Last Friday, we reported on the laying off of fifty-seven workers at the Golden Princess Casino in Corozal.� Employees of the gambling den were let go in the wake of a decline in business near the Belize/Mexico Border. Today, there are more persons without jobs up north to add to the unemployment lines. News Five confirmed that another industry in the north has had to considerably downsize its staff.� Fruta Bomba Limited, a papaya producing company near San Joaquin in Corozal, in the past few days staggered the dismissal of a total of ninety-five employees from its plant, citing a decline in production due to severe rains in the latter part of last year.� According to General Manager, Gilberto Vivas, production was down fifty percent at the end of 2013.

Via Phone: Gilberto Vivas, General Manager, Fruta Bomba Ltd.

"We laid off forty-four workers from Fruta Bomba and fifty-one at the Belize Food Packers.� The reason is obvious, we have been losing production because of the bad weather we had in last year, 2013 which was an unusual year.� I think that affected all the agricultural sectors in the whole country and even the reason.� So in order for us to survive well we had to do this.� Everything was done according to the labor laws, there was no exception for any of the workers.� They were laid off with everything that they deserved."

Isani Cayetano

Gilberto Vivas

"Where does the company stand at this point, I know you've mentioned that you guys have had to take cost-cutting measures to sort of mitigate what has happened in the industry.� Where does Fruta Bomba stand now?"

Via Phone: Gilberto Vivas

"Well the effect of the bad weather we will overcome that.� We will continue planting over in the Orange Walk District and we know for sure that it we don't have any problems with Mother Nature by 2015 we will be back.� But we will not discouraged, we'll just continue planting.� We will rehire people according to the needs, as the volumes increase in the future."

Isani Cayetano
"That's a total of ninety-five workers who have been sent home.� What's the size of the workforce at Fruta Bomba?"

Via Phone: Gilberto Vivas

"Presently Fruta Bomba has three hundred and ninety-six workers and Belize Food Packers has a hundred and twenty-two."

Isani Cayetano

"This is after the restructuring?"

Via Phone: Gilberto Vivas

"Yes, after restructuring."

While Fruta Bomba has not yet been able to quantify its losses in dollars and cents, the company says that it is close to a million dollars in damages to papaya crops.

Channel 5


Fruta Bomba manager says bad 2013 weather dealt a heavy blow

Just as the country is reporting some gains in the unemployment rate, nearly 200 workers in northern Belize have been terminated due to economic hardships. Last week, our newspaper reported on the termination of workers at the Golden Princess Casino in Corozal; this week, we regret to report that roughly 100 workers have lost their jobs in the papaya industry.

Gilberto Vivas, Fruta Bomba's general manager, told Amandala this afternoon that their parent company, Brooks Tropical of Florida, has decided to release 95 workers: 44 of them from Fruta Bomba and 51 from Belize Fruit Packers. Fruta Bomba has retained 300 workers and Belize Fruit Packers 90-plus workers.

Vivas said that the company, which produces primarily for export to the US, experienced its worst year since Hurricane Dean in 2007, due to the dire impacts of the flood on papaya production. We asked him to indicate the extent of the losses in dollar value, but he said that the data is not currently available. He did say, though, that they lost 50% of their crop due to the excessive rains. Some fields were inaccessible for months, and the fruit harvest was lost.

Vivas said that this is their first major loss since Hurricane Dean devastated the industry in 2007. Currently, Fruta Bomba has 500 acres under cultivation; before Dean, they were cultivating close to 1,000 acres. He said that they were hoping to fully recuperate their hurricane-related losses - and are still hoping to rebound enough by 2015 to rehire.

"I have faith that if there is no hurricane this year, we will be able to rebound," he told us.

Asked whether further terminations are in the pipeline, Vivas said, he thinks that this is it for now.

He told us that they consulted the Labour Department and paid workers their full severance packages and notice pay.

Brooks Tropical leases land, primarily from cane farmers, for its papaya operations. They have been operating in Belize since 1995.

According to Vivas, weekly exports before Dean were 35,000 boxes per week or thirty to thirty-five 40-foot containers, and that fell to 20,000 to 25,000 boxes a week. Now, he said, they are down to 8-12 containers weekly - not enough to finance their operations.

Export data recently published by the Statistical Institute of Belize indicated that Belize exported $20 million worth of papaya to the US in 2013, up from the $15.4 million it exported in 2012. Brooks Tropical is not the only exporter.