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Dec 28, 2017

Strengthening Employment Opportunities for Young Women and Men in the Caribbean

The Food and Agricultural Authority undertook a project with the Government of Belize to promote entrepreneurship in agriculture among rural youth. The project called ‘Learning Route’ took a group of youth to different parts of the country to learn from locals about agriculture with the hope that it would inspire youth in Belize to continue working in the agro-productive sector to directly offset unemployment and poverty.  We worked with the F.A.O. to document a part of the program. Andrea Polanco travelled to the west and shares some of the highlights of the Learning Route.

 

Yeimi Argueta

Martin Castillo, Participant, Learning Route

“When it comes to learning route, they brought something different that I was always waiting for.”

 

Yeimi Argueta, Participant, Learning Route

“Belize needs more farmers and especially the young ones. And like what we have heard, our farmers of Belize are in the range of fifty to sixty years, so what will happen when they pass away or something.”

 

Estevan Bol

Estevan Bol, Owner, Belize Fishbowl

“Either way, maybe we get new ideas, new plans, so it is very important for us.”

 

Martin, Yeimi and Estevan are three of the fifteen youth who participated in the “learning route” – an initiative geared towards promoting entrepreneurship in agriculture among rural youth in Belize.Youth unemployment and poverty in Belize are amongst the highest in the Caribbean region. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in its work to promote food security and eliminate poverty, believes that agriculture is one of the solutions to youth unemployment. The project, “Strengthening Decent Employment Opportunities for Young Women and Men in the Caribbean,” is funded mainly by the International Fund for Agriculture Development.  FAO is the project’s executing agency and a co-funder with the PROCASUR Corporation and the Government of Belize.  The “learning route” is a step in the right direction to engage youth in the opportunities in the food and agriculture in rural Belize.

 

Alda Bernardinelli

Alda Bernardinelli, Caribbean Region Focal Point, PROCASUR

“The idea advocates and the idea is to enable a favorable environment for youth employment in the Caribbean. This kind of methodology contributes to that goal by exposing young men and women to the opportunities that there might be out there.”

 

Raymon Van Anrooy

Raymon Van Anrooy, Fishery & Aquaculture Officer, FAO

“In many of the islands in the Caribbean, or CARICOM as a whole, about seventy or eighty percent ore even more in some cases, the food is being imported. And if you notice the prices in supermarkets for the food are pretty high compared to the salaries that are earned. So, there is definitely the scope to supply local produce and reduce the imports, the imports levels of food are still increasing in the Caribbean.  This is really sad so if we can produce it locally let’s try do that and everybody should eat, as much as possible, local produce.”

 

And that is what these young people want to do – they want to pursue agriculture – many of them are still small scale farmers – producing fruits, vegetables and livestock for local consumption. But the learning route has exposed them to the innovation and opportunities that exist within the agriculture sector in Belize.

 

Rony Castro

Rony Castro, Farmer

“In the livestock, I learn something new. I didn’t know that in the pigs you had to cut the teeth. So, that is something new that I can start to do with my livestock and in crops, in the area of the string beans I found an easier way instead of using a lot of work and do less work to produce the string beans.”

 

Renan Reneau

Renan Reneau, Irrigator & Landscaper

“One of the things that inspired me from the programme is when we visited the Belize Botanical Gardens. There they have like a half-covered structure with  orchids, but I want to do one with flowers because we do irrigation landscaping but when we do landscaping we have to buy our flowers, our trees, everything. So, it kinda takes a lot of money to get flowers, so when I go home I would like to do that; start a cover structure for flowers.”

 

Martin Castillo

Martin Castillo, Participant, Learning Route

“We went to this morning to the guy in Ladyville that had the hydroponics plant. I have never seen something like that in my whole entire life and it still amazes me to see plants grow without soil. Up to now I am still wondering how it works or how it comes about.”

 

But there’s only a handful inspired youth in agriculture in Belize. For this reason, the learning route gave the participants the opportunity to experience a range of fields in the agriculture sector; with visits to a botanic garden, farms owned by young farmers, and a back-yard hydroponics set up:

 

Rudy Aguilar

Rudy Aguilar, Education Officer, Belize Botanic Gardens

“There’s a huge demand for gardeners out there. You have the flower industry, while it is not big here in Belize, but it can become really, really big. You have the veggie growing. You have the landscapers. You have the nursery people. All these branches can fall under horticulture that has to do with plants. This type of industry is growing pretty fast within Belize and in the future I see it getting better. A lot of the hotels – a lot of the guests in Belize are aware of what is going on and so they are trying to be as green as possible.”

 

Evelio Tzib

Evelio Tzib, Farmer

“One of my main things I have done and have profited of it – starting was cilantro. I planted about two ounces of cilantro and it gave me about three hundred dollars and that was really good. That was one motivation. And then I planted the cucumber seeds and I got about four hundred to five hundred dollars only on one ounce. That is one of the biggest motivation.  Farming has helped us – my family then – by sending us – all my brothers to have an education to UB and high school. And let’s say to have our own food made by us where we don’t have to buy. And one of the main thing is to have food for the family.”

 

Jimmi Jones

Jimmi Jones, Owner, JimSan Aquaponics Farm

“This particular system, I can shut this down today and by the end of the week have new plants in it and I could be starting within 6 weeks and producing again. You can produce within six weeks. It is green. The green aspect of it is that we recycle our water.   We use less land space, so the foot print is smaller, your production capacity is higher because now I not only can manage or manipulate the vertical spectrum so I go up in the year and produce large volumes in a very tine spot, so it is sustainable in many different ways.”

 

So, while agriculture can stimulate economic development through employment and food production, experts in the field say that young people stand to benefit most from this multi-million dollar industry. And technology has helped agriculture to evolve; it makes work easier and outputs bigger.

 

Luke Ramos

Luke Ramos, Manager, 4-H

“The idea is to try to stimulate, foster interest in agriculture; why because agriculture is still the backbone of our economy.   We understand right now the market for chicken is a hundred million dollar industry; who wouldn’t want be a part of a hundred million dollar industry. You would want some of that income to be able to come over to your side where you are able to focus on self-sustainability and be able to earn enough to suffice you and your family and live a comfortable life.”

 

Jimmi Jones

“Food security is a big security issue in a lot of small developing countries. A lot of our economies in the Caribbean, in Central America are dependent on imports which is sad because we can produce all the food we need and sell – as well as selling and exporting.”

 

Elvira Pinelo

Elvira Pinelo, Agriculture Instructor, 4-H

“Agriculture has come a long way as we are seeing here today from soil bending your back to hydroponics which is a new – not new – but technology for easier work in agriculture.  The stigma against agriculture has been something that we are trying to get away from. But to get young people into agriculture again, we need to make agriculture more attractive; adding technology to agriculture, adding ICT to agriculture, adding auto-cad to agriculture – that will make it more interesting for young people to get in.”

 

And the learning route experience left a lasting impression on the participants:

 

Renita McKenzie

Renita McKenzie, Student, ANRI

“Agriculture is a big deal right now. You make more money. So, I don’t want to have any other job but agriculture; have my own business in my back yard.”

 

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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