And right now that ear on the ground may be hearing grumblings about a
carrot controversy. You may have noticed that your favorite food vendor
gave you potato salad instead of coleslaw this week, or that your
neighborhood dessert shop didn't have carrot cake. That's because
carrots are scarce â€“ in fact, there is only one vendor still selling at
the largest market in the city. And on top of that, the vendors say the
carrots they do get are unsatisfactory â€“ mushy and unusable. And these
are the vegetables they are paying top dollar for since the Ministry of
Agriculture has banned the importation of carrots and the local farmers
charge higher prices per sack. Today we took a trip to the market to
see the carrot conundrum. Courtney Menzies has this story.
If you wanted to make coleslaw tomorrow, well, you might be out of luck.
The Michael Finnegan Market is almost out of carrots - with only one vendor
who still had the vegetable. And he says it's because carrots aren't being
Voice of: Market Vendor
"Right now the issue with the carrots is there is no carrots right now
and I think they are not giving license for the Mexicans and the reason
that I heard is that once the local farmers have, you can't import
Mexicans right, but the local farmers don't have the amount to supply
the whole market because if you notice, no carrots in the market
"When you do buy local carrots. What the quality?"
Voice of: Market Vendor
"It noh too ready, to be honest it no too ready. The Mexican far
better. I notice that people prefer the Mexican than the local."
And two other market vendors had the same complaints - low quality carrots
at much higher prices.
Anny Aguilar - Market Vendor
"Our concern is that the customers are not getting what they are asking
for, the carrots are not coming as quality as we expected and the price
is very high and overall the most important thing is that we want our
customers to feel comfortable with what we have and we don't have the
correct product that we expected."
Rosa Gonzalez - Market Vendor
"The price is very different because the local 85 dollars for the sack
and it only brings 50 pounds and the Mexican bring 55 pounds and it
cost 60 dollars. The quality is totally different."
"We agree to support the locals but if we don't have enough for the
whole country of Belize, why cut the license when you can at least
arrange a way how the whole country could have carrots so that that we
don't have to have this issue."
And when the market vendors don't have carrots, it trickles down to the
food vendors who can't make their normal dishes.
Damaris Villamil - D's Belizean Kitchen
"Carrots is a vegetable we need a lot and I use to make natural juices
and in my salads and soups and it affects a lot people, when they order
a soup, they ask what happen to the carrots, I'm sorry no carrots, I
can't make coleslaw right now because no carrots, so I try make fresh
vegs, something else but it needs the carrots for the color to me, to
complete the dish. Some people understand and some don't understand.
For the past week, I've noticed that we have a shortage of carrots
here, they bring some but they don't look fresh, so for me I don't even
buy it because I don't put it in my food that way."
And another vendor told us off camera that the wilted and dirty lettuce
they get is a whole other story.
Ministry on Carrot Crisis
And we took those complaints to the Ministry of Agriculture, where the
Director of Extension Services explained that they are trying to ensure
that the local farmers can sell their produce rather than saturate the
market with Mexican carrots. He explained that they stand by the
producers, but they understand the marketplace concerns and will be
investigating the matter. However, the vendors will have to stop
waiting for that importation license because the local carrots are here
to stay. Here's how he put it.
Clifford Martinez - Ministry of Agriculture
"When you do look what is coming out of our current production, it is
indeed a quality that is considered average as a technical person
speaking and from the technical arm of the ministry, these carrots were
assets, we visited the fields 2 weeks ago, and it was at an average
height, average weight, average quality and so sufficient to say, we
are satisfied with saying it's an average quality comparing it to
Mexican carrot would be unfair and unreasonable. In terms of the amount
that's available, remember, we did put out a release 2 weeks ago that
the first time in the past 7-8 years, that we're getting carrots in
early October, this has never happened before, so with the push and the
advances of the extension service and the ministry of agriculture that
we've been able to identify the sort of varieties that can tolerate the
heat, water stress and also meet the average quality that is required
by the domestic market. So the ministry is satisfied in what is
available, we have to highlight however that we're not in the carping
season and there seems to be some issues of post harvest handling that
might be what we need to address and that is because after harvesting,
washing of the product and packaging and then transportation, we need
to take into consideration humidity, heat, and then they way it's
packaged/stored and then delivered to the first buyer and then later on
sold to consumers. Our follow up steps will see us visiting the market
outlets because we know where the carrots are coming from, there's only
one zone the carrots are coming from and if it's not from that zone
then we need to track and see how it is that this carrot is being used
or the quality of the carrot is being compromised and them we're
blaming local farmers when in reality it might be an issue of handling
and storage. The carrot that's in the market at the moment, in a matter
of 2 days the second production is going to come out of San Carlos and
so what we're seeing is the reduction in the availability that was
supplied a week ago and then now you'll see new amounts coming out on
Martinez said this Saturday and Sunday will be harvest days for the
The Carrot Conundrum Explained: Unscrupulous Distributors And Early Harvesting
And in other news, last week we brought you the carrot conundrum where the Michael Finnegan Market was low on carrots and the vendors complained that the ones they did have were subpar and overpriced. The vendors blamed this on the fact that only local produce was available since the government wasn't issuing licenses to import the vegetable.
And, later, the head extension officer at the ministry said that the local farmers need the support, and gave a few explanations as to why the carrots were unsavory.
But today the ministry took the media out to the farms, where we got to see the harvesting for ourselves and learnt about a new project the farmers are undertaking.
Courtney Menzies headed north to San Carlos, Orange Walk today and has this story.
The carrot conundrum began last week when market vendors complained of low-quality carrots being sold at higher prices. But the Ministry of Agriculture stood by the local produce, saying they're here to stay. And while you may be worrying about using those mushy carrots for your coleslaw on Sunday, the San Carlos farmers who produce say don't blame the crop, blame the middlemen.
Maximillian Hernandez, Charmain, San Carlos/Farmer "The small farmers here in San Carlos try to do their best. When we put the order from buyers for the middle man, they come and see the carrots, they say it's good."
"Why when you go to the market you have complaint? Maybe the storage, the management, the road, they put it in the truck bad, everything, that's why the farmer doesn't solve all problem. We have a big chain, producer, buyers, distributor."
And the Ministry's district coordinator for Orange Walk explained another reason: that those mushy carrots may not have gone through the proper harvesting protocols.
Barry Palacio, District Coordinator, Orange Walk "That incident that happened a week or two ago, that process did not happen, people were trying to make a quick buck and they failed to practice these safe practices and that in itself contributes to that age old perception that the local produce is not good and we are seeing from our farmers that they are trying their upmost to present and market a fairly decent product. So that incident certainly gave the local produce a black eye."
And Palacio added that the middlemen may also be responsible for the price gouging. They take advantage of the high demand of carrots since during that time of transition from imported to local, the vegetable got scarce.
And it's the vendors who, last week, had to tell consumers that there were no carrots in the market.
But last week's scarcity could also be attributed to a new experiment - growing carrots outside the normal season, which led the farmers to run into some problems.
Maximillian Hernandez, Charmain, San Carlos/Farmer "We start early this year, we begin plant on 14th July, it's an experiment for us, never in Belize try to plant carrots in July. We plant in September to harvest in December, for Christmas season, everybody has good carrots for the Christmas. That's why we try to come together to make sure what happened this year don't happen next year."
"We try to do thebedt to mak mooney to survive. That idea didn't come from the Ministry of Agriculture to plant early, no we tried our own idea. We have problem because in the hot, hot weather, what time right now, maybe 11 or 12 you see the weather not too hot. In July and August, it's hot, hot, especially for this vegetable, they don't want hot, hot weather."
But the ministry is working on that and today the CEO Servulo Baeza said they will be providing covered structures because it's imperative that the farmers continue to experiment with different varieties:
Sevulo Baeza, CEO, Ministry of Agriculture "It's the first time we are harvesting carrots so early, I think the farmers mentioned it to you because our policy is import substitution so we need to have local production. If we can extend the period of time that we have local production that means we can import less so the challenge to them has been let's try to produce more even if it is what we call out of season."
"We need to try to find the varieties because there are new varieties being tested and being put out in the market that can last longer and can tolerate more heat as well so that kind of research is the challenge we would have at central farm where we would have to try these varieties to see how we can produce or how they grow out of season so then we can pass on that knowledge to the farmers to see how they can do that."
And while that's all in due time, the question remains whether the farmers will be able to supply the current demand.
Barry Palacio, District Coordinator, Orange Walk "That is a yes. The projection for carrot production is within the range of almost 3 million pounds of carrots, historically Belize only produces 1.2, 1.3 million pounds of carrots so the projection is that we'll have the other side of the problem in which the farmers will be tasked as to how they will market their product and unless we do value adding or some their product or perhaps a new market, the farmers will have that problem."
And Palacio reminded us that the harvesting of the actual carrot season hasn't happened yet but next week, we'll be seeing carrots from Corozal, Cayo, Stann Creek on top of what's already being harvested in Orange Walk.
So he says a little patience will go a long way and soon those carrot cakes will be on everyone's dessert menu.
And while a normal carrot harvest would yield 14,000 pounds of carrots, this out of season harvest yielded only 7,000. But since new farmers who lost their job due to COVID have now joined the game and will be producing carrots and other vegetables in the near future.