It is safe to say that this year onions proved to be a huge loss for producers here in the north. In Corozal only, producers lost some 5 million dollars as their product rotted in the fields because there were no markets. In Orange Walk it is estimated that the loss amounted to hundreds of thousands of dollars. But while onion producers are laying the blame for the over production on the Belize Marketing Board who imported some 195,000lbs of onions from Holland in the month of February, the Ministry of Agriculture is saying that the over production is due to other reasons. Today those reasons were expressed during a meeting held in Corozal with major stakeholders. The main aim of the meeting which is one of many in a series is to plan the 2011/2012 onion season in order to avoid a repetition of this year’s debacle.
The meeting held this morning was to plan the 2011/2012 onion season after a devastating loss this year.
On average Belizeans consume 4.5 million pounds of onion annually; that’s approximately 60 to 80 thousand pounds weekly. This year figures provided by the Ministry of Agriculture show that there was an overproduction of onions because according to the ministry onion producers planted more.
Figures show that this year 111 acres of onion was planted - that’s 37 acres more than last year. Local production for this year was recorded at 1.5 million and according to the Ministry that is more than Belizeans can consume in a period of six months.
Jose Tillett- Corozal Agriculture Department
“This year we had 70 acres only in Corozal so there is an increase. It is the same farmers panting more and other farmers venturing into the business. Last year they had a good price because not many farmers planted. So far I know one farmer lost some 40 to 50 thousand pounds but it was not because of us it was because of the weather also. But there has to be spoilage because if the onions are picked up green they cannot be stored, if the onions are too big they cannot be stored that is why you seen when BMB when they bring onions they bring the small ones because they don’t spoil easily ad can be stored. If we produce big onions we cannot store the onions because there is too much water in them and that is why it rots.”
During this morning’s meeting onion producers indicated that the Belize Marketing Board continues to import onion from Holland and they went as far as to show BMB’S Managing Director Roque Mai the onions to prove it. That accusation, however, was flatly denied by Mai.
Max Hernandez Onion Producer
“Sabe porque decimos que es Marketing Board porque ellos siempre son un tropiezo para los agricultores señores. Ahorita si usted va a Belice a los mercados y pregunta la cebolla de donde es ellos dicen Marketing Board me lo vendió, todos dicen eso.”
Roque Mai- BMB’S Managing Director
“Ahora que dicen ellos, ellos nos dicen a nosotros que los agricultores están trayendo contrabando y lo mesclan con el local. Ellos los acusan a ustedes dígame usted yo debo de creerlos. Yo no tengo photo ni nada para comprobarlo pero ustedes nos acusan a nosotros y si les levamos a la corte están perdidos.”
But according to a BAHA Representative there are high chances that the imported onions being sold in the market are brought into the country illegally through Guatemala. According to Carlos Escalante, BAHA’S Supervisor of Quarantine at the Northern Border, BAHA along with the Customs Department are presently carrying out an intensive investigation into the matter.
After a number of accusations and back and forth verbal flurries the meeting returned to its original agenda to find a solution to the over productions of onion and to improve the 2011/2012 onion season.
Eugene Waight- Chief Agricultural Officer
“This onion situation is not only at 2011 this has been a yearly problem and if you would recall the production for 2011 was almost double that of 2010 where this year they produced 111 acres when last year they only produced 64. When you over produce that creates a problem, when you are not organized as a farmer that creates a problem because ne the middle man will take advantage of the situation going from farmer to farmer getting the better price. We do understand that part of the problem has to do with proper curing and drying of the onions and in particular storage because if the farmer does not have where to store they want to sell their product quickly and what some farmers do when they want to get their money back quickly then they try to sell their product.”
Presently the United Nations Development Program is working on a project proposal to obtain financing from the European Union for an onion project that will improve technology and storage.
Eugene Waight- Chief Agricultural Officer
“We want to look at all the value chain of onion production from the time you order your seeds, the planting, and the program calendar of production because if we stagger production and we don’t plant at one time then we expect for the harvest to be stagnant too if everybody does not come in to the same time, if we plant different varieties then different varieties mature in different times. If we invest more in storage we will try to demonstrate to them some storage units and physically construct for them the storage units within the districts to show them very cost effective storage units because the farmer has to learn that if he produces 10,000 pounds of onion he will probably have to store at least half of it because if he doesn’t then he will give away his product.”
It is expected that another meeting will be held in a few weeks.
Of note is that during the meeting onion producers demanded to meet with the Minister of Agriculture Rene Montero. Chief Agricultural Officer in the Ministry of Agriculture Eugene Weight informed producers that he would relay the message personally to the Minster but could give them no assurances that their request would be granted.