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Sep 22, 2017

The Lights are Turned On in Cowpen

Cowpen is a small village located in the heart of the banana belt in southern Belize. It is populated by workers of the industry, who toil the fields or package the fruit. While the export of bananas, primarily to the European Union, contributes significantly to the economy as one of the top agricultural exports, the village had been without electricity since it was established. But all that is changing because the European Union has partnered with government and Belize Electricity Limited to provide electricity to the village. For residents, it is a major development. News Five’s Isani Cayetano reports.

 

Isani Cayetano, Reporting

Access to safe and reliable electricity falls within the basic needs of any burgeoning community.  Ideally, it should go together with other infrastructure works, including the building of new roads, as well as access to potable water.  For an established village such as Cowpen, one would have thought that electricity had been introduced here decades ago.  Regrettably, that wasn’t the case until fairly recently when the European Union partnered with the Government of Belize and Belize Electricity Limited to bring power to the many homes and banana farms in South Stann Creek.

 

Malgorzata Wasilewska

Malgorzata Wasilewska, EU Ambassador

“This is part of the European Union’s support to banana producers and communities working and living in this banana belt.  We’ve been working on this for over a decade and the European Union is very committed to making a difference for banana growers and for people living and working in this community.”

 

The Rural Electrification Project has seen an extension of the national electricity grid.  The objective is to improve the quality of life for residents.  It also aims to strengthen the local productive sector, in this case the Banana Belt.

 

Carlos Peraza

Carlos Peraza, Manager, Go Bananas 1,2,3

“We’ve seen a significant decrease in cost regarding the fuel that we use to buy before.  It use to be like two thousand, eight hundred [dollars], now we’re only spending with electricity, about one thousand, six hundred.  So we’ve seen a decrease just in fuel costs of about forty percent and we think that it has come to benefit us a lot, as well.  We’ve also seen a big benefit in complying with all the Global Gap that we do get every year, we don’t have to be storing a lot of fuel again.  We have a backup generator but it’s only a few gallons that we need to store, not [like] before.  We use to store about two thousand gallons so that’s even safer for everybody working around the packing shed as well.”

 

Here at Go Banana 2, that’s a few dozen employees.  They report to work daily to process and package several tons of bananas for export to the global market through Fyffes.  It’s manual labor which involves receiving green bananas in bunches, cutting them into hands and washing them, before bagging and boxing them as a finished product.  Up until April of this year, workers had been toiling under exposure to air and noise pollution while using fuel generators.

 

Isani Cayetano

“From an environmental perspective, how beneficial has this been to your operations here?”

 

Carlos Peraza

“Well definitely, because we don’t have air pollution again.  We were having some difficulties in measuring the sound from the generator to our employees as well.  We don’t have to do that evaluation again because with electricity it’s so quiet it’s so peaceful.”

 

Belize Electricity Limited, as the implementing agency, has incorporated the Rural Electrification Project into its existing expansion program.  Vonetta Burrell is B.E.L.’s Public Relations Manager.

 

Vonetta Burrell

Vonetta Burrell, Public Relations Manager, B.E.L.

“B.E.L. has a system expansion program that aims to meet our target of providing access to customers to match ninety-eight percent coverage across the country.  Currently, ninety-two percent of our population has access to safe and reliable power from B.E.L. and we aim that by 2020, ninety-eight percent of customers in Belize can access our supply.  So today, the investment made by the European Union, with the support of the Government of Belize, that was implemented by B.E.L. through our own contributions, is a part of a forty million dollar project that started in 2014 and will continue through to 2020.”

 

A total of five hundred households and thirteen banana farms in as many as twenty-seven communities in the south are now benefiting from access to the national grid.  Candelaria Ical has been living in Cowpen for sixteen years without electricity.

 

Candelaria Ical

Candelaria Ical, Resident, Cowpen Village

“Sometimes my children, the kids don’t go to school or do homework but right now I get up early in the morning and I do everything, all of my work so I try to send them to school at the correct time.”

 

Isani Cayetano

“How long were you without electricity and how has this been able to benefit your home?”

 

Candelaria Ical

“For sixteen years I noh have no electricity and right now I have electricity, so everything has changed.”

 

Today’s visit by the EU Ambassador gives a firsthand experience of the challenges endured by residents and businesses within the Banana Belt.

 

Malgorzata Wasilewska

“It is a particular joy and pleasure for me to meet people from the community, as well as to visit the farm, to see and understand how European taxpayers money is making a difference in people’s lives.  Having electricity today, for many of us, is something we take for granted, putting the light on, using the fridge, being able to plug in your computer or your phone for recharging; and many of these people didn’t have it.  So it has already brought a huge difference in their lives.”

 

Reporting for News Five, I am Isani Cayetano.

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