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Dec 1, 2011

Rice Farmers in Blue Creek upset about imported rice

The rice industry has been hit hard in the past three years. This year, growers in the south had to wait for months to finally be paid by the Belize Marketing and Development Corporation. In the south as well as in the north, silos are overflowing with the staple as sales dropped by as much as fifty percent. As we reported last Friday, earlier this year over nine hundred sacks of rice were imported from Uruguay by a charity organization called “A Hand to the Needy”; some found its way in a store in Orange Walk. But why import a staple that is locally grown and abundant? Rice growers in Blue Creek say that the imported rice is also inferior and that they were not consulted since they are producing better quality. The situation is grim for major rice farmers and News Five’s Isani Cayetano went looking for answers in Blue Creek.

Isani Cayetano, Reporting

The importation of rice into the local market is severely impacting an already fickle industry which, over the past two years, has seen a sharp decline in sales throughout the country.  In Blue Creek where rice is one of three major commodities being produced grain growers are trying their best to weather the economic maelstrom that has resulted from poor business.  At Circle R Products, one of several cooperatives in this industrial community, there are hundreds of sacked rice sitting in storage since late 2009.

Stanley Rempel

Stanley Rempel, Managing Director, Circle R Products

“Our sales are down about fifty percent so we’re sitting on a lot of rice stock in the bins and it affects the farmers a lot because they have invested the money in growing the crop and they have been sitting in the bin for a year already.”

Stanley Rempel is responsible for the oversight of forty-eight grain silos in Blue Creek.  He manages one of the largest operations within the industry.  His product, like Ed Reimer’s Maya Pearl Rice, was once a mainstay on grocery shelves across Belize.  Reimer, who runs a much smaller business, has recently had to downsize production by as much as sixty percent.

Ed Reimer, Owner, Maya Pearl Rice

Ed Reimer

“The market has always had to compete with an influx of rice coming in from Mexico and probably some other places that we don’t know about and we feel that at this point in time there is a bigger than normal pressure on the Belize market because the amount of sales that the rice mills have been reporting have been down significantly for the past three years and it seems to be getting worse.  I don’t know if that’s because the cost of production is so much higher here or somewhere else is too cheap I don’t know.”

At Circle R the production line is fully automated.  Whole grain rice is bagged mechanically and ran along a treadmill to another machine which seals several two-pound bags inside a wrapper stamped with the company’s logo.  His product is severely undermined by the introduction of Uruguayan rice which has somehow made its way from charity to retail outlets countrywide.

Stanley Rempel

“What I understand is that the organization that imported the rice they were of the understanding that the grade of rice that they needed was not available.  Apparently they had just been talking to Marketing Board but they have never contacted us and I would just like to let everybody know, any grade of rice is available if they just ask for it, right, we can make any grade.  What they’re importing, the rice from Uruguay, was about fifteen or twenty percent broken and eighty percent whole grain.  Our regular rice fifteen percent broken and eighty percent whole grain and another grade that we sell is thirty percent broken and seventy percent whole grain.”

While it is apparent that the local grain meets the required standard that is necessary for distribution to the less fortunate the work of the growers in the massive rice paddies isn’t translating into revenue that is necessary to keep the industry afloat.  We hopped on a combine to get a close-up of how a thirty-five acre rice paddy is harvested.  It’s all mechanized but costly nonetheless.

Ed Reimer

“In ‘08 I believe the fertilizers went to about a hundred and change for the bag. And so to deal with those cost inputs going so high, we cut back production and we have never gotten back the full amount of production that we were in before. Right now we are planting under five hundred acres for the year and I don’t know what’s going to happen with that. But for us to plant full amount of land we have for rice production, we would have to see the market get stronger considerably. Or an export market developed—that would be ideal because the population in Belize doesn’t need what we have in production capacity because we have a lot of water, we have a lot of flat lands and we have a lot of farmers so we can produce for export better than anything.”

The problem farmers are now facing since identifying the issue of competition is diversifying into other, more lucrative areas of agriculture.

Stanley Rempel

“Normally we mill about four to five thousand tons of paddy per year and you guys probably don’t work with tons but that would be like nine million pounds of paddy rice that we mill in a normal year.”

Isani Cayetano

“And has that gone down considerably over the past two years?”

Stanley Rempel

“Yes, it has gone down—down about forty-fifty percent.’

Isani Cayetano

“In terms of dollars and cents what does this translate to?”

Stanley Rempel

“Well for a number of farmers it means venturing into a different business—rice is not paying the bills anymore so they go into corn or soybeans or something else. And if this keeps; if this is what our country wants—that they would provide importing rice than locally grown rice, then the rice industry will just have to go down and we would need to look into something else right.”

Reporting for News Five, I am Isani Cayetano.

While the small farmers have diversified to other crops, the big growers that have invested substantially are hoping for a better crop next year.

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11 Responses for “Rice Farmers in Blue Creek upset about imported rice”

  1. PERPETUAL says:

    AND NOW WE HEAR THAT THE MINISTRY OF AGRICULTURE WILL LOOK INTO HOW THE URUGUAYAN RICE GOT INTO THE LOCAL MARKET? COME ON PEOPLE, THE MINISTER HIMSELF IS IN CHARGE OF THE MARKETING BOARD. HE KNOWS EXACTLY WHAT IS GOING ON. THEY HAVE BEEN IMPORTING THIS RICE FROM SINCE LAST YEAR ONLY THAT THEY WERE PUTTING IT ON BMDC BAGS. THE MEDIA SHOULD NOW CHECK WHO WERE THE ONES INVOLVED, NOT THE MINISTRY OF AGRICULTURE!!!!

  2. hard woking Belizean says:

    Not surprising….the Ministers are “never aware” of what is happening in our country, guess they have other more important and pressing issues than those of the Belizean people. That is how the Govt encourages the local farmers to grow their own products in order to reduce the expensive imported products yet behind our backs they allow the importation of the same product but at a cheaper price! Come on!!! No wonder Belize cannot get ahead not only economically but in all other means and ways:(!! Sad and harder for us Belizeans!!!

  3. blackberry says:

    Has the farmers take into consideration belizeans has turn to ramen noodles instead of rice because of the economic situation.

  4. A Jew says:

    You are right Perpetual, This is a serious thing happening and someone is making the money. But at the same time our local rice producers are having great losses. For the past two years rice has also been coming in from Mexico and Guatemala and there is a Minister involved! Also Ministry of Agriculture, the police, and other people in charge are also getting “under-the table funds to pass
    How can our local products and even commodities!! ever get ahead when we have individuals and even people in government that are flooding our markets with contraband goods competing against our own. Its a darn Pity!

  5. A Jew says:

    This is a serious thing happening and someone is making the money. But at the same time our local rice producers are having great losses. For the past two years rice has also been coming in from Mexico and Guatemala and there is a Minister involved! Also Ministry of Agriculture, the police, and other people in charge are also getting “under-the table funds to pass
    How can our local products and even commodities!! ever get ahead when we have individuals and even people in government that are flooding our markets with contraband goods competing against our own. Its a darn Pity!

  6. me says:

    Rememba a sour deal with onions? Farmers going under because of importing onions? Now this. I spoke to one of di mennonite who was telling us that di mennonite rice farmers are going under because of importing rice. Unu help me out deh, what other industry going sour? They blame the PUP for scamping and thieving, and robbing, and u name it they blamed the PUP. I even heard di lee one pan di wave radio mentioning like this may be a PUP scam too. Imagine PUP a scamping in government dealing when they are out of power. Eena dis ya haad time one would expect that priority would be given to d farming industry. See importing may be a clean racket to some people but weh happen eena di dark wah come out eena di lite.

  7. me says:

    A last tidbit on dis matta. Di nex industry weh gwayne see some disappearing is di chicken industry. See i got it straight from di horses mouth Dey sre struggling with production costs and no incentives from di government. Dey feeding d masses and are struggling, but no one listening to them until d chickens disappears from di dinna table. Maybe di hustling is good in di importing so dat will b imported too i imagine.

  8. Earl Grey says:

    BELIZE DOES NOT NEED TO IMPORT FOOD PRODUCTS….we can GROW and PRODUCE ALL THE FOOD WE NEED.

    In this case, IF THE MINISTER DID NOT KNOW WHAT WAS GOING ON…HE SHOULD BE FIRED!!!

    SOMEBODY IS GETTING MONEY UNDER THE TABLE….SOMEBODY.

  9. Elgin Martinez says:

    The corruption continues.

  10. CEO says:

    iF THEY REALLY WANTED TO HELP THE POOR WHY NOT BUY THE RICE LOCALLY TO DISTRIBUTE. THIS WOULD HAVE HELPED THE NEEDY AND THE GREADY. bRINGING THE RICE IN FROM FOREIGN ONLY HELPS THE GREADY!

    IF THIS ORGANIZATION HAD BAUGHT THE RICE LOCALLY THEY WOULD HAVE DONE MUCH MORE TO HELP THEIR CAUSE BECAUSE THE CAUST OF SHIPPING COULD HAVE BEEN USED TO BUY MORE RICE AND IN THE END HELP MORE PEOPLE.

    ALWAYS BUY LOCALLY FIRST WHEN IT IS AVAILABLE.

  11. lovah says:

    ammmm sereously…

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