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Oct 17, 2019

The Abyss That CGA Has Fallen Into

There is a looming death knell over the citrus industry in southern Belize, signaling that the livelihoods of hundreds may be hanging in the balance. Millions of dollars and years of investment are on the line. As we reported on Wednesday, the problem has been exacerbated by the Citrus Growers Association’s inability to discharge its obligations to the growers potentially driving them out of business from one of the most important industries in the south. In tonight’s story, we look at one of the main problems challenging the close to three hundred growers. Production is dropping by the tones putting at risk any ability to export the fruits.  New Five’s Isani Cayetano was in the valley and has the following report.

 

Isani Cayetano, Reporting

Tethering on the brink of insolvency, the Citrus Growers Association finds itself in a precarious situation, falling short of its obligation to its membership, as well as the factory.  Plant World Nursery, a facility where citrus plants are grown commercially, is owned and operated by CGA.  The garden centre which up to now has been described as a glimmer of hope for the beleaguered association is one of several suppliers to Citrus Products of Belize Limited.  As part of that arrangement, the plant sales outlet was contracted to provide eighty-five thousand saplings to CPBL for replanting this year.

 

Kent Herrera

Kent Herrera, Chief Financial Officer, CPBL

“In the instance of nursery trees, we buy those from the nursery providers.  You got about four tertiary providers, two of them being the CGA and Agricultural Development & Services which are the two bigger ones, and then you have some smaller nursery providers.  We buy from all of them.  The thing with that is now though that when you are not able to get plants, as in the challenge that we currently have right now, it does create a problem for us because, one: we are not able to maintain the schedules that we have set in terms of our planting programme.”

 

…and therein lies the other problem.  Plant World Nursery has been unable to satisfy CPBL’s order, notwithstanding a fifty percent down payment at roughly eight dollars per plant.  Chief Financial Officer Kent Herrera explains.

 

Kent Herrera

“We had eighty-five thousand HLB tolerant plants.  They have represented to us that we might be able to get, I think, about forty-five thousand of that up to January 2020 and then we’ll get the balance in June 2020.  The initial plan, the initial programme was for us to have gotten all of those plants by the end of October this year and so far we have only gotten six thousand.  And so you can see the problem there because we have already cleared over a thousand acres of land in some of the areas that we have planted before and we felt that we needed to replant and all of those areas are cleared now and we are waiting for plants.”

 

That delay, however, comes at a steep cost to the factory.

 

Nikita Usher

Nikita Usher, Administrative Manager, CPBL

“What is the value of that tree not being available for an entire year?  Three years time, those same forty thousand trees should be delivering to you a quarter of a box of fruit.  On the fourth year, it should be giving you a half of a box for three and on the fifth year it should come up to, at least one box per tree.  Take the box and every tree gives you that and it’s forty thousand and then you know what is the price of a box of fruit, averaging fifteen dollars, sixteen dollars, whatever the price is depending on the year, you then appreciate how production is affected and the revenue stream for CPBL is affected by that one year delay.”

 

On the other hand, CGA seems quite optimistic that it has been able to reduce a twenty-nine million dollar debt to seventeen million, without telling its membership how it has been able to do so.  The unexplained debt servicing raises serious questions.

 

Anthony Chanona

Anthony Chanona, Member, Citrus Growers Association

“We can all pull figures out of the air, but the black and white of the details need to be forthcoming.  And even if it is not audited, because the CGA does not have the money to do an audit, let’s be real.  But there is enough QuickBooks information that as growers we are prepared to look at… If you have done such a good job and I would credit anybody with moving from twenty-nine to seventeen, paying off twelve million dollars.  If you can share that formula then you can tell us how you’re going to retire the other seventeen then we can work with that, but if you, in the process of reducing your debt or debt management, you cannot pay your light bill, you cannot pay your staff, you cannot pay your creditors then we don’t have the luxury of time for a long-term plan.  This is an immediate situation.”

 

In appreciating the urgency, seasoned grower Anthony Chanona, who attended the October eleventh meeting with PM Barrow, has been tasked with putting together a plan that may be able to turn things around for the battered association.

 

Anthony Chanona

“I believe, in all sincerity, that the government of Prime Minister Dean Barrow and the Ministry of Agriculture under Godwin Hulse, if we were to devise a workable plan, a manageable plan, a realistic plan a pragmatic plan, they would help.”

 

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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