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May 16, 2019

EU Wraps Up Banana Project in the South

The European Union wrapped up its two million Euros project in the south today. The project started a year and a half ago with the goal to teach banana farmers about soil fertility management; increase the soil fertility in banana sector to improve banana production; and to enhance UB’s micro-propagation lab to improve production of banana plantlets. The Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture and the Banana Growers Association led the implementation on the ground through capacity building; infrastructure development; field demonstrations; soil conditioning and other activities. It is expected that the new practices introduced will have far reaching effects on the banana industry, primarily increasing the production of bananas. Although some farms are already seeing the benefits of some of the project, the scale of the impact of the EU’s two million Euros investment may not be seen until a few years down the road. Reporter Andrea Polanco visited the banana belt today for the official closing and tells us more about the project in the following story.

 

Andrea Polanco, Reporting

Eighteen months ago, the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) and the European Union started a project called “Productivity Enhancement of Banana Farms through integrated soil fertility management in the Banana Belt Area of Belize.” Today, the two organizations joined their partners, the Belize Banana Growers Association, Ministry of Agriculture and UB, to officially close the project as the EU’s final investment in the banana sector. The EU and IICA say that the two million Euros project was successfully implemented.

 

Nicolaus Hansmann

Nicolaus Hansmann, Team Leader, EU Technical Office in Belize

“This project has been executed in eighteen months. All the activities have been delivered, effectively delivered. I think this new set up of project management has proven to be very successful.”

 

Lloyd Day

Lloyd Day, Deputy Director, IICA

“This is exactly the kind of project that I have been pushing for at IICA. I think it is important for ourselves, important for international donors and the governments to bring innovation directly to the farm. It includes the participation of the government, the academic and the private sectors working together to improve a specific sector. This is what we should be doing to have a tangible impact on productivity and economic development.”

 

The goal of the project is to increase overall banana production through proper soil practices – and that increase in production is expected to be felt in the economy and to improve the quality of life for banana growers and their families in the banana belt area. So, to do that, the IICA, Banana Growers Association and its partners conducted a number of activities, including field visits; development of a soil management manual; drainage work on over a thousand acres; soil decompaction; replanting of over thirty thousand plants;  as well as workshops and trainings. Elroy Foreman of the BGA discusses the impact of these investments.

 

Elroy Foreman

Elroy Foreman, Project Focal Point, BGA

“I must say though that the implementation of the project was successful but the BGA wants to make it clear that total positive impact of the project is years away. It is a process. It is not easy to change the organic material content of your soil from two point five percent to four percent. It is not just easy to change our soil ph from four point eight or lower to six point eight in eighteen months. Some immediate positive impacts were seen from fertilizer, drainage, and soil decompaction. The overall concept of integrated soil fertility management is in our hearts. We understand clearly that this is something that will continue to be a part of our way and means of producing bananas.”

 

Doctor Chaney St. Martin of IICA Trinidad and Tobago says that when the project started a year and a half ago, more than sixty percent of the banana farms had poor soil quality – fast forward to today – some of those farms have turned things around because they have implemented many of the best practices learned through the integrated soil fertility management part of the project. As St. Martin explains – the soil management and productivity of farms go hand in hand:

 

Chaney St. Martin

Dr. Chaney St. Martin, Water & Soil Management Specialist, IICA Trinidad and Tobago

“Because of the long period of production there, the soil has suffered a bit because of the focus on chemicals. In fact, most of the farms there, sixty-three percent were under what we classified as moderate to severe soil fertility problems. Only about thirty-even percent of farms had no problem or slight problems. So, what we did was that we collected the data and the main problem was the soil ph problem – very acidic soil and we had a severe compaction problem. We took that information with the communication and discussion with the BGA to develop something that doesn’t only speak to the implements but giving the farmers the capacity or the power to solve some of the problems and to test when certain interventions are working or not working.   And we have seen results both on the farm and the demonstration plots. We have seen the decompaction level not very severe up to six months; we have seen the PH improved and sustained; we have seen one of the critical things – the microbial activity – the health aspect of the soil – has improved. We have seen some farms moving from the severe group to a no problem kind of farm. So, within the eighteen months I think that is very commendable and if we continue on that trajectory, I think it looks all promising from there on.”

 

A part of the project included the upgrading of UB’s Micro-propagation Lab with equipment, water and security systems; as well as training for lab techs. And for the first time in the history of the banana industry, three thousand five hundred meristems were produced in Belize inside the lab. Two plots were planted with the local meristems and they were successfully harvested a few weeks ago. The partners say the plants produced bananas that are comparable to imported plantlets. Now, UB hopes to produce up to one hundred thousand plantings for the next banana crop.

 

Clement Sankat

Clement Sankat, President, University of Belize

“What this project has done is to build a capacity in Belize; a Belizean capacity to produce banana plants for the industry. And that is, to my mind, the biggest plus and gain. The University of Belize commits itself to selling those plants to the farmers at a competitive but fair price and we are prepared to work with you to ensure that happens. We are prepared to move over time from about one hundred thousand – seventy-five thousand plants to about five hundred thousand plants in five or six years but let us begin next year. Let us produce a hundred thousand and the next year another hundred thousand.”

 

Reporting for News Five, I’m Andrea Polanco.


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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