onionWhile most turmoil in the north is traditionally generated in the sugar industry, for the past two months its been all about onions or should we say, all about onions which farmers have not been able to sell hundreds of thousands of pounds of onions spoiling in the fields, which translates into a serious crisis. But while it is a crisis by any measure, nobody seems to want to take the blame. Producers claim they informed the Belize Marketing & Development Corporation about the size of their crops in an email dated January 3rd 2 weeks before the harvesting started. The BMDC blames farmers, saying they produced too many onions and harvested too early. According to the Managing Director of the BMDC Roque Mai, they already had imported onions on the way and thats that too bad for farmers. But with sizeable investments and livelihoods threatened, it hasnt been an easy pill to swallow. Today our news team headed back to San Carlos, where we found farmers in desperate straits.

Yari Catzim- Reporting

To date farmers belonging to the New River Farmer’s Cooperative in San Carlos, are already losing close to$50,000. They say they do not give any credibility to the BMDC’s claim of over-production, since this is the amount they produce every year.

Matilde Vasquez- New River Farmer’s Cooperative

“Se ah sembrado la misma cantidad que todos los anos tal vez un poco mas como medio acre mas temprano pero no es una cantidad que podría a ver causado el descontrol del mercado.”

Maximilliano Hernandez- New River Farmer’s Cooperative

“Nosotros siempre hemos sembrado la misma cantidad o tal vez un poco mas pero no es mucho la diferencia y de eso que tenemos la culpa no creo porque nosotros no tenemos mercado y ellos al principio importaron siete mil sacos y eso nos afecto porque cuando nosotros empezamos la cosecha ello ya habían importado. Y cuando ellos supieron que ya vamos a empezar ello bajaron su precio $35.00 y nosotros ya no podíamos vender que tuvimos qué venderlo a $25.00 y luego ellos lo bajaron mas y así nos afecto demasiado.”

Abelardo Mai – Agriculture Expert

“The farmers are telling us that the Minister Montero told them that he would make sure that the importation would be controlled. A gentleman from the Ministry visited the village to verify that onions were already being harvested and he documented this so when Mr. Roque Mai says that they did not know farmers were harvesting that is nonsense. The farmers are saying that personnel from the Ministry of Agriculture were here they looked at the onions, at how much was being harvested and documented it so there is no way that the Ministry of Agriculture and BMDB did not know that onions were being harvested.”

Our consistent attempts in past weeks to speak to any official from the Ministry of Agriculture have been futile. But their silence notwithstanding, it is a critical issue which demands attention. Today we found Leader of the Opposition John Briceno in discussion with the farmers as they tried to come up with a solution to their plight.

onion-1Hon. John Briceno- Party Leader PUP

“Certainly we in the P.U.P we are strong supporters of Agriculture we’ve always felt that the policy of the P.U.P has always been that we need to eat what we produce. This morning one of the former presidents of the Onion Growers Association pointed out that under the P.U.P Government we ensured that whenever there are onions there was no importation. For the past weeks we have been hearing every conceivable excuse on behalf of the government from Marketing Board claiming that they did not know that there was onion that are being planted which is not true and then going to the Ministry of Agriculture and they saying they were not informed and they need to check with the extension officers and then they saying yes the information was given out. I think a number of serious issues are arising one the lack of a coherent policy on behalf of the government and the Minister of Agriculture whereby that we should at all times ensure that we protect our local producers.”

According to Briceno, the deafening silence from the Ministry of Agriculture is unbelievable and unacceptable in light of what these farmers are facing. Protection of our local producers, he told us, should be the first priority of this government.

Hon. John Briceno- Party Leader PUP

“Today I have been out here looking at some of the fields and the onions that they are just spoiling n the fields and are being thrown away. It is shameful and it pains my heart to see what is taking place. I want to make it clear that the policy of the People’s United Party when we get into Government it is going to be very clear, straight forward and easy to understand. We in the P.U.P believe that we need to eat what we produce and produce what we eat. This means that when there are local onions there is going to be no imported onion, when we have local cabbage there is going to be no imported cabbage when we have beans or carrots we are going to eat what we are producing.”

At almost every stop today there were onions packaged off and ready to be sold. But there is no market, and these farmers are at the brink of losing everything as the fruits of their labour rot where they lay.

Maximilliano Hernandez- New River Farmer’s Cooperative

“Nos sentimos y me siento bien lastimado porqué todas las metas que teníamos ya no se puede hacer y eso lastima a nosotros y a la comunidad entera. Nos sentimos solos porque no tenemos el apoyo de Ministro de Agricultura.”

Matilde Vasquez- New River Farmer’s Cooperative

“Nos sentimos frustrados porque nuestras inversiones están ay y nuestras esperanzas de la economía para la familia allá esta. Lo más duro es que no trabajamos solos trabajamos con La Unión De Crédito y tenemos que pagar ese préstamo y de donde vamos a sacar si se pierde todo al cosecha eso es lo que nos preocupa. Si buscáramos una solución para nosotros sería bastante favorable.”

And from where we stand, with the Ministry of Agriculture mute and the BMDC absolving itself of any responsibility, all these farmers can hope for is a better crop next year – if there is a crop next year.

Harvesting is scheduled to reach completion by the end of next month. The current price for a sack of onion is between $15 and $20.

Harvesting is scheduled to reach completion by the end of next month. The current price for a sack of onion is between $15 and $20.

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