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Agriculture Minister Says There is Need for GOB to Provide Adequate Support to Small Farmers

One segment of the event included a high-level ministerial panel on strategic investments where the possibilities for public-private partnerships were discussed. This segment saw the participation of Government Ministers such as Anthony Mahler, Andre Perez, Rodwell Ferguson, Kareem Musa and Kevin Bernard. Another key ministry in the economic recovery effort is the Ministry of Agriculture. Minister Abelardo Mai said there are many opportunities for investments in the agro-processing sector. He said there is the need for Government to provide adequate support to small farmers.

Jose Abelardo Mai, Minister of Agriculture, Food Security and Enterprise: “I think that while we speak agriculture or while agriculture had been spoken of there really hasn’t been the total support for agriculture. And I’ll be very frank. This government is operating differently. I think COVID forced us to look deeper into agriculture and how it can benefit the country. If you look and analyze well while agriculture was impacted it suffered the least compared to the other industries. Compared to tourism it just devastated tourism sector. It says that we have to invest in the sector. When I say invest I’m not only speaking about capital investment or cash investment. You have to invest time, you have to invest research, you have to invest in the sector truly if you want your economy to rebound. I think that there is room for everything in the country. My concern though is the small farmers. Belize is a small holders country you know. We have a small area of land so we are not a big holders economy. It has to be many small farmers that consolidate and produce and process. Someone has to process and this is where I’m coming, I am concerned about getting the small holders involved, getting them to produce and then sell to a manufacturer or processer. And I think if we do that we will be doing very well and the economy can come back and you’ll have that trickle down effect to the small holders that is my concern.”

Reporter: But how do you go about in terms of identifying concrete ways because we keep hearing about the importance of farmers. We keep hearing all these challenges that they are facing and this entire summit is about investment and we’ve heard the importance of agriculture to the recovery of our economy so what are concrete ways that you’re saying okay we need to do A,B,C to ensure that our small farmers are protected and on a whole Belize benefits. 

Jose Abelardo Mai, Minister of Agriculture, Food Security and Enterprise: “I think one of the most important things as you listen to the farmers is the lack of affordable credit. We can’t begin if we have no money. I believe that land is an issue but it’s not the issue. Many people, many farmers have land in Belize but we’re not using it wisely. But if we – and we have been speaking to different IFIs and they’re saying to us that there is available financing for small farmers but we need to put a proper plan in place and the financing has to come through a developmental bank at affordable rates. We cannot afford to lend farmers at 12-13%, the cane farmers are taking a beating for that right now. And we have to access markets. I am a believer in our Central American friends and neighbors. To the north you have Mexico 123 million people to the west Guatemala 18 million people. Then we have El Salvador 66 million people. El Salvador imports 85% of their food we’re ten hours away from them. As opposed to the CARICOM markets which are very logistically a nightmare I believe that addressing those we will be doing very good. So financing at affordable rates, opening markets to our Central American friends I think we’d be very well off if we do that.”