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Feb 20, 2017

Cayo Farmers Tell Story of Rotting Potatoes

Thousands of potatoes are rotting in La Gracia Village in the Cayo District and farmers say they are set to lose thousands of dollars for this year’s potato crop. Some farmers have been experiencing losses for almost two weeks now – they have either been dumping or storing potatoes because they don’t have any buyers. But why? Well, there are licenses given to importers to bring in white potatoes from Mexico and these are sold for a cheaper price on the market – it is a price that local farmers simply can’t compete with. But there is another matter that is affecting the farmers – it is that those potatoes are being brought in as contraband.  Farmers are now being pushed to sell their products at a loss. News Five’s Andrea Polanco traveled west to speak with some of those affected. She shares the struggle of the potato growers; they say that this is the worst the importation has affected them.

 

Andrea Polanco, Reporting

Wheelbarrows like this one with red potatoes are being dumped in La Gracia Village. At this time of the year, these potatoes would be in market stalls or in kitchens, in homes and restaurants – but for the past two weeks they have been sitting under this farm house where they have been rotting on about fifteen farms in just this one village in the Cayo District. Farmers, who planted in November and December, have been unable to get their produce off their hands – the buyers have been purchasing the imported white Mexican potatoes at a better market price – a price that local farmers can’t compete with because of the high cost of production. These imported potatoes are brought into the country with permits – but these licenses do not have a cutoff date. And then there are the contraband potatoes on the market – another factor that drives down the prices.

 

Manuel Martinez

Manuel Martinez, Farmer [Translated]

“The problem is that the authorities who manage the importation of potatoes give the licenses and they don’t give a due date for the licenses. So, the importers come and keep them. So, while we are already in production, they just keep importing. And the next thing is that sometimes the authorities who give these licenses abuse the system and give the licenses for extended period of time.  Yes, there are problems because if I offer it – I propose it to the buyers and they say that there are still Mexican potatoes on the market and so they don’t want to pay the price. Sometimes they only want to pay seventy [per pound] and sometimes we need to sell it for eighty – even if we don’t want to – eighty cents per pound at a loss. Sometimes the Mexican potatoes do come cheaper but the cost of production in Mexico is cheaper – and here everything is more expensive, for example, the fertilizers and the chemicals.”

 

Armando Arevalo

Armando Arevalo, Farmer [Translated]

“Look, these potatoes have been parked here for two weeks. Those [imported] should have been closed and completely controlled from the first of February – very controlled but they are still coming in. We just have to wait here for this to change going forward – that they control more the contraband potatoes and those who have the permits those stragglers have that they say take eleven days – that affects us because it is long. And then they give double permits and they say my friend gave me the double license and what that means is double products – over abundance, nuh?”

 

Armando Arevalo has been farming potatoes for fourteen years here on his farm. He has seven acres planted with only potatoes – which he plants once a year. At the moment he has close to eighty thousand pounds of potatoes – most harvested and others still in the ground – valued at fifty  thousand dollars – but he has no idea when and if he will be able to make a sale. These thousands of potatoes stored in these wooden cases have been here for two weeks – and he has already dumped thousands that have been rotting – now even the horses in the area are eating the potatoes that are going to waste. Arevalo invested thousands of dollars in his potato fields – he set up his own irrigation system that set him back thousands of dollars – monies he owes:

 

Armando Arevalo [Translated]

“Customers [buyers] come and they say if you give us for sixty [cents] or sixty-five [cents] we will buy – but those are ridiculous prices – what profit would I make? Would it be that I would just be working for work’s sake? That is not right, nuh?”

 

Andrea Polanco

“How many [potatoes] in pounds do you have here that you can’t sell?”

 

Armando Arevalo [Translated]

“Fairly speaking, like what I mentioned to you is about eight hundred bags which would translate to about eighty thousand pounds are what I have. And so far, I have only negotiated two thousand pounds in two weeks. And if you would see what I have thrown away – there is a lot of potatoes – rotten potatoes.”

 

A short distance away is another farmer – Manuel Martinez. He has fewer acres of potatoes. He just started harvesting this week – but right now there aren’t any buyers interested. This is concerning for him because this is the way he earns his livelihood – so if he doesn’t get about fifty percent of his crop sold he is set to lose about thirty thousand dollars.

 

Manuel Martinez [Translated]

“Yes, I can lose up to twenty five percent of my potatoes. If three weeks pass and I don’t sell them then yes I will lose up to twenty five percent and if I have bad luck I can lose up to fifty percent of the potatoes. My problem is this – I have a loan at the bank and if I don’t sell my products at a reasonable price then I will need to work another year to pay off this loan. And them [the lenders] well, they are waiting and expecting it and that is natural because they loaned their monies and they want it back. Naturally, it is normal that if you are in your job and they reduce half of what you earn you will have economic [money] problems in your home; to affect the food, the studies of your children in school, car insurance, tires for the vehicle – everything as you would know – you would have problems to do all of these because you are selling your products very cheap.”

 

So, what’s next for these farmers? They are going to harvest as many acres of potatoes as they can and store them and try to negotiate the best prices – but they don’t believe a solution is possible this year, so they are projecting big losses:.

 

Manuel Martinez [Translated]

“For this year, I don’t think there is a solution because the potatoes are already in the country and I would think they licenses to import more. So for this year there isn’t much we can do – but it would help if they don’t give any more licenses [to import].”

 

Reporting for News Five, I’m Andrea Polanco.

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Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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1 Response for “Cayo Farmers Tell Story of Rotting Potatoes”

  1. Mike G. says:

    This is just not right, not fair, and unacceptable. WTF is wrong with GOB? This has got to change.

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