Last night, we told you about the hardship that the poultry and dairy producers of Spanish Lookout are facing due to the State of Emergency and the COVID-19 pandemic.
The poultry producers are staring down a 50% decrease in local sales because Belizeans just aren't buying chicken in the usual quantities. So, the poultry producers will run out of cold storage space in a few weeks' time due to all those unsold chickens. Dairy producers actually had to throw away milk because it has a short shelf life, and their product also wasn't selling as well.
Wasting food in this time of crisis doesn't sit well with the PUP's Orange Walk South Area Rep., Jose Mai. He and Agriculture Minister Godwin Hulse are members of the COVID 19 Agriculture Response Team, which was set up to keep a close eye on the country's food security during the crisis of this pandemic.
Mai spoke with us this afternoon via video chat about the topic. He told us that he has been advocating that the government buys agricultural produce directly from the farmers, which can then be provided to the needy Belizeans who lost their jobs. Here's how he explained why the decision-makers shouldn't allow any more food to be thrown away because the local market is under-performing in these COVID times:
Hon. Jose Mai - PUP Orange Walk South
"The issue is not an issue of national food security, you know because there is food in the country. The problem is household food security."
"The food is there in the field, but how do you get it to the household? That bridge is supposed to be in place by the Government. Now, there is money for that. What method you use is a different matter. The bridge between the producer and the household is not there, and it's there, it is inefficient. Having food going through first the Human Development programs, in my view, is not the best way to do it. We had proposed to the Government, you need to bulk buy. Go and say, I'll buy 10 containers of kidney beans from the Mennonites. I want you to pack it for me in 2-pound bags, and distribute that to the people."
"The food is there, but there is no purchasing power. The Government has the money, but yet, the food cannot reach the table of the Belizean people."
"Yesterday, I heard the news that the dairy industry was throwing away. There is not, in this country - this is not the time right now to throw away an ounce of milk or a grain of corn. This is the moment of crisis."
"This morning I got a call at 6 o'clock that one gentleman has 35,000 pounds of pork meat, and he has no more cold storage, what to do with it. So, he called and said, listen I'm giving it away cheap, $2 for the pound of leg and shoulder, and $3 for the pork chops and ribs. But, Please, Mr. Mai, help me. We had proposed to the government, and we spoke about this again in the meeting that the government must go and bulk-buy. Bulk-buy the meat, and store it in cold storage. We have enough cold storage, and we can find cold storage. Some say we don't have but there is. We'd have to do a little retrofitting. If you want to store, you can store it. Let us do that and then give it away to the people."
"What we are doing here is creating an opportunity for the merchants. Look, the poultry producers are telling you, if you buy 2 crates of chicken, I'll give you 1 free. So, the merchants buy the 2 crates, and they get one 1 free. But that free 1, they don't give it away. They sell that. So, people are not benefitting from the free chicken. It is the merchants. So, why don't you go to the poultry plants, buy the chicken, and give it out to the people? If they give you free, it is to give out to the people, not to sell."
We'll have more on the cattle side of this developing story tomorrow. Reliable reports say that the trade in beef has been stopped because it used to go through the back to Guatemala - so to speak, transmitting Bullett Tree village. But now the village chairman there has put a stop to it. More on that tomorrow.