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Sep 17, 2015

Drought Devastates Agriculture Sector

In mid-August, News Five brought you the story of devastating losses suffered by farmers in southern Orange Walk – the result of a prolonged drought. Actually, the first we’d heard about a drought was when we did that story, and apparently the Ministry of Agriculture was caught by surprise as well. Since that story broke, the Ministry allegedly launched an assessment to determine losses, but the official figures haven’t been released. Well, we were on the ground again today—no figures in hand—but what we can tell you definitively is that for the farmers of small communities like San Carlos, Hillbank and Indian Creek, the devastation wrought by the unrelenting dry is a terrible nightmare, and there is no immediate relief on the horizon. Mike Rudon has that story.

 

Mike Rudon, Reporting

Just over one month ago we passed these corn fields in San Carlos, a farming community in the far south of Orange Walk. The stalks were struggling then, because the expected rains in June and July had not showed up. Those rains never did. Today, there are only hundreds of acres of brown, withered corn stalks in the scorched earth.

 

The damage is absolute, terrible and very, very sad. In Hillbank, John Knelsen has lost everything – six hundred and fifty acres of corn and one hundred and seventy acres of soybean. That’s a total loss of over four hundred and fifty thousand dollars which he borrowed from a local bank to invest in his crops.

 

John Knelsen

John Knelsen, Farmer, Hillbank

“It’s the first time for us what happened, in twenty-five years that we have farmed here. We don’t know how to get the money back to plant a next time. So we think if the government could help us with something, maybe lend us some money from the DFC, and we will see what that will do.”

 

This well you’re looking at here cost thirty-eight thousand dollars – to drill a hole into the unyielding parched earth in the hope of finding life-giving water in sufficient qualities to nourish this large acreage. But there wasn’t enough water, and that’s why today we were standing in the centre of hundreds of acres of desolate land and shattered dreams…a large and expensive irrigation system nearby serving absolutely no purpose.

 

John Knelsen

“They just produced three hundred gallons per minute and we need sixteen hundred gallons per minute, so the next step we must find out is if we can make a well at the Savannah which is one mile from here…we’ll make a well there close to the water and we have to lay irrigation pipes all over here for one miles and we’ll see if that is working.”

 

In San Carlos, the farmers use a system called drip irrigation to nourish their crops which include carrots, potatoes, broccoli, hot peppers and sweet peppers. It is necessary… but expensive. The cost of a well is anything from three thousand dollar up, depending on the depth. That doesn’t include the cost of the pump or this drip irrigation system. It may not look like much…just a network of hoses with tiny holes spaced at eight inch intervals, but this system which covers eight acres works out to just about two thousand dollars per acre.

 

Max Hernandez

Max Hernandez, Farmer, San Carlos

“In San Carlos we have thirty-five years…this year is the first year we have no rain. Every small farmer, even the Mennonites, have lost all their crops. Mennonites produce the major food to feed the people of Belize…especially the corn, beans, pig, beef, eggs, chicken, even milk. If the Mennonites don’t have, maybe it’s a problem to feed the people of Belize.”

 

Jose Mai

Jose Mai, Agronomist

“Each country has its priority as food security. We’re looking right now at food insecurity. The price of corn obviously will go up. In this country, eighty to ninety percent of the corn is used for animal feed, so it is clear that the price of poultry will go up, the price of pork meat will go up, the price of tacos will go up and of course eggs. Eggs are already three for a dollar. I don’t know how much it will be.”

 

From the reports of farmers, and from what we’ve seen on the ground, the Ministry of Agriculture has been a non-entity in the drought situation. So the situation in those farming communities is still very much in the air.

 

Jose Mai

“In June the corn and soybean crop go into the ground. That’s harvested just about now. And then land is prepared just about now to plant in December…to plant the red kidney beans crop. But if no rains come…farmers right now are reluctant to prepare the land because they don’t know if it’s going to rain. They’ve already invested and lost millions of dollars.”

 

The losses, unofficially, are reported at more than ten million dollars, and counting.  Mike Rudon for News Five.

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1 Response for “Drought Devastates Agriculture Sector”

  1. Prig Minister of Belize, Ali BaBarrow says:

    Trust your thieves in government, they steal in your behalf.

    I have decreed rats are now friendly gibnuts.

    Soon I will declare the weather will obey me, and droughts will be no more.

    I am Ali, trust me.

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