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Sep 14, 2021

Agriculture Minister: Citrus is “in ICU” and Sugar Situations Needs Improvement

Jose Abelardo Mai

This week, the Minister of Agriculture, Jose Abelardo Mai, said that Belizean agriculture is taking the lead in the national recovery. During an appearance on Open Your Eyes on Monday, he said that “agriculture” is a verb – something you do not just talk about. He says citrus production has been in trouble for years but the COVID pandemic resulted in heavy losses when workers both migrant and local could not harvest the crops, and in-fighting among stakeholders was threatening the entire industry’s future. Minister Mai said sheer necessity has brought the citrus players to the table at a time when the industry was literally on the brink of collapse. He also addressed the concerns of sugar cane farmers and millers and how he as a farmer himself, from a cane farming family, is able to stay objective when looking at the development of the industry and seeing all sides of the issues.


Jose Abelardo Mai, Minister of Agriculture

“You know that for thirteen years there was infighting, there was seven years in-fighting in the citrus industry. There was disease in the industry, and nobody bothered. Nobody wanted to touch it. Oh, that is cancer. If you touch it, ih wa get worst. Well, somebody has to make the tough decisions. I will be honest with you; this year we had the worst crop in the history of the industry, one point three million boxes. We had hoped to be at two point five million boxes, it was not like that. It was one point three million boxes. For the citrus industry to keep alive, the processing plants have to be at least at three million boxes. It means by October, if we don’t do anything about it, the industry is dead. We proposed to the cabinet, I will tell you, I had to form a working committee led by Hugh Bryant to look specifically at the citrus industry and what we can do to try to extend the life. Because really and truly, the citrus industry is in the ICU. It is incubated. If we didn’t do anything about it, it would have been dead by October. I have to look at the numbers. You look carefully at the numbers. You make comparisons with numbers and you can clearly see man, something’s wrong here. Technology is at your fingertips. I can look every morning at the price of sugar on the market, on the world market, number 11 market and I can tell you the price of sugar is going up right now. Before you could have told me I’m selling at world price and there’s no way for me to verify that. Molasses there’s only two buyers, two main buyers in the world. Santander says molasses to the same company that BSI sells molasses to. As a matter of fact, the vessel full here in the Big Creek and moves here and fills here. So I mean, if one company does not want to make public the numbers, the other one says I’m prepared to show it and if there’s a big disparity, then there’s reasonable concern, it is simple. In my view, the problem is not so much the price of sugar, because you can verify that, it is the internal arrangement made for sugar. The farmers have been meeting with Santander, they’re meeting BSI so they’re comparing numbers. And you cannot blame the farmers for doing this, this is part of the research. As leaders of the association, they have to come to the membership and say we did this research and this is what we found. Hence, we are saying that this can be improved.”


Industry sources tell News Five that what the public needs to remember when comparing northern and western sugar cane processing is that they are very different production models. In the west, there are mechanized farms and Santander owns fifty percent of the cane it processes. This is compared to the situation in the north where there are over five thousand cane farmers, many on small family farms, belonging to four different cane farmers associations who use A.S.R./B.S.I. for processing. The northern mill is also fair trade certified which gives added benefits to the cane farmers. 

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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