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Oct 25, 2016

New Minister of Agriculture Promises to “Get Belize Growing Again”

The Prime Minister announced changes to Cabinet last week, which included changes in portfolios for the subjects of this and our next story. After the 2015 general elections, Prime Minister Barrow handed the powerful portfolio of the Ministry of Natural Resources to Senator Godwin Hulse, where he succeeded then-Deputy Prime Minister Gaspar Vega. Vega kept the post of Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries as well as Sustainable Development and Environment, headed directly by Minister of State Omar Figueroa. Things kept going until Vega’s sudden resignation following evidence coming to light of a compensation deal for land involving his son, Andre Vega, and a couple of prominent United Democratic Party supporters, Hilmar Alamilla and attorney Sharon Pitts. In the intervening period between the elections and the present day, Hulse dropped the Natural Resources portfolio to Attorney General Vanessa Retreage as a side effect of the shuffle caused by Minister of National Security John Saldivar giving up the Police portfolio to Hulse. But it is Hulse who formally succeeds Vega at the Agriculture Ministry, while still in charge in the embattled Ministry of Immigration and Nationality. In his first interview in that capacity, we asked how he would handle the matter of import substitution for key crops like onions, carrots and potatoes, which have all faced direct competition from Mexican imports in recent years, resulting in large-scale destruction of the local crops. Hulse aggressively promised to get Belize growing again and improve self-sufficiency in these and other basic food items.

 

Godwin Hulse

Godwin Hulse, Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

“My position has been for the last forty years: that this country has the potential – we used to say in the past to be the breadbasket of the Caribbean and all sorts of statements. Agriculture has tremendous potential. Yes, we need quality products because the market is demanding that – and this is not only foreign market; we should not only be producing quality products for foreigners, we should be producing quality products for ourselves. But there has to be a process, where the farmers who are engaged in this, benefit from this process. They have to make money, or they’re not in the business; that is pure and simple. And so the principal focus will be, how do we grow this? There will be times of course when we have to allow imports when we have shortfalls and that sort of thing; but that program and that process has to be worked out properly, so that we have a smooth relationship between what we import and what we have domestically. And I will set out to do that. As far as I am concerned what I meant when I said let’s get growing: there is no reason, and until we are very, very clear – I want to make this: until we are really very, very, very, clear that it cannot be done – that we should not look, at how we will go back from three million boxes of citrus to a once glorious figure of ten million; there is no reason why we should not be able to expand cane production, properly; there is no reason why we had six million tonnes of rice in the South, and now we have six hundred thousand; we should get back there and more. There is no reason why we cannot get back in all these products – bananas, etcetera, and get this country moving in terms of agriculture potential and development. And that is what I will set out to do.”

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