El Cayo now….is much different from El Cayo in the 1970’s and 80’s.

The economy then was centered around small-scale, mostly milpa-farming agriculture and timber production…and the British Army….with a periphery of tourism and commerce…..dotted with a number of bustling small-manufacturing industries that dominated the country’s supply of furniture, dairy, processed meats, juices, etc. There was a stable, year-round and growing economy through those years.

The economy now….is centered around tourism….dotted with the small-scale secondary manufacturing industries of furniture, processed meats, juices, foam, etc., struggling to stay afloat, having lost their dominance in the national landscape, to new competitors that have popped up in the other districts.

The small-scale milpa-farming has mostly disappeared, with agricultural production having become commercialized and controlled by Spanish Lookout. The money moved from the communities around El Cayo, over to Spanish Lookout…which is better organized and financed….and able to benefit from large subsidies from government policy….which the small-scale farmers are not able to benefit from.

Timber production has all but disappeared…with most of the pine lumber being imported from abroad these days. A handful of small-operators scalp the forest with chain saws, producing a small amount of hard wood and mahogany timber, mostly from young trees that yield inferior quality timber…and thus furniture.

The British Army, which used to host around 500 men at Central Farm adding an estimated $12 million per year to the economy…is no longer there.

The Government of Belize, since Independence, have pursued policies that weaken the manufacturing sector in general…but especially the secondary-manufacturing sector….mostly to benefit the importing commercial interests that compete with them.

The economy of El Cayo thus now follows the seasonal character of the tourism industry…..with highs between December and May…and lows between June and November. For the most part….life in El Cayo is no longer the vibrant and happy place that it used to be…..there is a lot of poverty here today, which was never seen here before.

It used to be that El Cayo was the place to go for Easter holidays….highlighted by the largest event in the country….the Holy Saturday Horse Race. Horse racing has since moved to Burrell Boom….with local vacationers now flocking to the more developed islands and Placencia.

It used to be that El Cayo had a great football team…the Avengers….that filled up the Norman Broaster Stadium, hotels and restaurants, with visitors from all over the country. El Cayo no longer attracts large amounts of football fans.

Most of the commercial interests in El Cayo were local family-owned enterprises. Today, so-called foreign investors have completely taken over this sector, sending millions away to their families and financiers each year.

El Cayo needs to reinvent itself.

The Belize Times