Belize Signs MOUs to Strengthen Agricultural Health and Trade Infrastructure
Today, the Ministry of Agriculture and the International Regional Organization for Health in Agriculture (OIRSA) signed three Memorandum of Understanding (MOUs) aimed at bolstering Belize’s agricultural health. The first agreement seeks to enhance tissue culture technology at the University of Belize’s laboratory for banana and plantain propagation as well as to expand the Banana Growers Association’s satellite surveillance program with satellite imagery to detect discolorations in banana plantations. The second MOU was geared at improving the Belize Livestock Registry to include the traceability of sheep and goats, honey, swine, and poultry. The traceability platform facilitates monitoring the national herd, flock, or stock of products, aiding in decision-making, disease control, management, and trade facilitation with other countries. And the third MOU focused on non-intrusive quarantine inspection services at the Philip S. W. Goldson International Airport. The agreement will allow for the Belize Agricultural Health Authority to utilize X-ray machines at the arrival lounge to detect and prevent the introduction of pests and risky agricultural products like vegetables, meat, and meat products. Minister of Agriculture, Jose Mai, spoke on the importance of the agreements and explained how they will aid in improving trade and protecting farmers.
Hon. Jose Abelardo Mai, Minister of Agriculture, Food Security and Enterprise: “These machines were put in place there as a result of the Central American countries coming together saying that to maintain the area free of diseases, free of pests or try to manage the importation of illegal goods that may be contaminated with diseases, viruses, or to a great extent pests. We are all very concerned about the fusarium disease in Colombia, Venezuela and Peru. It’s a threat to the region and all the ministers, all the countries agreed that they will place X-ray machines capture any organic product that’s coming in that may not be declared, banana being one of them and so that is one. To add to that is the collaboration with OIRSA again with the K9 unit. If you would walk through airports in other countries, you would find that the agriculture department has their personal walk with dogs. Those dogs are trained to sniff out organic products, seeds, plant material, fruits, meats, and these things. So it’s very important. Why? Because we signed to these agreements, we signed to these conventions that we will do this so we protect each other. If we as a country fail to implement those two actions then the other Central American countries are saying you know what I don’t want to trade with you because you are risk to me and so I had to convince Cabinet because I was saying we have a long line of people in the airport waiting but this is very important anyway we’re going to have a long line waiting so having these two mechanisms in place is a safeguard mechanism for Belize agriculture.”
Minister Mai says the procedures that will be set in place will ensure small crops are protected and are less at risk of being negatively impacted. He explained how the agreements are expected to save local producers in the long run.
Hon. Jose Abelardo Mai, Minister of Agriculture, Food Security and Enterprise: “What is the value of what you’re talking about? 50 million, 60 million dollars? 100 million dollars? So having this in place can save the industry that much. If you think about something else, we have another disease in the Dominican Republic, which is African Swine Fever. Now, they are trying, they’re still trying to battle that disease. When you get African Swine Fever in your country, you’re in serious problem. China had it they eradicated 50% of their swine population that is in the billions of dollars because once you get to your farm, you have to depopulate, you kill everything. Now, everybody’s scared of having this in their country. You have to understand that there are flights from Dominican Republic to Panama. Panama is the hub and from Panama, you have Costa Rica, Salvador, Guatemala, including Belize. So everybody’s scared. So Panama being the hub, they are even more strict with people coming in from these regions because you understand something that disease African swine fever Is spread by people taking sandwiches from one country to the next right ? It’s still in the meat. It doesn’t affect humans, but it does affect pigs, so if you take the remains that is shown out of a plane and feed your pigs with it and you have African Swine Fever you will get it that is how it has been spread across the world. Asia has it, Europe has it, in this region only DR has it and we want it to be kept there not to spread anymore so we have to step up our game. In the past we had some resistance that maybe we didn’t need the X-ray machines, we didn’t need the canine units but when I explain to our colleagues in cabinet that if we don’t do this, our chances of opening markets to other Central American countries is being restricted because nobody wants to trade with a country who behaves irresponsibly.”