Minister Mai says that they have formed a task force to tackle the growing issue of contraband.  He also says there will be no importation of onion until the local farmers sell all their produce.

Jose Abelardo Mai, Minister of Agriculture, Food Security & Enterprise

“When I walked the market on Monday, I met the Orellanas and the vendors there and we had a meeting at ten o’clock with customs; BAHA; Agriculture and we came up with a task force to see how best we can manage the importation of contraband goods from La Union; Botes; we understand that it is even coming from Neuland; Little Belize by sea and Guatemala. We know who are doing it and so it is just a matter of time before they get caught; and that is why we try to control the number of people bringing in vegetables.  So, again, we have a task force and they are coming up with some recommendations right now to see how best we can control a hundred and thirty pounds. But that hundred and thirty pounds is not a problem that will be wiped out in ten days or seven days. I think by Friday there won’t be any more onions from those; maybe a hundred sacks here and there. But we will not open the borders for importation of onions until we are a hundred and fifty percent sure that there is no farmer left with product this season; we will not do that.”

Minister of Agriculture Investigates Reports of Contraband Onions

Last Friday we told you about the struggles of the onion farmers in Bomba. They reported having roughly one hundred and forty thousand pounds of onions that must be sold within three weeks time.  They claim they are struggling to sell their produce because contraband onions are flooding the market.  Well, that news report reached the ears of the Minister of Agriculture who personally went to Bomba to meet with the Orellana family on Saturday morning.  Minister Jose Abelardo Mai also went to the Michael Finnegan Market on Monday morning to see what was happening on the ground. Rather than contraband, he found high prices might be the culprit. 

Jose Abelardo Mai, Minister of Agriculture, Food Security & Enterprise

“We have been trying to maintain control on the illegal importation of onions and other goods so I didn’t see it as a major problem, to be honest. They said to me that they weren’t selling onions quickly enough because there seems to be contraband onion on the market. I went to the market on Monday morning early; on Saturday I visited the farm and made contacts with the BMDC; the wholesalers; and I went Monday to see what was in the market. On Saturday night we elaborated a plan to try to control the importation; this plan was between customs, BAHA, agriculture and police. That was Saturday night after we came from the farm. On Monday we went to the market, I personally walked the market and didn’t see any sign contraband onion which is good to me. I also met the Orellanas there selling onions at a good price. In speaking with the vendors, they had a little meeting with me and they said they don’t support buying contraband but when the price of onion being sold locally goes up then it provides that  incentives for contrabandidos to bring in onion. They say that the prices with the onions from that family is that the price is too high; the wholesalers have said the same thing to me.  There is no use of having abundant food around the people can’t buy it; that is not what the Ministry of Agriculture is all about. We have to balance it so that the farmers can make money and the consumers can afford it. So, we are asking that the farmers sell at an affordable price; establish your cost of production and put your mark up on that and it will be a just price.”

Channel 5