Citizen Organized for Liberty through Action, COLA, is known for advocating on several national issues and now COLA is taking up the rice issue in Belize. This comes after President of COLA, Geovanni Brackett saw a commercial advertising cheap rice that will be imported from Guyana by Xtra House. That shipment is scheduled to come into the country early next week but the Government of Belize will not have it. The plan is to either prohibit the rice to come into the country or confiscate it as soon as it arrives. That is because, as we understand it, no permit was acquired for the importation of rice and putting imported rice on the shelves puts the local rice market at risk. The Guyanese rice is set to be sold cheaper than the local rice, fifty cents less per pound. That’s why COLA has decided to inject itself in the conversation. Brackett told us that they are in favor of the imported rice over the local rice.
“Anything that has to do with cheaper prices yet with quality on behalf of the people of Belize whether poor or rich I think we all have that right when you walk into a grocery store to look at the shelf and say if I want to buy this one at .40 cents a pound or that one at .90 cents a pound. For that right not to be given I believe that is where the injustice will take place. We want to take this opportunity to sound the alarm and I know it’s a very busy time for you all but we plan to investigate this matter and thoroughly educate the media every step of the way because we have been given several documents that we have to peruse so we will be looking through those documents and see how we will be making our argument and advocacy in the media but if this is true, that cheaper rice is coming next week and there is a plan to confiscate it we are completely against that.”
“I know there is a surplus of local rice on the market as one of the rice producers shut down factory a couple days ago because of the surplus of rice; do you think it’s logical for Belizeans to support rice being imported rather than buying local Belizean rice?”
“That is a very difficult question but why is it that our people are always having to make that decision. I know you’re asking if it’s logical, I would ask you if it is logical to force me to buy expensive rice over cheaper rice. We have allowed and gone into certain agreements that allow imported goods to compete with local goods and I will have to always support local producers but in a time where I watch people in my neighborhood, just this morning, going to school without having something to eat, if their parents can have access to cheaper rice to me that makes a strong argument. It is something that COLA will have to look at.”
Belize AgroProductive Sector Group released a statement on this matter today in which they say that while cheaper rice sounds like good news, it is really not. The group begs the questions quote, “How many Belizean farms, farmers, farmhands, millers and distribution workers will join the unemployment line as another agricultural product, Belizean rice, is removed from the products we produce here in Belize? Why is one importer interested and actively pursuing the importation of rice, when Belize is already self-sufficient in rice? “end of quote. Currently the Belize rice industry supports almost 100 local rice farmers, 5 milling companies, more than 2000 field workers, employees, distributors, and their families. This does not include a host of gas stations, fertilizer and agro chemical stores, restaurants and mechanic shops to name a few businesses that depend on our rice production. The Group asserts that it is a fact that our cost of production for rice is higher than most countries. But our retail price on the shelf is definitely on the lower end of the scale when compared to retail prices in Central American and CARICOM countries and that millions of dollars of revenue to the Government will be lost if rice is imported. In addition, the Belize AgroProductive Sector Group says that imported rice at 69 cents per pound is unsustainable in the long term.