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Jul 26, 2019

How Can the Citrus Industry Rebound?

Can the citrus industry rebound? That’s the question we posed to officials of the Citrus Growers Association when we met for a one-on-one interview on Thursday.  Hit by citrus greening, declining production and lack of financing, the industry in the south has been facing huge challenges. But there is some optimism as industry officials believe there can be a turnaround since prices for oranges and grapefruit are good. But an injection of capital is badly needed as is sound leadership. News Five’s Isani Cayetano reports. 

 

Isani Cayetano, Reporting

In spite of the many challenges facing the citrus industry, there is demand for produce at unusually high prices.  The outlook for orange and grapefruit concentrate is positive for the next three years; however, replanting new groves continues to be a concern for the Citrus Growers Association, as it grapples with low productivity.

 

Eugene Cleland

Dr. Eugene Cleland, C.E.O., Citrus Growers Association

“The industry is viable for two fundamental reasons: one, you have a market and two, you have premium prices.  Grapefruit this year was at twenty dollars per box, oranges are around thirteen to fourteen dollars per box.  So you will have strong prices for the next two to three years primarily because the reserves in the other producing countries have been relatively low also because of the challenges of citrus greening.  So you have strong prices and you have a market.  It’s just to get the trees in the ground to produce, to get the industry back to the levels that you want.”

 

Returning to peak output, on the other hand, is all the more difficult considering the fact that farmlands are being sold to other stakeholders who have, in turn, diversified their crops.  What were once large swaths of citrus orchards are now being replaced by acreages of coconut palms.

 

Dr. Eugene Cleland

“Many of the smaller growers have sold their lands, a lot of the smaller growers have sold their lands.  Remember, we are down from about six to seven hundred growers to right around three hundred growers.  So a lot of the smaller growers have sold out their land.  A lot of growers have  A few growers, some of the major growers have sold their land and rather than the buyer plants citrus, they are replanting with coconut.  So coconut is a new, viable industry and many of the lands that were available for citrus have now been replanted with coconut.”

 

Until new groves come to bear, it is believed that production will continue to plummet.

 

Dr. Eugene Cleland

“Some industry stakeholders argue that the production might even go down further until the new groves start producing.”

 

Perhaps the most pertinent question, notwithstanding the fact that the Government of Belize stepped in to bail out the struggling industry in 2014, is what is its responsibility now that the sector is once again falling short of its economic expectations?

 

Dr. Eugene Cleland

“Governments role is very, very critical to the restoration of this industry.  When you look at Mexico, for example, or when you look at Florida, for example, they subsidize the management of the psyllid.  They waive taxes for citrus growers in Florida.  So there has to be an injection of capital into the industry.  I believe it cannot be left up to the grower.  For the past few years it has been left up to the grower and there has been no real collective direction how the industry should move.  I think the ministry should get more on the ground.  The minister, I must admit, has visited us many times, has been to several of the other stakeholders in the industry and we need to get the ball moving faster.”

 

From a business perspective, the much needed overhaul begins with a long-term strategic plan, one that can only work if personalities are set aside in favor of saving the citrus industry.

 

Dr. Eugene Cleland

“The formula is simple, as an industry we need to have a comprehensive strategic plan how to move the industry.  I believe there are some fundamental pillars that need to be embedded in that strategic plan: leadership.  The industry needs leadership.  The industry needs someone to champion the direction, someone at the highest level.  For an industry so critical to the economy and to the foreign exchange reserve, we have to restore the industry to that level.  Governance of the industry also needs to be fixed.  I think the industry needs a wider cross-section of people to oversee the industry and, like weve discussed, financing is very critical to move the industry forward.”

 

Reporting for News Five, I am Isani Cayetano.


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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