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Feb 13, 2017

Solving the Potato Conundrum in San Carlos

Jose Mai

The Ministry of Agriculture has stopped granting licenses for the importation of white potatoes. It says this is in benefit of local farmers whose production season of strictly red potatoes is now starting. The Ministry, with the help of the Belize Agricultural Health Authority and Customs, will begin a crackdown on the illegal importation of potatoes. But is it already too late for farmers who are losing thousands of dollars in profits as they have done every year? Last week, importers had agreed to buy the entire product from the local producers at seventy-five cents per pound. However, some producers are saying that at that price, they would be unable to even cover the cost of production. Among the holdouts is the village of San Carlos, Orange Walk, whose area representative, Jose Mai, spoke to reporters in Belize City today.

 

Jose Mai, Area Rep., Orange Walk South

“What disappoints me is that the ministry should have not been the organization to ask what is the cost of production. There is a unit in the Ministry of Agriculture that already should have what is the cost of production of potatoes—not only potatoes, but other commodities—and under different conditions.  It may cost the farmers in San Carlos a different price; it cost them different than it would cost those in Barton Creek and those at Maskall or Santana—the cost of production changes per district. So it surprises me that the ministry has to ask this type of question. They should have a unit that should have this on hand. And then when that is thrown out by the importers then the ministry should have intervened and said, hold on man. You can’t do that; that’s 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 the potatoes are starting to spoil. This morning, San Carlos informed me that they had disposed yesterday of two thousand pounds of potatoes.”

 

Reporter

“Now Abi, have you been able to speak to Godwin Hulse in terms of why they insisted on issuing import permits for potatoes?”

 

Jose Mai

“I have not spoken to Minister Hulse; I have not. I have heard from the farmers and I have heard from the extension officers in the field, because there was a big group of people out there. And the extension officers state clearly that they reported to the ministry that potatoes were coming to harvest a certain date. So having import permits extend over the time of production is unacceptable. And it has happened every single year.”

 

Mai notes that a certain political crony from Orange Walk whom he declined to name is known for getting permits to import every week. He hopes that the new Agriculture Minister, Godwin Hulse, will crack down on that. A total of two hundred acres of potatoes are grown across the country from Orange Walk to Belize and Cayo Districts, but Mai boasts that San Carlos is the most productive for its thirty-five acres, which result in yields of between twelve and sixteen thousand pounds due to technologies such as irrigation. District Agriculture Coordinator Barry Palacio has said that if indeed the offer of seventy-five cents is not enough, there should be a renegotiation of the price. He did reiterate that from now on, the farmers would have complete access to the market. It is expected that the renegotiation meeting would take place this week. In a final note, two years ago importers are alleged to have dyed Mexican white potatoes to resemble the Belizean red potatoes to get them imported into Belize, causing a few people to get sick.

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