PUP’s Shadow Minister of Agriculture, Jose Abelardo Mai has taken the issue of unsold potatoes to social media on behalf of the farmers in San Carlos Village, Orange Walk District. The Area Representative wrote on his Facebook timeline, quote, “Reports are that even though the Extension Officers informed the Ministry that farmers would commence harvesting potatoes on a certain day, personnel responsible for recommending import license still facilitated import permits. As a result, farmers are unable to market their product at a profitable price.” End of quote. Love News spoke with Mai earlier today where he explained the challenges of the farmers.
JOSE ABELARDO MAI
“The Ministry issues permits to import potatoes to certain people. Whenever they harvest, whenever the local potato harvest is about to come in the information sent from the extension officers to Belmopan indicating that the potato will be harvested at a certain date occurs. Based on what the extension officers have been saying they did make reports to Belmopan that he harvest would begin on such a date however people who are responsible for issuing permits still issued permits for potatoes so we have our local potatoes coming into production again it has happened more than once and then you have imported potato on the market of course selling for a cheaper price than what our potatoes are being sold for. So now you have the case where the farmers are unable to market the potatoes. The issue then is taken up to the ministry and the ministry facilitates a meeting with the importers and the producers and there and then the proposal of paying the farmers .75 a pound for potato arises. But the farmers are asked if they are willing to accept this price, the farmers from San Carlos and I speak on behalf of the farmers from San Carlos said that they would get back to their producers and consult with them so that they could review their costs and then get back to the ministry. When they had their meeting they noted that .75 cents was far below the cost of producing potatoes so that we believe is very unfair to tell the farmers that they will have to sell their potatoes at .75 a pound. What surprises me through or what disappoints me is that the ministry should have not been the organization to ask what the cost of production was, there is a police unit in the Ministry of Agriculture that should already have what the cost of production is of potato not only potatoes but all other commodities and under different conditions because it may cost the farmers from San Carlos a different price, than those in Barton Creek and the others. The cost of production changes per district. It surprises me that the ministry has to ask this kind of question. They have a police unit that should have this on hand and then when that is thrown out by the importers then the ministry should have intervene and told them that that is far below the cost of producing potatoes. So now the farmers are caught between a rock and a hard place and every day that passes potatoes are being spoiled. They have already in San Carlos informed me that they disposed of 2,000 pounds of potatoes.”
Mai went on to speak of import permits saying that only a select few are granted the right to import.
JOSE ABELARDO MAI
“I have not spoken to Minister Hulse, I have heard from the farmers and I’ve heard from the extension officers in the field because there was a big group of people out there and the section officers state clearly that they reported to the Ministry that potatoes were coming to harvest at certain dates. So having import permits extend over the time of production is unacceptable and it has happened every single year but I will tell you the root of the problem is politics. There are favored people who receive import permits from 2008 and there is a particular gentleman in Orange Walk who gets permits every single week come hell or high water, that was under the previous minister of Agriculture. Now a new minister has taken over and I hope and I trust that he will do the right thing for the farmers. San Carlos has 30 acres of potatoes their yields range from 12,000 to 16,000 pounds per acre. I am being mad to understand, I can only speak to San Carlos because I meet with them and they are my constituents. I am being made to understand that there are 200 acres of potatoes in the country, Barton Creek has some, Siete Millas has some, San Antonio has a lot of them and I think that some of the most efficient potato producers are in Orange Walk because they use irrigation systems and so on but I only in San Carlos you are talking about 200,000 pounds of potatoes. You can imagine how much potatoes are out there in other districts so this is unfair to treat the farmers like that. I have said it in the House of Representatives you don’t lower the cost of selling potatoes you lower the cost of producing them. This is not the case here they you come and say I will pay your so much for it, how can you do that when it costs so much. Everybody in the world, any country in the world can produce cheaper than Belize, our cost of fuel is $10.00 a gallon so you can’t compete with any country in the world. The richest people in this country are the importers are the poorest are the farmers.”
“Is there still a system in place that gives farmers a special price when it comes to fuel for the transportation of their commodities?”
JOSE ABELARDO MAI
“Absolutely not, as a matter of fact calculating the cost of production of San Carlos I noted that the cost of transporting potatoes is like .10 a point from San Carlos to Orange Walk. Now to pay .75 cents a pound that is already 1/7th off the cost there and these people have kids to feed, they have the credit unions to pay it is very very unfair.”
There are an estimated twenty five potato farmers in San Carlos Village. Love News spoke to Agriculture Minister, Godwin Hulse who told us that Mai is the one politicizing the issue and that he will speak on the matter shortly.