by Hilly Bennett
Agriculture has been at the foundation of Belize’s development. It has survived natural forces of storms, floods, droughts and other pestilence. It has struggled under the strain of globalisation. But today, under an inept, visionless United Democratic Party Government, the agroindustry has buckled, brought to its knees, gasping for air, and immensely suffering a slow demise in these virulent 13 years of the UDP.
Farmers, for almost a decade, have been crying out for relief from the UDP in rescuing the dying industry. The papaya industry, Fruta Bomba, which had become the second largest exporter of papaya to the USA and Canada, second to Mexico and ahead of Brazil was forced to close its doors. Papaya is considered the fourth most important traded fruit globally. Banana, mango and pineapple fills the top slots. Prior to damages done to the industry by Hurricane Keith it had peaked at US $15million controlling 11% of our exports. The industry employed between 500 to 1,000 workers either directly or indirectly, 1% of Belize’s labour force. Instead of expanding industries, the UDP continued to watch them fold thus compromising the long-term development of Belize
The Barrow administration refused to grant permits for two wells that would have helped Fruta Bomba to survive the onslaught of drought. The owners have since moved their business elsewhere. The traditional export crops, sugar, citrus and banana are facing dire times and are being held in total disregard by the red regime. Fortunately, most of the agro products were spared the wrath of Nana.
However, in an Orwellian twist, a rather epiphanic moment the UDP has realized the importance of agriculture. During the Agric-Food Response and Mitigation to COVID-19 Stakeholders Meeting, March 24, 2020, it was stated that “now more than ever, Belizeans must recognize and respect the work of farmers and local producers in their herculean efforts to keep food on our tables.”
Godwin Hulse, the Minister of Agriculture, garbed in the cloth of the agrarian God, at the launch of the Farming Assistance Program commented with veiled hypocrisy on a proposed sixteen million (eight million USD): “that is one of the legacies of the dedicated support of the Government of Belize to agriculture.”
The money is to support the market contraction as a result of COVID- 19 “principally”, but also by drought and floods. However, the financial assistance is rather belated as monies in the form of coupons was promised almost a year ago. That was when Godwin uttered “yuh nuh wah get money inna yuh hand because wi nuh know weh unnu wah duh with the money.” This revealed once again the contempt the UDP has for most Belizeans. Notwithstanding, Godwin acknowledges that “we have challenging times ahead.” To understate it, Belize has been facing turbulent times from this three failed terms UDP government.
It is the writer’s opinion that the sudden interest in the agro-productive sector is drenched in farce painted with the brushes of illusion. They have been spurred to action by the People’s United Party and the leadership of Honorable John Briceño and the plan(s) for national development as the next government.
The PUP is getting ready to roll out their agricultural policy which will be incentive-driven with a focus on the interest of the 5,372 farmers and that includes men, women, and junior farmers, who will again lead the development of this tiny jewel call Belize. As the Leader Emeritus echoed to The Belize School of Agriculture in San Ignacio on July 22, 1984, “Agriculture The Basis Of Development” we must not forget, in our uphill work, that the rich industrial countries built their vast economies on agriculture. “When the tillage begins, other arts follow.” – Daniel Webster