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Oct 18, 2019

Saving the Citrus Industry Means Defeating Citrus Greening Disease

This week we have been reporting on the crisis in the citrus industry and the ramifications to the growers and the economy. One of the factors that have contributed to the decline the industry, is  citrus greening, a disease that has caused tremendous impact on the quality of fruits, size and the overall production. With all its woes and in a state of insolvency, can the industry rebound? News Five’s Isani Cayetano looks for answers.

 

Isani Cayetano, Reporting

The fragile state of the citrus industry, considering its financial dilemma, is being made worse by a vector-transmitted pathogen which causes the citrus greening disease.  HLB, as it is commonly known, is a chronic plague affecting citrus crops.  It remains the biggest hurdle for all stakeholders to cross, including CPBL, the processor of citrus juices and concentrates.

 

Kent Herrera

Kent Herrera, Chief Financial Officer, CPBL

“The major challenge with us right now with the industry as a whole is the aspect of disease and of course the HLB, particularly that, I would say, was never a disease that was brought on by any member or any grower.  It’s just a phenomenon that we have to deal with.  The prospects of these HLB tolerant varieties, to me, is something very good and I think it holds out a lot of hope for the industry and hence I think one of the focus that we have to continue to look at clearly is how we execute that and get these trees into the ground, how we get growers’ buy-in, you know, because citrus is a big investment for a lot of people and its long-term.”

 

Whereas Citrus Products of Belize Limited is doing its part by picking up the slack for the cash-strapped CGA and offering extension services to address the issue of citrus greening, longtime grower Anthony Chanona encourages the company to do more in the interest of saving the industry.

 

Anthony Chanona

Anthony Chanona, Member, Citrus Growers Association

“CPBL needs to get out in the field.  They need to get from behind the air conditioned rooms, come out here, we’re in this boat together.  When it sinks, we all go down.  I mentioned to the prime minister, we need to know that CPBL will be there when the industry replants because we are replanting.  We’re resilient, but if that factory is not there, the economic pillar of agriculture that citrus is and its contribution, is going to have an effect that will be felt across this nation.  We can’t afford that.”

 

In accepting its specific function and the importance of conquering the disease, CPBL also admits that the current situation that has befallen the Citrus Growers Association does in fact divert the company from focusing on its priority areas which includes production.

 

Kent Herrera

“If we all continue to play our role, this current challenge, that HLB disease, I think we’ll be able to overcome it with the vigilance of course and the participation of everybody.  And so everybody has to pull their role and your question before was quite right.  When you have a group or a body not doing it then it does hold us down.”

 

Chanona, who is passionate about the citrus industry, speaks candidly about the economic impact of the decrease in production and how bottom lines and livelihoods are adversely affected.

 

Anthony Chanona

“I think I’ve earned the right to speak my heart.  I will venture on to say that on a completely different footing the CPBL model has not adjusted that you just described.  They have an organizational structure of two factories and x amount of staff to process seven or eight million boxes, well do the math.  If you are doing two point two million with all those infrastructure in place it’s hard to make a profit and we have five more years to wait before our production comes in.  Unfortunately, over fifty percent of the young trees we planted three years ago have contracted HLB, so the production is not going to be a hundred percent, it’s fifty percent of what we planted.”

 

To stand a fighting chance at defeating HLB and recovering from its scourge, the Citrus Growers Association and its perceived rival, Belize Citrus Mutual, need to lay down their arms and work together in the best interest of the industry.

 

Anthony Chanona

“We need to reunite this industry.  What is separating us?  Is it bigger than the industry?  I would say no.  And the two hundred and fifty farmers that you spoke about need us to get our act together.”

 

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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