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Farmers Discuss Agricultural Hurdles at Belize’s Investment Summit

Agriculture and Agro-processing were also held at today’s summit. A panel consisting of farm owners spoke on the needs in the industry in order to advance in various sectors. Speaking on this angle was Gilbert Canton Junior of Cayo Grain and Agro-Supply Limited.

Gilbert Canton, General Manager, Cayo Grain and Agro Supply Ltd: “I’m gonna give you my standard answer for what we need to do, what investments we need in the grain industry. The standard answers are value add. So we need to take our corn, we need to take our soy and we need to take our sorghum we need to process it into feed, into oils, into starches, into meal that we can then use locally and we can export. We also need to work on our bulk export capacity. We don’t have a bulk export port yet. We saw Mr.Chris began to mention that in his investment goals so we need that. And then of course any trade agreement that can get us into new and lucrative markets are very very good so that helps us to expand and grow. The grain industry particularly the yellow corn has grown phenomenally because the partial scope agreement with Guatemala so we need more agreements like that that that would allow us to expand. I’m going to give you my non standard answer. We need modernization in our industry. We need companies to come invest in tech. We need drones that can spray our fields, we need satellite monitoring, we need that sort of stuff happening on our fields because they’re so big. I farm 5,000 acres I can’t see every acre unless I get up high. So we need that sort of service in the industry. We need soil labs, we need things that we haven’t even though of yet, things where we can see what our water profile is in the soil without leaving our offices we need that. We also need to invest in our people. So the education of our people so that they can supply us with the services that we need. We need food science technicians, we need folks who can drive combines. We need folks who can go out and do the technological stuff that we just talked about. And finally it’s not just private sector investing in this industry the government also has to invest. We have to look at faster approvals for certain things. Our pesticide modernization is very very slow so we need to look at processes like that to get those kind of up to speed and we need to look at our seed bank. A lot of our seeds and our crops that we grow we’re using old technology. So that’s my piece on that, that’s what we would need. If I could get some 2020 corn instead of growing 1995 corn I think we would be in a much better place.”

Dr Gilbert Canton of the BAS Group spoke on the opening on new sectors and avenues that the Covid-19 pandemic will create in Belize.

“I’m a very strong believer that post COVID our markets will have a tremendous change. Conversations with Ted Tejada from the Hotel Association I believe the demand for special local goods is going to be a critical issue and for us to get into that market we’re gonna have to change our mindset in regard to what we produce to our local tourists first and foremost and then from there reach out into exporting and stuff like that. With the congratulating the government on a blue bond and all this sort of stuff I also believe that conservation and stuff like that is going to be a critical component to agriculture. So we now need to factor in the back of our head water conservation, watershed stuff so it’s a whole new concept of how we use cattle to help you regenerate your soil, how do you use grass from a negative to herbicides how do you convert it back. So there’s a whole new spin in the head. How do you then start putting in ten acres of soursop between your coconuts , how do you integrate, there’s a whole new phenomenon that is now hitting us.”

Another aspect discussed was the inclusion and training of young persons and women in agriculture. Speaking on this was Miguel Huertas of Apilife.

Milagro Matus, Policy Analyst, Ministry of Agriculture: “What we would suggest or propose is a supportive national policy also a governance structure in three areas. One of them being integrating youths and women to access affordable capital for bee keeping. Statistically or here in Belize the age range for bee keepers is 45-60. We need to involve the youths, we need to involve the women. Women have the power, women have the authority to do agriculture and this is what we would like to see in the near future. Also reduce tax which is happening at the moment and new technologies in innovation innovating new products which in bee keeping you can get up to fifteen products which here in Belize normally is only one product which is honey but Apilife has been working on those products and we would like to see more of that here in Belize. Another one, point number two that I would like to bring is the access of international markets. Late in the late 1970’s Belize exported to Europe and we have that market available in which we can just link up to try to get back that market through the support of BAHA and the development of residue monitoring plant which is a primary requirement to access the European market. We need those markets and Belize has a potential in producing honey.”