by Ray Auxillou
( Falconview Tourist Backpackers Adventure Hostel )
2008 Agriculture College Program shrinks to 9 students. Now moved to the University of Belize academic campus, under the control of Provost Mark Olsen, we could not find any existing remaining agriculture faculty on a tour of the Belmopan UB campus.
The shrinkage and decline of the Agriculture College can be traced back to the tumultuous years of last political term, when the PUP committed the mistake of a three year BORROW and SPEND spree, touted as TRICKLE DOWN ECONOMICS and eventually ran the country into a predicted infra-structure meltdown, because of the ensuing debt accumulation.
The decline started around 2003 after the PUP government of the day realized the associated costs of their Cabinet Economic Policies needed to be reversed. Severe austerity ensued in government finances and one of the casualties was belt tightening resulting in the transfer of the Agriculture College, a fairly independent practical Community College institution, teaching general farming practices on the Colonial model, to the administrative control of the separate academic institution of the University of Belize. University of Belize in turn was hit by financial cuts accompanied with more demands on fiscal funding from it’s own sources. The ensuing battle was between Agriculture old management, a hands on type pragmatic education and the intellectual academic leadership of UB unsuited for what was properly a separate Community College institution. When the ensuing money shortage hit in the second PUP term over the last five years, just finishing; enrollment declined steadily, lacking both money and leadership.
It is Provost, Mark Olsen of UB who has overseen the transfer of the Agriculture two year Associate Degree Community College program to Belmopan. With only 9 students enrolled and a requirement of UB financial crunches; it makes sense to sacrifice the more expensive programs of the separate Central Farm College campus maintenance, of a mismanaged Community College Agriculture Program to more needy UB programs. In an interview the Provost described the move as restructuring, but evaded any details of when, or if, and in what year that the Central Farm Agriculture College might be resurrected. In this five year term, the Cabinet has quite rightly tightened the screws on government financing of infra-structure across the board in all government departments. All foreseeable government revenues are expected to be allocated for payment of government payroll in the existing form and reduction of the National Debt interest payments, for the next decade or so. For the foreseeable future this process is expected to take the next 15 to 20 years. Even with OIL as another new fiscal resource, which so far has not been big enough revenues to make much difference economically.
Besides the lack of government cash, the major problems of the Community College Associate Degree program was the CONTROL issue. The program suffers also from intellectual and academic leadership of a University, when it should be run by farmers with dirty hands, who are more pragmatic and turn theoretical education into learning through the ‘hands on method’. Money, control and wrong leadership have ruined the Agriculture College.
Surprisingly, the advances in Agriculture with newer and modern methods during 2006, 2007 and 2008 are resulting in a resurgence in agriculture as an attractive money earner. In the vegetable production field alone, 2007 saw the first vegetable farmers making over half a million dollars gross. While 2008 should produce the first MILLION DOLLAR vegetable farmers. Most of these are going to be Belizean Mennonites who take farming seriously throughout the heartland of Belize. Though incoming USA immigrants also see the opportunities. Even the horse and buggy farmers restricted by their religion and limited equipment choices are making very good money from vegetables in 2007. Modern methods have accumulated into breakthroughs in 2007, with Hydroponic farms earning $26,000 per acre, soil based water trickling system farms earning $12,000 to $24,000 per acre, depending on the crop and season, while newer GREENHOUSE production systems are just starting and expected to expand rapidly over the next three years as the profits through previous years trials have been proven and reinvested. Old fashioned farmers are still only clearing around $700 per acre. Modern technological farming has proven itself in the market place and neither the Agriculture Program of the University of Belize, or the faculty and leadership seem equipped to the newer realities. The curriculum for Agriculture is not encouraging youngsters to go into farming, though the money making profits of Agriculture today are showing enormous potential.
The University of Belize is touting competition with the private sector in banana sucker production and that of pineapples, to earn itself more money in a cash strapped future. Though using typical theoretical academic bombast and glitter they are presenting theoretical ideas in micropropagation technology along with other ideas of an industrial nature, which all require existing money funding to be spent on unproven ideas, rather than actually earning money with the latest developments and successes in Belize. Farmers look aghast at the theoretical plans of amateurs, while the opportunities and examples of making money right now with proven private sector projects, experiments and trials are becoming financially successful and rewarding. As the author of the latest SOIL research for modern hydroponics, soil farming and greenhouses in Belize I was dismayed that the University of Belize Library does not even have the money to buy the latest copy of the private sector production of the 2008 book, the FOURTH EDITION of the Belizean Vegetable Farmers BIBLE on sale at Agro Pro Farm Store in Santa Elena Town.