Last Friday we told you of the over one hundred workers who were laid off at Fruta Bomba and Belize Packers Limited. In our story we did tell you that the Labour Department has reached out to them expressing their willingness to help in ensuring that they receive their just exit packages. Today, we had a chance to talk to the Deputy Prime Minister who also holds the portfolio for agriculture. We asked Minister Gaspar Vega on the possible rebuilding of the papaya industry in Belize and the fate of the men and women who were laid off.
“I don’t know if we have the ability to just bring back another Papaya plant or industry because as we all know one of the reasons why the people are leaving is because they are going to neighboring Guatemala where the labor is so much cheaper than here, that is one of our constant challenges with manufacturers in Belize, that our labor is a bit high but we have to live with that. We are hoping that since the sugar crop is on right now that they will be able to get some employment from there because most of them are laborers so we are hoping that that but for the long term we are hoping that they would be able to get stabilized in the sugar industry.”
Minister Vega told the media that the industry has never been able to bounce back since Hurricane Dean.
“I think they’ve been having some serious challenges since Hurricane Dean I don’t think they’ve been able to recuperate from that huge loss that they had at that time and it’s not only them we had other papaya groups in Blue Creek and in Shipyard and after that hurricane they both tried and tried and eventually they got out of the business because it’s a delicate business and yes we have one of the best papaya in the region but it’s too delicate and they haven’t been able to withstand the losses that they had. As you may have heard they have lost something like $15 million dollars and anybody would close down if they can’t get out of that deep hole.”
Love News had been informed recently that the demise of the Fruta Bomba Company was due to a lack of cooperation from the Government of Belize. Minister Vega has denied those allegations, saying that the Government has never been unfair to the company.
“At one time they had some claims that they were having difficulty with the permits for wells but like we all know if you make it too easy the public criticizes us, it’s a balancing act and I don’t think it was that difficult. We tried to facilitate and that is the only thing that I can recall of. I don’t think the government at any one time was unfair to them.”
As we mentioned over hundred persons have been terminated with the remaining 117 to be let go over the next six months. Recently elected Opposition Leader, John Briceno commented on the matter.
“It is unfortunate that Fruta Bomba whatever fruit packers they decided to cease and end their operations in. I believe that we produce a good product, the papaya that we produce are considered one of the sweetest and most succulent papayas in the region and that is why they stayed in Belize for so long but they are claiming that their operational costs were way too high for them to stay in Belize. The concern I have with that is that then we have a government that has been totally hands off with the challenges that these companies face. I remember that at least two or three occasions we have been bringing it to the attention of the government, something is going wrong with the Papaya industry because in the last budget debate I pointed out that production has already gone down by about 75%. At the height of the papaya growing in this country they had about 1000 people employed and it was down to 250 and now 130. Certainly before six months is up the rest are going to lose their jobs.”
Fruta Bomba has been in Belize for over twenty years.