketing chain. In 1990, a former employee of BABCO who persisted was able to successfully grow the fruits in San Andres in Corozal. Marketing trials were carried out with J. R. Brooks, a marketing company based in Florida. Fruta Bomba was thus established as a subsidiary of Brooks Tropicals in Belize. Brooks Tropicals produce papaya in Mexico, Belize and Guatemala.

Since then, Belize became the second largest exporter of papaya to the USA and Canada, second only to Mexico, and ahead of Brazil. This is a leadership position in a rapidly growing segment of tropical fruits, in large-value markets with significant potential for long-term growth.

Papaya is the fourth most important traded fruit in the world behind banana, mango and pineapple. It only started getting popular over the last two decades, so it has much more to grow.

Unlike the Hawaiian papaya, Belize papaya is non-genetically modified, being more wholesome and preferred by consumers.

The declared value of papaya exports ranged between US$6.5 million currently to a peak of US$15 million in 2006, before hurricane Dean battered the industry. This accounts for around 3-4% of total exports. While small, relative to the total export value, it is not insignificant, especially in a country where exports are falling and imports exploding. Belize has bills to pay and it should be expanding exports, not closing them down.

The industry employed 500 to 1,000 persons directly and indirectly. This is around 1% of the total labour force. While small relative to the total employed, it is not insignificant, especially in a country where long-term unemployment is around 18%. Belize needs to be creating more jobs not destroying them.

2009 global exports of papaya was around US$197.2 million (FAOSTAT 2012b), with Belize controlling 11% of the global exports. This is a leadership position that should be developed upon, not squandered.

The principal investor was Brooks Tropicals of the U.S.A., a leader with established distribution tentacles in the lucrative North American market for a wide range of tropical fruits, many of which Belize can produce competitively, if the right policies were in place. They should be expanding here, not closing down. Their presence here should be inviting to more industries, not discouraging them.

The industry was located in the area between Orange Walk and Corozal Districts, an area already challenged economically. This area, particularly Corozal, needs more industries and jobs, not less.

The special-interest economy that prevails here is difficult for anyone to work and reap just rewards for their work. (The high tax on fuel, the high taxes on production inputs, the high cost of transportation, the high cost of port and shipping fees, the high political costs, the low investments in agricultural health and development, the low investments in industrial infrastructure). All of these are part and parcel of service to the status-quo, special interest economy, based on politically-driven, discretionary "development incentives" serving a small minority of persons and their shadow companies, compromising the long-term development of Belize.

Add to these the growing corruption and unfolding, increased risk of not being able to move capital freely due to tightening financial restrictions and this closing down of Fruta Bomba papaya industry is just the tip of the iceberg. Other industries are currently on life-support in the intensive-care-unit.

Where are the business organizations? the unions? the civil societies? the youth? Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition? Who loves Belize enough to stand up and demand the necessary changes?

- By Richard Harrison

#514653 - 06/16/16 01:56 PM Re: Fruta Bomba To Close: 251 Nortenos Will Be Left Jobless [Re: Marty]  
Joined: Oct 1999
Posts: 52,664
Marty Offline
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Fruta Bomba closes operations

Fruta Bomba is winding down its operations in Belize. The Guardian Newspaper is reliably informed that the company is this week doing the final clearing up of its operations in Belize.

Earlier this year, in February, Brooks Tropicals the parent company for Fruta Bomba & Belize Food Packers Ltd., which was the sole papaya exporter from Belize, terminated the services of 123 employees. That was as part of the company winding down its operations in Belize. The company had over 250 employees and at the time explained that it would continue to shut down its operations during a period of 6 months. It apparently is doing so much earlier than that announcement.

As the company began to wind down it kept decreasing its staff. This week there will be only about 15 workers left to clear up what is left. We understand that in its winding down, the company will also plow down all its papaya trees which are currently in the fields.

Fruta Bomba and Belize Food Packers have been operating in Belize for 22 years but it met financial hard times after hurricane Dean in 2007 with the company being unable to rebound from losses it suffered during that storm.

During its operations in Belize the company enjoyed EPZ status as well as other fiscal incentives including tax incentives. Even though it enjoyed this status the company claimed that labor costs were a contributing factor to their exit from Belize. The company is sourcing fruit from Guatemala and are also investing in the Dominican Republic. Labor cost in the latter country is at .33U.S. cents while in Belize it is $1.65U.S. per hour.

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