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Jan 29, 2019

Over 5 Million Dollars invested in Belize’s Banana Industry

Banana is one of Belize’s primary agricultural industries, behind sugar and citrus. It brings in millions of dollars every year for the economy through export earnings. But as we’ve reported in the last few years, the industry has undergone several challenges in recent times. The challenges, some natural – like Hurricane Earl in 2016 which destroyed hundreds of acres of banana – caused a dent in production in the last few years. But there are other problems that have persisted as threats that the industry must manage; those range from diseases to soil fertility issues. Well, to stimulate the industry and give it the boost it needs to produce more bananas, a project implemented by IICA, the E.U. and local partners in Belize saw the investment of more than five million dollars. That project was officially launched in March of 2018. IICA has documented the works done in the banana communities and with their assistance, Reporter Andrea Polanco shares more about the project.


Andrea Polanco, Reporting

Belize’s bananas are said to be one of the best in the world. It is known for its quality and flavor and is sought after in markets outside of Belize. Even here at home – consumers buy bananas because they are tasty, nutritious and affordable. These bananas are grown, harvested and processed on farms in southern Belize.


Antonio Zabaneh, Chairman, Banana Growers’ Association

Antonio Zabaneh

“Our quality is between 98 and 100%. And that is what has kept the banana industry alive in Belize.”


There are about ten growers and twenty-one farms under the Banana Growers Association that produce bananas for export and the local market. Their role is to help ensure that standards are maintained and that there are buyers for these bananas.


Elroy Foreman

Elroy Foreman, Sigatoka Department Manager, BGA

“The number one is to provide a Sigatoka control service whereby they have a fleet of planes and they would do the technical recommendation for fungicides to control the disease and they will provide the service of. The second important role is to coordinate the weekly sales of bananas with the purchaser and finally they negotiate on behalf growers the sale of their production on a yearly basis or  every five years or whatever the needs be.”


This industry, however, has experienced many lows in recent years. The closure of Zabaneh Banana Farms caused many to lose their jobs and production of bananas to fall. And then there was the widespread damage caused by hurricane in 2016 – where up to ninety-percent of farms were wiped out in certain areas. But every day the industry’s resiliency is being tested. There are many threats that if not addressed or managed spell bad business for the banana industry. There is the Sigatoka disease that has been around since the seventies – and to this day still poses a serious threat. And then there is the challenge of soil fertility and sustainable practices.


Willie Chan, Technical Coordinator, IICA

Willie Chan

“We have what we call a high level of acidity, which is ph is too low. We have low soil compaction and when you have compacted soil, the root development is not properly carried out.  If you don’t have proper root development, your trees will not grow well. If you don’t have good drainage you will have accumulation of water in the fields. We looked at the different practices that are being done in the banana industry; we look at the germplasm being used and we looked at the fertilization being used. So, by bettering the practices and having a proper fertilization program and using improved planting material, we will then tackle what is called the overall productivity of the banana.”


This industry is important to Belize. It has grossed significant export earnings for the country. In 2017, bananas brought in eighty-one point seven million Belize dollars for the country. In that same year, more than one hundred and eighty three million pounds of bananas were produced for export. This industry also employs over three thousand five hundred persons in the southern Belize. So, to improve efficiencies in production to bring more benefits to the country, five point four million dollars was invested in 2018. It was done through a project called the “Productivity enhancement of banana farms through integrated soil fertility management in the banana belt area of Belize.” It was funded by the European Union, Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture, Banana Growers Association and the University of the Belize. The goal is for farms to increase their overall banana production. One way this was to teach the participants about soil management. They did in-class sessons and practical field trainings with technical experts.


Jeffy Gomez

Jeffy Gomez, Banana Project Coordinator, IICA

“The training the project offered includes rapid field soil test; ph management; cover crop; decompaction and organic matter; and composting. This is further enhanced by the establishment of twelve demonstration plot whereby the ergonomic practices are verified and illustrated to the farms. The second component under the works ongoing is to basically increase the fertility of the banana farms in order to increase the production.”


The second part of the project includes physical works including drainage and decompaction on two thousand and eighty-three acres – double the target set at the start of the project. It also provided fertilization and added calcium to all the farms in the industry. IICA says the focus on soil management and sustainability is critical to the productivity of the industry.


Derek Charles, National Specialist in Grenada, IICA

Derek Charles

“We think that without a proper management of soils in bananas, banana production will not improve because of the number of pests and diseases in the soil. We know that if we have an integrated soil management program for the banana farmers it will benefit them in terms of the productivity and phyto-sanitary aspect of the farm.”

The participants say they’ve learnt new techniques and best practices that they will apply to make their processes more efficient.


Rony Gonzalez

Rony Gonzalez, Farm Manager

“I will say the biggest impact is the inputs accompanied with the drainage system. The availability of the different tools that we got so that we can make rapid test like ph and electrical conductivity and other things that will help us a lot. So, I will say that is very important.”


Delmy Foreman, Farmer

Delmy Foreman

“We are able to implement drainage systems, for example, which are essential to banana production and the incorporation of sugarcane bagasse, as well as the use of organic material and triplecal. This has demonstrated how professional and organized this project is.”


The bananas in the southern farms are from small banana plants called meristems. These are imported from Central America where they are grown in labs – moved to a nursery and then planted in the fields. But through the project, IICA has been working with the University of Belize where they have been successfully growing meristems in the lab. With infrastructural works completed on the lab, UB Central Farm Campus can now produce up to three hundred thousand plantlets in a year.  The project also aims to see an expansion of UB’s banana propagation process and for it to become certified and accredited. This will enable them to become recognized by export markets.


Zoe Roberson Zetina

Zoe Roberson Zetina, Campus Director, University of Belize

“The micro-propagation lab has never been directly integrated into the education process here. But because of this project, we have been able to expose more students to micro-propagation, giving them another sense on how we can develop agriculture in Belize. We are hoping that through this project we will move towards the certification of the micro- propagation lab. So, now we are fully implementing all of our standard operating procedures; fully implementing and following each of them so that we can move closer to accreditation. In doing that we are actually assisting the entire agricultural sector of Belize. If we can micro-propagate plants for the banana industry and hopefully for other industries, then we are moving not only the University of Belize forward but the country of Belize as well.”


The best reason for this coming together of all the partners and the investments made in the banana industry best summed up by the EU’s Nicolaus Hansmann.


Nicolaus Hansmann, Team Leader, EU Technical Office, Belize

Nicolaus Hansmann

“It is to make these good, delicious bananas from Belize even better acceptable in the country and the world-wide market.”


Andrea Polanco reporting for News Five.

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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