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Feb 28, 2019

The Soy Bean Industry is in Crisis in Little Belize

Little Belize is a small remote community populated by almost three thousand Mennonites. To get there you travel via Progresso Road in the Corozal District.  It is not often in the news, but tonight we have a report on a situation that is threatening the livelihood of some two hundred farmers. Now, the community depends on farming and in this case, seven million pounds of soybeans are sitting in three silos. The farmers invested more than a million and a half dollars to commercially harvest the beans which sells as feeding produce. But like potatoes, soybean products are now being imported into Belize which means that the local farmers cannot find a market for their crop. Today, News Five’s Isani Cayetano travelled up north for a first-hand look at the plight of the soybeans farmers.


Isani Cayetano, Reporting

The agrarian community of Little Belize is a settlement of conservative, German-speaking Mennonites in the Corozal District.  With a population of approximately three thousand residents, it has the second largest number of any Protestant group in the country.  Their contribution to the agro-productive sector has been immeasurable, growing and harvesting everything from corn, red kidney beans, sorghum and soybean for consumption on the local market, as well as for export within the region.  Tonight, however, the industry is at a crossroads.  The production and sale of soybean has been jeopardized by the introduction of its derivatives from neighboring Mexico.  Its effect is far-reaching, impacting as many as two hundred households across the community.  Abram Schmitt and his family are among those affected.


Abram Schmitt, Resident, Little Belize

Abram Schmitt

“We need to sell it faster because there is a problem that they cannot restrict the importation of the soybean product as yet and we want to try and see if we will be able to restrict the importation of soybean products.”


From the end of October to the end of December last year, a total of seven million pounds of soybean was harvested.  Mass quantities of this edible legume have been stored in three silos, each rising roughly thirty-five feet above ground.  Soybean is a significant and cheap source of protein for animal feeds and many packaged meals and is in high demand in agriculture.


Abram Schmitt

“There are seventy thousand sacks in the big silos at the cooperative and we need to sell that because we loaned the money from the bank to pay seventy-five percent because we cannot pay a hundred percent.  The price could be lower or it could run too much in interest that the price has to be lowered, so the rest will be paid when the sale is finished.”

On December 13th, 2017, the Atlantic Bank Limited extended a line of credit of one point five million dollars to Cornelius Redecop, Johan Redecop, Jacob Guenther and Abram Elias to assist with working capital for the purchase of grains, including soybean.  The life of that loan agreement was for a period of twelve months, the credit facility being renewable on an annual basis.  What is frustrating these growers is similar to what affected potato farmers in Orange Walk recently, the importation of produce is impacting their ability to sell their soybean crop and meet their loan obligations.


Florencio Marin Jr., Area Representative, Corozal Southeast

Florencio Marin Jr.

“They have a lot of production here that is for the local market and some for the international market.  These are production, some of it reaches as far as Jamaica, Barbados and I believe they are hoping to open up the market as well into Panama.  But as well, right now they’re having a problem with the soya because they can’t sell it on the local market because of extended importation and I would think that it would help our foreign exchange that if we could at least hold off on the importation so that these farmers can critically sell it.  I am hoping that this is not a pattern of this government where some years aback we had a problem with onion farmers in Corozal.  I believe in the news recently we had the issue with the potato farmers.”


What is being requested of the Ministry of Agriculture is a limit on permits to import soybean, in order to allow local farmers an opportunity to recoup on their investments.


Abram Schmitt

“What we want to do is restrict soybean product importation to [allow us to sell] that sooner to get out of the bill, the money lending, to pay a growing interest, to have that down.”


At an interest rate of nine percent per annum which continues to accrue since the date the first withdrawal was made, it is quite easy to understand the financial bind that these farmers have found themselves in.  With product remaining stagnant in these storage containers, there is the likelihood of spoilage.


Florencio Marin Jr.

“Everywhere our agricultural community needs support from the government and it doesn’t always require money from the government.  In this case, the government doesn’t have to put money, they just need to control the import licenses, balance it properly for these farmers to sell their product.”


Isani Cayetano

“Now this is a chiefly agrarian community, Little Belize, in terms of the productivity coming out of this particular community, what is your opinion based on what you’ve seen, in terms of them being able to grow crops and to be able to do other forms of agriculture?”


Florencio Marin Jr.

“I mean it’s amazing what these Mennonite farmers here in Little Belize are doing.  Every time I come back, I never cease to be impressed with their production.  Clearly, we need to keep promoting them and I mean other works throughout the country, like you have, I believe in my colleague Jose Mai, in Orange Walk South.”


We will attempt to get a response from CEO Jose Alpuche in our subsequent newscast.


Isani Cayetano 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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