Funds For Farmer's

The Barrow Administration currently has the Unemployment Relief and the Food Assistance programs running to aid poor Belizeans who lost their jobs because of the coronavirus pandemic. They also in the process of assessing business owners who applied for help under the Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises program. And now, they've launched a government aid program to help the nation's farmers who continue to be devastated by the pandemic.

It's called the Farmer Assistance program, and with 8 million US dollars from the World Bank, the government is hoping to help more than 8,700 agricultural households in the country. This money was part of another loan from the Bank, but it has now been re-allocated to fund the Farmer Assistance Program.

And to share details on how it will work, Agriculture Minister Godwin Hulse and his technical team hosted a virtual press conference, which lasted for 100 minutes. 7News tuned in, and here's what the Minister had to say about how this program works, and who the beneficiaries are. Here's what he had to say this morning:

Hon. Godwin Hulse - Ministry of Agriculture

"Our Ministry is very, very pleased to announce that we have finally concluded the negotiations with the World Bank for 16 million Belize dollars of loan funds to provide relief to farmers who were impacted and affected by market contraction caused by COVID-19, those who suffered losses from the prolonged drought of 2019, and additionally, Ministry will provide assistance to vegetable farmers to improve the post-harvest handling of the product, and provide financial support - that is cash transfer to all female farmers. And I'll say if we had an audience, we would certainly be clapping for this because there are 2,052 female farmers who will each - 1, receive $500 in assistance. That is to encourage and promote women in agriculture. As you know, females in many cases are heads of households and the backbone of our food and nutrition. We do have a female farmer of the year, and so, we included - in this relief - every single female farmer who is registered on our BAIMS list. In addition to that, we will be providing this cash transfer to 5,372 farmers totally - of which 2052 are a part. And those are farmers with farms smaller than 20 acres down. That is how we are doing this. It is a cash transfer. You all will know that BAIMS is one of the programs we are extremely proud of. It's the Belize Agricultural Information Management System. And this was launched a couple of years ago in its making, and we perfected over the year. The reason for that is that we would not have been able to do this had we not have a register for farmers, pure and simple. This register was used by the World Bank in meticulous detail to arrive at the disbursements that we will make. Now in determining the allocation of funds, farmers were categorized in small, medium, and large. The bulk of the funds are targeted at small and medium farmers. At this juncture, I need to point out that there is another World Bank fund of 25 million US dollars - that's 50 million dollars - project, which is providing support primarily to medium and large commercial farmers, to assist with climate-smart agriculture adaptation measures, and to respond to climate changes."

Relief for Farmers Who Lost Due To COVID

Hulse and his team made sure to carefully explain that the farmers will get government aid, based on which adverse circumstances caused them to lose business. One of the criteria that a farmer might qualify under is the loss of revenue due to the COVID-induced shrinking of the markets they supply.

Hulse explained how the program aids these types of farmers:

Hon. Godwin Hulse - Ministry of Agriculture

"The way this will be divided is as follows. For market contraction - and that is exactly what it says. Because we reduced sales due to no tourists coming, in many cases reduced exports. So, the market contracted, no fault of the farmers, no fault of any of us. Poultry, dairy, vegetables, mainly cabbage, melons, onions, potatoes, sweet corn, sweet peppers, and tomatoes, cattle, pig, sheep, shrimp, pulse - pulse are seeds, in case you don't know what that word means, and grain production in various farms in the agricultural value chain was taken into consideration. An allocation of Belize 7,349,498 dollars was designated for these. Farmers across the country registered in the BAIMS program will qualify for support. That's for market contraction."

Dollars For Drought Damages

A major consideration is also being given to farmers whose crops were devastated by the droughts from last year or this year.

Here's how the Farmer Assistance Program helps these types of farmers to recover:

Hon. Godwin Hulse - Ministry of Agriculture

"For drought, as I told you before, while tourism suffered from COVID-19 principally, Agriculture got 3 hits: market contraction due to COVID, drought, which came before, and in some cases flood, which came afterword. Those are the sensitivity within the production, but this leg keeps standing and has to remain standing. For the drought, only sugar cane and vegetables, cabbage, onion, potatoes, sweet corn, sweet pepper, and tomatoes, production farmers operating in Cayo, Belize, Orange Walk, and Corozal districts, and registered with BAIMS, qualify for support, since the long drought primarily affected these districts. You'll recall when we had to make another sort of State of Emergency. We only the 4 districts. We didn't include Stann Creek and Toledo Districts because they were principally affected by drought. So, only farmers in these areas will receive relief based on drought, and the amount is allocated for them is $4,747, 892 Belize."

Cash For Some Farmers

There is an element of the Farmer Assistance Program which resembles the Unemployment relief program, in which qualified farmers will be given cash transfers of $500 each.

The Minister made it clear that this is the only part of the program where cash will be given directly to the farmers. He explained why:

Hon. Godwin Hulse - Ministry of Agriculture

"Then there is financial support. As you know Government gave out to all and sundry, let's say, people who are unemployed as a result of COVID, losing their jobs, people who were previously unemployed, the government gave out a significant amount of money to those. Well, under the agriculture program, we're also doing something similar, but this will be primarily small-scale farmers, and as I mentioned before, female farmers, regardless of the amount of land and size of the operation. The Government is paying out a fixed sum of approximately $500 per farmer. We've allocated 2.747 million dollars to this component. And as I said before, it is important to highlight the contribution of women in the agriculture value chain. Registered farmers across Belize meeting criteria will qualify for this benefit, and when I'm through, we'll explain how this will be disbursed."

Hulse and his team also explained that qualified farmers may get what is being referred to as "post-harvest management assistance". It's basically, where the Government will pay for inputs such as fertilizers for the farmers to jump-start their agricultural enterprises. Here's what he had to say about the voucher system that this one will be based on:

Hon. Godwin Hulse

"There is another component, which is the Ministry decided to provide post-harvest management assistance to vegetable producers and agricultural cooperatives involved consolidation, packing, and distribution of products. Producers will receive harvesting crates to facilitate the harvesting and transportation of their produce. This aimed at reducing bruising and preserving quality. Cooperatives will receive washing bins, draining tubes, sorters, and scales to improve the handling of products received from their members. We have $500,000 that's allocated for this."

Bittersweet News for Sugarcane Farmers

The sugarcane farmers of the north will also receive a little less than 3 million dollars in relief funding under this program, and it will complement the 2 million dollars they will get access to under the CDB Enhancing Sugarcane Famers Resilience to Natural Hazard Events Loan motion, which parliament passed last month.

You'll remember how the Opposition criticized the government saying that this drought relief program is not nearly enough to ease the suffering of the farmers in the Corozal and Orange Walk Districts. Well, Hulse said this Farmer Assistance Program will bolster that CDB-funded program with more money:

Hon. Godwin Hulse - Ministry of Agriculture

"Couple weeks ago, we passed in the House, a sugar cane relief motion from the CDB, which is 1 million US dollars, or 2 million Belize dollars, and there were a lot of talks that it's not enough, etc. You know the politics take effect. Well, I am pleased to advise that we understood the maximum we could do under that then drought-relief program. And we are sad that it took so long, but we're working with international financial institutions and you have to cross all the T's and dot all the I's. And the CDB required that we do that, again using our BAIMS, register of cane farmers that we had. And so, we're pleased to announce that we are just about to procure 60% of that million dollars, which 1.2 million Belize dollars. We should be disbursing that in September, but in addition to that - and that will affect some 3,644 cane farmers. In addition to that 2 million dollars, under this program that we're launching today, we have another million US dollars for cane farmers. So, that's another 2 million dollars. That makes 4 million dollars for cane farmers, but in addition to that, we're also giving out that 500-dollar in which some 3,000 - almost - cane farmers will benefit. And that will take the amount of money to be disbursed to cane farmers to close to 5 million dollars. It will be 2 from CDB, 2 from this World Bank, by virtue of vouchers, and the cash transfer is $475,500 US, which is $900,000 Belize basically"

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