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Aug 13, 2015

Drought in Orange Walk Results in Millions of Losses for Farmers

Farmers in the deepest South of the Orange Walk District are facing the grim reality of millions of dollars in losses. And it’s all because of an ongoing drought in that region of the country which is spelling the ruin of thousands of acres of corn and hundreds of acres of soybean. For one hundred and forty-one farmers of the Indian Creek Cooperative, this could be the proverbial straw, because this is the third devastating loss in four years. And while the daily bread in that community and surrounding communities crumbles, the ripple effect is sure to be felt nationally – on our tables and in our pockets. Mike Rudon was in Indian Creek today and has the story.

 

Mike Rudon, Reporting

This field lies on the road to Indian Church, approximately forty miles from Orange Walk Town. It was planted in May when the rains showed signs of coming, because water is critical in the early stages of the crop’s development. But then the rains stopped…sounding a death knell for these many acres which will never produce mature corn. It’s a complete write-off. So is this field in San Carlos, one hundred and fifty acres of back-breaking, intensive labour to plant…just taking up space now, because there is no rain to provide critical nourishment…

 

The sight of all these fields just withering away is heart-breaking to these farmers like Jacob Harms, a member of the Indian Creek Cooperative. His ninety-acre field of corn is dying, just like his spirit since 2015 will be the third bad crop since 2012.

 

Jacob Harms, Farmer, Indian Creek Cooperative

“From 2012 we had serious losses, and lost about ninety percent of our corn-fields. Then in 2013, we did good. We had a yield of about one hundred and thirty-four thousand bags in 2013. Then in 2014 we lost almost…we were expecting a quarter-million bags of corn and we only got forty-eight thousand bags, so we had a huge loss. This year it looks like we’ll go the same way or even worse.”

 

Jacob Harms

So let’s do the math – the bags are one hundred pounds which sell for between twenty to twenty-five dollars. The expected two hundred and fifty-thousand bags in 2014 should have meant revenues of over five million dollars. Instead they got only forty-eight thousand bags. It’s a terrible financial loss for these farmers, but there’s that ripple effect.

 

Jacob Harms

“Right now since there is a shortage of corn, the corn used to run between twenty-two to twenty-five cents per pound. Right now the corn runs from thirty to thirty-seven cents a pound. That is because of the shortage and we see the drought that is passing right now…that’s where we are seeing the corn run short and that’s what raises the price. And the chicken price will go up, the eggs will go up, everything will go up so that it will be more costly for everybody.”

 

Jose Abelardo Mai, Agronomist

“In a country that you have forty-four percent poverty, you cannot allow this to get out of hand. We have to be very careful with how we handle these situations. We have to have policies in place. We have to have people monitoring the situation and taking action in time. Don’t wait for the situation to get out of hand and you can’t handle it.”

 

This year, farmers in the Cooperative planted four thousand acres of corn. But some, made leery by recent losses, diversified into soybeans – two thousand acres in total. That’s looking a little better than the corn, but only in areas where massive investment has been made in irrigation.

 

Jacob Harms

“So far that looks like they will do a little bit better, but right now we’re hearing that the soybean price will go down. We don’t know, maybe the government will support us on that…that we will see the price will not go down. But so far we are looking forward to going a little bit more into soybean. And my opinion is that we’ll be getting support from somewhere, or getting more irrigation systems to do that irrigation even if we only need it for twenty percent but for this year we have some farmers in our area that have to run their irrigation systems twenty-four/seven to keep it wet and it looks very healthy.”

 

For the corn-farmers, the only bright green spots in this entire devastating picture are select fields, or sections of fields where farmers have invested in extensive irrigation systems. But only four hundred of the four thousand acres planted by the Cooperative are thriving.

 

Jacob Harms

“One irrigation system usually deals with one hundred and twenty to one hundred and sixty acres at approximately a cost of two hundred thousand dollar investment. Plus it depends on your well that you have, so we’re approximately talking about three hundred thousand dollars on one hundred and sixty acres.”

 

So while irrigation is obviously the best option and a solution to temperamental weather…

 

Jacob Harms

“It’s not that simple. You have a lot of headaches to irrigate it and there’s no way to do everything. But we will need support for that. We are not able to do that. For the future maybe there is a solution. Maybe the government or somebody will give support. The farmers by themselves…they are that much down that they will not be able to buy the irrigation systems because it has taxes on it. They say they will charge us only GST and they never repay it.”

 

Jose Abelardo Mai

Jose Abelardo Mai

“We have to try to mitigate the effects of climate change, so they are looking at it, studying the situation, and now investing in irrigation equipment, and when you get to the border they are telling you that you have to pay GST. And then you say but hold on, you look at the items and it says that irrigation equipment is zero-rated, so why are they charging? And they say but he will get it back. But the policy for that is ninety days. But it doesn’t happen that way. Blue Creek right now is owed GST for three years now. So if I have to take thirty thousand dollars out of my pocket to pay GST at the border, at the point of entry, that is all the money I would need to invest in the crop. So that is not what I consider farm-friendly policies.”

 

Any farm-friendly policies at this point will come too late for these farmers and their dying crops, at least in the short term. But with hope going fast, they are still holding out for some assistance from government.

 

Jacob Harms

“So far as I know we are the only one in Central America that have their own grains – soybeans, corn and beans, all of that. I think Belize is the only country in this area. So we will not survive. We need a change. We need something. We don’t know what exactly is going to happen, but we hope the government looks to something to find out what it can make for us.”

 

Until that time, these fields of dreams have become the worst nightmares for these farmers, who say that if nothing is done, they will eventually just disappear. Mike Rudon for News Five.

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3 Responses for “Drought in Orange Walk Results in Millions of Losses for Farmers”

  1. Hon Marin says:

    The Menonites are the ENEMIES of our beautiful forest. Once they get a piece of land they destroy it with their bulldozers. If you go to orange walk south they are the ones that are destroying all the land. There is no longer any forest. The forest helps with precipitation and humidity. Thus where there is abundance of rainforest it rains frequently. The menonites they only think of money money and money. They have cause this upon them and worst the other small farmers in the area have to suffer along with them. This government has to put a stop to them. Someone has to stop them from destroying our rainforest. Our Belizean children in the next 20 yrs will not know how a rain forest looks thanks to these people. And Mr Abelardo Mai is just showing his face for political gain. He of all people should be the one who says he cares for the people of Orange Walk South should stop this destruction of the forest. HELP THE BELIZEAN PEOPLE MR MAI THINK OF OUR CHILDREN IN THE FUTURE. DONT BE AN IGNORANT POLITICIAN

  2. Belizean says:

    Imagine this country without a single crop of grain mr @marin. What kind of realm do you live in, surely not in the real world. Food is a number 1 thing, and for you it isn’t? What are you planning to eat? You wanna eat jaguars snakes and spiders? Is that what you really want? Responsible farming is what they are doing. All the garbage beside the road is dangerous. Think about it, if you can!

  3. Tippisquinte says:

    Hon Marin! Think about our children!!! You want our children to eat junk food? Get fat and useless???? THINK ABOUT OUR CHILDREN!!!!!! HON MARIN!! This drought is all over central america. Which has almost nothing to do about sugar cane fields, corn fields, or pastures in Belize. Mexico, Guatemala and USA have cleared millions of acres of land compared to or play fields.

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