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Oct 18, 2022

Eleven New Varieties of Sugar Cane to Save the Sugar Industry

The world continues to grapple with the effects of climate change. In Belize, the sugar industry is facing a climate crisis. The industry has already recorded losses in the millions of dollars, extended droughts and prolonged rains linked to global warming. The Belize Sugar Industries is seeking to secure the future of the sector from further devastation with the introduction of eleven new varieties of sugar cane. According to B.S.I., four sugar cane farmers associations participated in the research process that led to the development of these eleven varieties. The goal now is to have all even varieties in pre-production across the industry, before scaling up to mass production. News Five’s Paul Lopez was in Guinea Grass Village today for the launch ceremony. He filed the following report.


Paul Lopez, Reporting

The Belize Sugar Industries grinds on average one point three million tons of sugar cane annually. The mill receives sugar cane from more than five thousand sugarcane farmers in Northern Belize. The volume of sugarcane that is delivered to the factory annually produces enough sugar to supply both the domestic and export market. A prolonged drought in 2019 destroyed over thirty percent of the 2019/2020 harvest, resulting in millions of dollars in losses. This climate change event placed the entire industry under threat. But, B.S.I.’s research and development team had already been preparing to mitigate these risks. Just over two decades ago they began a study to collect data on the performance of the different varieties of sugar cane. Today, B.S.I. released eleven new varieties of sugar cane to the sugar industry that, according to their studies, outperforms the dominant variant in Belize.


Adrian Zetina

Adrian Zetina, Research and Development Chief, B.S.I.

“One, it offers natural adaption to today’s conditions. The conditions of yesteryear are not the same as they were today. Older varieties may not adapt well to the present conditions. Conditions are very changing. With the advancement of climate change, these frequent swings are happening more and more. I will give you an example; in 2019 we recorded one of the worst droughts. In contrast, the second year 2020 was one of the worst droughts on record. These extreme swings are happening more and more. This also leads to more pest and disease, more frequent outbreaks as we have seen this year with the frog hopper outbreaks. The best way to combat this is through variety development.”


The varietal status of Belize’s sugar industry is unstable. One variety of sugar cane accounts for sixty percent of sugarcane production in the north, according to research. And, as that variety becomes less resistant to climate events and pests, the eleven new varieties are the future of the industry.


Adrian Zetina

“Our program consist of five easy steps, family selection to stage four, it spans twelve years. When we look at yield trials, soil adaptability, pest and disease susceptibility and rationing to name a few. And there is immense work that goes into this. The technicians are regularly clocking in extending hours during the grueling sampling seasons. We have also modernized the program. We have improved experimental design to ensure robustness and sound data collections. We have incorporated technology into our data management by implementing a system for digital field collection and data storages.”


The research team is now working to increase its seed stock to distribute to farmers for preproduction. The company has also created a manual for those farmers to utilize. Twelve farmers have been experimenting with the new varieties on their farms over the last two years. Three of the eleven varieties have proven to be the most successful during that period.


Olivia Avilez

Olivia Avilez, Director of Sugarcane Farmers Relations, B.S.I.

“The big ticket item here is really to change the compendium as Adrian calls it, of the industry. Currently B79 as he would tell you makes up over fifty perc3ent of the industry and we need to have a variety, a diversity of variety so that we are not at risk based on the climate impacts we are getting at the moment. And these can be floods, droughts, pest, all these climate impacts we are experiencing. So yes, we are currently in the process of submitting, along with CCCCC and the Ministry of Economic Development a GCF fun dung for over twenty million dollars, so that we can replant over fifty thousand acres on the sugar cane area. It is not all; we are coming from about seventy thousand acre in the industry. So, it is really about fifteen percent of the industry that we want to change the diversity.”


Reporting for News Five, I am Paul Lopez.

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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