PUP’s Shadow Minister for Agriculture, Jose Abelardo Mai, did an interview with Love News on Monday in which he speak of some challenges being faced by potato producers in San Carlos Village in the Orange Walk District. His contention focused on the price allotted for potatoes as well as the abundance of the potatoes harvested which are not being marketed expeditiously. Minister of Agriculture, Godwin Hulse responded to Mai’s statements.
“We convened a meeting at the show grounds, of all the people involved in this all the productive people across what they call seven zones, they all came including representatives from San Carlos and the importers came, I think 25 were invited and some 19 came but representatives of all the producers came except one small village. That meeting lasted about four hours and it was headed by a senior officer in the department Mr.Esquivel and Mr.Palacio was also there which I did I hear the Honorable Mai say is his good friend. Out of that meeting what came was a thorough discussion of where we are going with this product because you have to understand potatoes are planted in November, they are coming out in January February, everybody is planting together so you have a huge harvest. I understand that it is now 2.5 million pounds across what they call seven zones. It is my understanding that the Cayo district has close to 75% of the potatoes and the Orange Walk District has the remainder. San Carlos has about 12% of that that the Honorable Gentleman is talking about, they have as I understand it 28 acres. Now it is also my understanding from the team that the consumption is 100,000 pounds per week which means that we have 25 weeks production. The problem with that is they don’t seem to be any proper post-harvest management of the crop, like all crops in Belize, no post-harvest for mangoes, cashews and everything comes in one time; no post-harvest for onions everything comes in one time, that is an area that we have to urgently look at how do you store those potatoes to begin to filter them into the market over the 25 weeks’ time? That is the problem but more importantly it is to organize the process and this is what the meeting was about to try to organize farmers going forward that everybody doesn’t plant at the same time so that you have a schedule harvest of the potatoes to match the market demand, that is terribly important. The other point that he raised which was the price, the group agreed to .75cents as I understand it. Price is not controlled by government, government doesn’t issue any control on the price this was an agreed price between producer and distributer. Now from an economic stand point and you look at San Carlos and he said that they were producing 15,000 pounds per acre, well my understanding is that the others are producing 7,000-8,000 if that is correct then they should be in a better position than the rest because the economics of agriculture tells you that the higher your yield the lower your cost so I don’t understand that you get 15,000 pounds but you need a higher price than the man that got 8,000 pounds. Nevertheless to satisfy that argument the Ministry is meeting with the San Carlos people again this week to try to sort that issue out.”
Mai had also stated in Monday’s interview that permits were being issued to politically connected persons and that one was recently issued despite the abundance of potatoes in Belize.
“The only thing the Ministry does is to recommend through BAHA to the Ministry of Trade permits on a need basis and that is where we want to go. If in the past permits were given to friends and cronies that is the past I can only talk about now and going forward how we are going to sort this mess out and what I’m saying here is that this Ministry is going to look urgently at post-harvest storage and maintenance of the crop so that it can be filtered into the market on a scheduled basis that is terribly important. The Ministry is also looking into the fact that again, facilitating the price between producer and importer.”
“Is there a necessity for permits to be issued considering the quantity of production that we do in Belize?”
“Not now but there would be because as I told you if the consumption is 100,000 pound per week and you have 2.5 million pounds being grown that is only 25 weeks supply. The year has 52 weeks so then that gives you another 27 weeks where you won’t have potatoes during which time you will have to issue permits but because it is not structured in that manner this hit and miss is what I understand has been creating and caused the problem in the past, this is what the Ministry is trying to weigh in on to ensure that you would have a good supply throughout the year or a balanced supply of some import, some local and that sort of thing. You also have to look at consumer preference in terms of quality of potatoes, size of potatoes what potatoes is used for such as French fries in the restaurants, or potato chips or whatever; all of those matters have to be accounted for so it is not just “no importation and only local production.” or “importation and no local production.” that is the reason why I commissioned that it be looked at holistically including setting up a standing committee to work on this and the standing committee is not me ,it is the people involved which is importers, producers and the ministry as facilitator.”
The last permit issued for the importation of potato was on January 18, 2017 to Arita Loria.