In early February, Belize Fruit Packers Limited announced that they would be pulling out of Belize and that FrutaBomba would be sending dozens of their employees home as they wind down their operations. On the heels of that announcement, agricultural officials had told Love News that they would be looking at ways to keep the papaya industry up and running. That was five months ago; today, there has been no progress in keeping that industry running. According to Chief Executive Officer, Jose Alpuche of the Ministry of Agriculture, there are many challenges faced in their attempt to do so.
“The company as you know exited Belize earlier than expected. We were in dialogue with the company to see whether the assets can be moved. They were I am aware, in serious discussions with two groups, but none of them materialized. Unfortunately they took a decision to leave a little earlier. The assets are still there to be sold but that is something that has to be done from the company because it’s a privately held operation. This company was leasing a lot of the lands that they were using to grow papayas. My understanding is when they took the decision that they would be closing down they literally bulldozed the plantation. So all that would be left for sale would be the hard assets, the infrastructure at their offices and the packing operations.”
Alpuche says that there is a need to understand that the demand for papaya and its availability has affected Belize’s competitiveness.
“To be honest I don’t think it is a question of how much money we asking at this time. We are looking at alternatives. What has happened with the papaya industry, it has matured; not only here in Belize but globally. When we got into the papaya industry thirty years ago it was still considered an exotic fruit and the market was very tight and the prices were good. Since then it has matured and prices have gone down. To a large extent because of labor and other factors it is one of those industries that we’re hard pressed to compete in so it’s a question of course to see whether we can continue with the ripe papayas. We are still exporting green papayas out of little Belize but to see if we can get into the ripe papaya business. It’s not an easy one. Our job then is to also look at alternatives especially for the Corozal District.”
The papaya industry began developing in Belize via a company called Belize Agribusiness Company (BABCO) with funding from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in the early 1980s.