The Belize River Valley is lush with the cohune palm. It also grows abundantly throughout the country. The palm has a number of uses; it is prevalently used for thatching while the nut is used to produce oil. Villages in the valley are turning to cohune oil production for their economic growth and to put food on their table. The cooking oil is retailing for fifteen dollars per liter and sixty dollars per gallon. News Five’s Marion Ali was in Flowers Bank and found out that with the promise of a wide market, the prices are expected to decrease.
Marion Ali, Reporting
Cohune oil production has always been a means of income for many people in rural Belize. But its production had been on the decline since the early sixties and more so with the convenience of reasonably-priced imported cooking oils and other cooking agents. Now the residents of Flowers Bank and neighboring communities in the Belize River Valley are poised to benefit from the production of this valuable resource through a new project.
Dorla Rhaburn, President, Flowers Bank Cohune Oil Project
“Right now we got a lot of orders, so this oil sell more than the other oil on the market. Since we begin to work on the mill we produce more oil and we get more oil sell.”
Alrick Rhaburn, Cohune Harvester
“People used to do it but at a small scale and now we get wah building and some machine to do some more work pan it now. Dehn could mek wah lee money offa di cohune.”
But while residents of Flowers Bank and its environs benefit off the nut, they are assured, by the very nature of its flourish, that the cohune cannot be over-harvested.
Reuben Rhaburn, Maintenance keeper, Flowers Bank Cohune Oil Project
“Yoh can’t goh up the tree and cut it down. Yoh have to wait until they drop and that’s the time you know its ready, so you have to wait until it drop, you know.”
“So you can’t over-harvest?”
“No, you can’t overharvest. The tree is always bearing, just like how a coconut bear. It has on maybe two bunches that will drop off then two more will come out. It’s a cycle, so the other bunches that is up there will not drop until July again.”
Once the cohune is collected from under the tree, it is set in the sun to dry – a process which can take a month. Once dried, it then goes through processing…from shelling…to grinding…and then cooking the cornel in two large pots to extract the oil.
Sharon Robinson, Treasurer, Flowers Bank Cohune Oil Project
“See you have it already grind. As soon as the water get hot enough then we’ll put the trash in the boiling pot, leave it there for like an hour and a half, then after that the fat will come to the top, then you have to wait til it cools off a little bit, skim it and then put it in another pot and fire again and then it will fry til all the water comes out.”
After the final product is left to cool down, it is then bottled off and labeled for sale. And by all indications, there is a great market for the product.
“As soon as we continue to process a large amount you could buy it by the drum. So we hope that that still stay in position and that we could demand all the oil that we could.”
Charles Bacab, National Coordinator, Agro-processing, Min. of Agriculture
“We want to look at the local level first and then after that, once we have the quality and everything in place then we can start to look at the export market. Definitely I think that there’s an export market there.”
Ministry of Agriculture’s National Coordinator of Agro-processing, Charles Bacab, says the public will be able to purchase more cohune oil from their local grocers in attractively-labeled pints, litres or gallons.
“But cohune oil production is not always an easy job. As villager and harvester, Alrick Rhaburn told us, it can also be risky business.”
“Yoh see like dehn young trees there, when deh thick snake tend fi live eena it.”
“You ever encounter a snake yet while harvesting?”
“One time from the time I di pick it up noh, one time I encounter a snake – small one bout this (measures about 2 ft).”
“Yah, Tommy Goff.”
But that risk of getting bitten by a poisonous snake while harvesting cohune is slim because most poisonous snakes hibernate during the day. While the project is geared towards stimulating economic growth in the Belize River Valley, another important question is the quality of the product, compared to what many people are now accustomed to. And in this economic crunch still affecting many people, perhaps bringing back the cohune oil tradition will serve more good reasons than one.
“From we small this is the oil that we used to cook with and to me, this along with the coconut is the best. You will see for yourself – the taste will tell you that you will come back for more.”
Marion Ali for News Five.
The project is to be officially launched in February 2011.