Flour Shortage Forces Closure of 12 Bakeries

There is no locally produced flour available in Belize tonight and that probably means your baker has no bread. It's an acute flour shortage and going forward, the news is not great. A representative of ADM Belize Mills has confirmed that they are importing 300 tonnes of wheat from Guatemala and that should end the shortage. But the bad news is that the trucks carrying those 300 tonnes are presently stuck at the Belize Guatemala border because they require special paperwork to be processed through Melchor. That probably won't be ready until tomorrow morning, so, assuming all goes well, the mill isn't expected to be producing flour until, the earliest, tomorrow afternoon.

In the meantime, it is reported that as many as twelve bakeries have been forced to close because they have no flour. When 7NEWS took a tour of the bakeries in Belize City we found G. Kee and Sons, Kee's Bakery, Cambranes and Maria Chang closed for the day while Sunnyside Bakery and La Popular were open. But while the present shortage is expected to be short lived, when the new shipment of flour is put on the market it's likely that the price will go up - and as goes the price of flour, so too the price of bread. The Belize Bakers' Association is asking for a fifty cent increase which means if approved, a pack of bread would cost two dollars.

According to the Association's President Andre Perez who spoke to us by phone today from his base in San Pedro, Bakers' simply cannot afford to continue without the fifty cent increase.

Andre Perez, President - Bakers' Association
"Just about everything has gone sky high, not only flour but shortening, butane, fuel, just about everything including wages for the employees. That is one other key issue that we discussed at the last meeting, that had to go up because we cannot take it anymore, everything is going up so high and we need our workers. And bakers are very high to come by for information you know. That is a profession that is very high to come by in this country.

As far as I am concerned there are 36 bakers registered in our association and that is almost 95% of the bakers in this entire country. As far as I am concerned, to my knowledge, as far as I read the newspaper this morning, I suddenly found that one of our main bakers, Sunnyside, is no longer a member, according to the leading newspaper here. But that is about the only person I heard, and through the newspaper as well, that he is not in favour. But that is only one out of 36. So the other 35 bakers are fully in favour and we have spoken along with the mill as well as government of Belize.

Not to say that government is in full support or accepts that the 50 cents is totally justified but really and truly it is that we have concrete figures to justify this. And that is because also bear in mind that the flour for bakers will increase by $24 and that is another big blow for us right here."

Jacqueline Godwin,
You said the price increase is already in the pipeline, when do you see it taking effect?

Andre Perez,
"Well it's all in the hands of government. I think they have Cabinet today. We have already put it up and the CEOs there are looking at the picture and it is a valid paper work that he provided to them and they are looking at it and they understand it. We have even offered to them that if they don't believe us, they can come at a certain bakery that we mentioned to them for them to take a look at it and see what it takes to produce a bag of flour, how much bread you're going to get out of it. So it is in the pipeline. It is just a matter of passing it over, I believe it is an SI and sometime next week the price is going up."

One footnote to that story is that Belize's most venerable baker, Zebedee Pitterson has gone on record in the Amandala saying that the bakers only need a 25 cent increase. Bakers' President Perez has bristled at this, saying Pitterson has supported 50 cents at the association, an association which he told the Amandala he is not a part of. We could not reach Pitterson for comment today. When government last increased the controlled price of flour in mid-April it negotiated a deal with Belize Mills and bakers were able to purchase a sack of flour at a discounted price of sixty one dollars. Today Belize Mills reportedly can no longer sell flour at the special price because it reportedly has been doing it at a loss.

Belize Importing 1 million Pounds of Rice

Belize is self-sufficient in rice production, meaning we can feed ourselves, but tonight this country is a rice importer. Over the next two weeks, Belize will import over 1 million pounds of rice. The good news is that this should end the rice scarcity, the bad news is that precious foreign exchange is going abroad when it could be spent at home on local industry.

The official story from the Belize Marketing Board is that the rice farmers up north in Blue Creek lost millions of pounds of paddy due to Tropical Storm Arthur. But out sources say the real story is that government and the Mennonite producers cannot agree on a price, and after negotiations fell through, government decided that its best option would be to import rice for about the same price.

And long story short, this evening the Marketing Board received its first shipment of forty eight thousand pounds of imported rice from Mexico and the United States. Manager Roque Mai says that over the next nine days they will have imported a total of 1- point 5 million pounds that should provide a constant supply of rice for the next three months. What's more, he says consumers across the country should see an abundance of rice in stores by Monday.

Roque Mai, Manager - Marketing Board
"Well as you look at it, the rice here is grade A, high quality and high standard and we are told by the businessman that is bringing us the rice in Belize that these are high quality in Mexico and in the USA. So we are getting rice from both the United States and Mexico. So Belizeans should have a better quality of rice on the table at the end of the day.

People are already ordering even up to five hundred sacks. So like I said, our customers can order as much as they want but the first shipment we have to minimize them but by the end of the week we should be equal.

I don't want the farmers to feel that we ignore them or are not selling their product. The objective is because of a emergency state. The demand is there and we are listening to the concerns of the people so therefore we are here to provide the necessity to the people in need."

Although the imported rice is high quality, Mai says you should not pay more than one dollar and thirty one cents per pound at the store. According to Mai the rice farmers down south in Big Falls are getting ready to plant and that supply of rice will become available to BMDC by September or November. As for their farmers up north they are getting ready to harvest. And Mai says that by the end of June one of the four rice producers in blue creek should start providing large supplies to the Marketing Board.

And while we've been viewing this shortage through the prizm of the Marketing Board, a representative of Belize Food Supply Company says that last week alone that company sold 450,000 pounds of rice across Belize. They continue to have an abundant supply. But with the Marketing Board now off their list of customers for the time being - those numbers are expected to go down this week.