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Jul 3, 2019

Contraband onions hurting local onion farmers; thousands of pounds of onion unsold

Contraband onions are hurting local onion farmers. Several onion producing communities have thousands of pounds of onions on their hands and can’t sell them. The Belize Marketing and Development Corporation and the Ministry of Agriculture’s Extension Service conducted a yearly onion availability last Friday in three of the major onion producing communities, Maskall, Little Belize and Neuland community. That assessment showed that one hundred and thirty pounds of yellow onions are in these communities, as well as in San Carlos in Orange Walk. A release issued on Tuesday pointed out that contraband onion is the big challenge for local farmers to sell their produce. Today, News Five went to Maskall to speak with onion producers about the contraband and how it is affecting them. The trip took us to the Orellana family where they have thirty-five thousand pounds of onion in stock. Reporter Andrea Polanco went to the family’s farm located along the Bomba Road a few miles out of Maskall. Here’s the story. 

 

Andrea Polanco, Reporting

The Orellana Family is the largest onion producer in the Belize District. Every year they harvest between 100,000-180,000 pounds of yellow onion. But these onion farmers located in the Maskall area are having a hard time to sell their produce. These sacks and beds of onions under this shed were harvested four months ago but the Orellana family has over thirty five thousand pounds that they can’t sell. About three weeks ago, sales stopped.

 

 Reynaldo Orellana, Onion Farmer

Reynaldo Orellana

“When we go to market we take like more or less seventy sacks and we only sell like thirty or thirty five sacks more or less. We bring the majority back. Right now, more or less, we have seven hundred sacks – fifty pound sack and that is more or less what we have right now.”

 

Andrea Polanco

“So that is roughly thirty-five thousand pounds of onions?”

 

Reynaldo Orellana

“Yes, yes, more or less thirty-five thousand pounds.”

 

Andrea Polanco

“And you wouldn’t be able to sell it off as you would in the past?”

Reynaldo Orellana

“No because this onion, in approximately two weeks it should have already gone but right now because of this situation it could take more than a month.”

Andrea Polanco

“Are people buying right now? Are you getting any positive response?”

 

Reynaldo Orellana

“Well, right now, no. From three weeks behind it was selling a bit faster but now from three weeks to now, no. We are not selling much.”

 

The problem is that the local market is saturated with contraband onions which go for a cheaper price. The Orellanas sell to restaurants and retailers, but the vendors who represent their biggest retail buyers have turned to the cheaper, contraband produce.  They say that they have been affected by contraband onions before but this year has been the worst.

 

Reynaldo Orellana

“Well, the problem is that in the market there is a lot of contraband and that affects us to sell the onion because they have it cheaper because they want to sell it quick. Right now we don’t have license for the white onion nor the purple onion. Even this yellow onion that we have, it looks different. It looks prettier or more uniform as how some people call it. As you see it you see the difference. We as farmers know the difference. In wholesale we sell for $1.20-$1.25 a pound, depends the size, but more or less $1.20 a pound.”

 

Andrea Polanco

“Do you think this is a fair price compared to what is usually on the market; is it a fair, standard price?”

 

Reynaldo Orellana

“Yes, because normally we sell the sack at sixty or sixty five, when normally in the market they sell for seventy dollars a sack at fifty pounds.”

 

Andrea Polanco

“And so now, the contraband how does their price compare to you guys’? What is the difference?”

 

Reynaldo Orellana

“They sell it at fifty-five dollars and the person who buy it – when they sell it back still at wholesale – they sell it as seventy dollars a sack.”

 

It’s a price that these farmers simply can’t compete with. Reynaldo Orellana and his family have invested close to forty thousand dollars in this year’s crop, they are now worried that they may not be able to make back that money and this could cripple their livelihood.

 

Reynaldo Orellana

“If we don’t sell this, it will affect us in many ways because if we want to plant more onions or like tomatoes, sweet peppers, we have to have the money to start working back with other plants. If we don’t sell it that can keep us back a lot.”

 

According to these onion producers, once harvested onions can last up to five months. These onions were planted in December and harvested almost four months ago, so now they have only about one month to sell these onions before they start to go bad. In the past three weeks alone they had to throw away hundreds of pounds of rotting onions.  This family can’t afford to throw away anymore of their produce, as Orellana explains, onion farming is a costly business that requires hard work.

 

Reynaldo Orellana

“It needs a lot of investment. From when we start, for example, right now we are cleaning the fields and when we spray two to three times to kill the bush. When we spray the first time the seed that  is in the ground, that come out. So, we spray the second time and then the third time. We have to plough and fix the beds where we plant it, so yes it is a lot work with rake. We have to take out the stones out and the chemicals that we use are very expensive. We have to get it to have a good product; fertilizers. It cost a lot to have onions like this.”

So for now, these onion farmers are depending on the authorities to crack down on the contraband operatives so that they can sell their produce.

 

Reynaldo Orellana

“The contraband from four o’clock in the morning they start selling in the market. Maybe if Customs or BAHA or who could help us with check points or going in the area and if they help us in that way we could sell this in a few weeks or two weeks.”

 

Andrea Polanco

“But if the authorities don’t crack down on the contraband – what is your fear?”

 

Reynaldo Orellana

“Well, that we might lose. They will be spoiled and we might lose a lot.”

Andrea Polanco

“You will have to throw them out?”

 

Reynaldo Orellana

“Throw them away, yes.”

Andrea Polanco reporting for News Five.

 

As you heard in the story, the Orellanas have thirty-five thousand pounds of onions ready for sale. You can call the family at 637-5526 or 633-4414 to buy. They have reduced prices on wholesale.

 


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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