Wednesday, June 24, 2009


* Organic greenhouse growing of vegetables in Belize.
* Chinese cabbage grown in Belize


By Ray Auxillou, June 26, 2009

As part of the Belize Development Research Project into growing vegetables on a year round market gardening basis in Western Belize, Cayo District, we ran an 18 month experiment based on data we got from the Statistical Unit in Belmopan , under the PUP administration. We are not able to get such statistics from the department under the new UDP government, so such research is no longer viable. I don’t know why they do not respond to email enquires for statistical data anymore?

The research was based on growing vegetables timed to the seasonal shortages of the import substitution market of importing cycle.

I will use two timing cycles of growing to expected price surges for locally grown vegetables that were being replaced by imports from other countries.

In the first example lettuce: we found that when we checked the Macal River Market for lettuce, there was none at all, neither locally grown, or imported. We had a crop doing well on a continuous basis and harvested same. Our profitable cost as a grower was calculated for Tropical Emperor leaf lettuce was calculated at .50 cents each. We found later at the market, that the stall holders were buying by the pound. A check on weight of leaf lettuce, showed it took three lettuce to make a pound. That meant we required a price of $1.50 per pound of leaf lettuce, to pass the break even point and make a small steady profit.

Alas, when we took our truck load of lettuce into the Macal River market two days later, the stalls were loaded with lettuce to overflowing and the offering price from the stall holder retailers were .25 cents a pound. The price of .25 cents a pound could not pay our gasoline and labor costs, so we dumped our lettuce load without selling. That would have been about .08 cents each leaf lettuce average. A loss of .42 cents per leaf lettuce. We also allowed our lettuce crop, which was being planted bi-monthly to rot and cut back on production, or growing, to only supply our needs at home. We had timed that particular trial to hit the time that lettuce prices and shortages were at the highest, according to the import statistics we had received from the past administrations data, we got by email from the statistical unit.

Another experiment was with tomatoes. Most of the time tomatoes are cheap, but a couple of times a year the prices go up to $4 a pound at the Macal River Market. Tomatoes are then imported because of local shortages. Even though we pre-planted to have tomatoes coming into harvest at the season when the statistical import data on tomatoes indicated we should get the seasonal high price, we failed again. The reason these times, was that the growing season, co-incided with either the rainy season and cloudy weather, or the northers sweeping across the country and bringing cloudy weather. The tomatoes just would not produce during those months of poor climatic conditions. Partly to do with clouds and partly to do with lack of temperature differentials between day and night time temperature, for flowering purposes.

We drew several conclusions from these 18 months of growing to Belize seasonal shortages or predicted seasonal shortages of vegetable market gardening. One was that the local markets are adequately served by local farmers. Belize has a very small widely scattered population. In the case of the Western Macal River market, this would be small farmer production of vegetables from San Antonio Town , Santa Familiar, Barton Creek and the Valley of Peace farmers. The other conclusion was that it is relatively easy to grow vegetables and the state of knowledge has progressed quite a bit over the past three years, since the Belize Development Trust ( NGO ) experimental project has been actively disseminating information for farmer planning purposes.

The main conclusion was that the vegetable growing business in Belize had to locate foreign markets to sell to, in order for the industry to grow and advance. For most of us that is not possible, as we lack both telephone and internet services where such things are grown in rural areas. Sometimes telecommunications services are available, sort of, but are spotty and unreliable and usual of a low quality, where available, that is below the requirements for international business trade communications.

The next step in agriculture, regarding vegetable growing we shall call PHASE TWO. This is the locating of foreign markets for vegetables, the identification of means of preserving, packaging, and processing, to suit different world markets for shipping purposes and longer shelf life. How the nation of Belize , goes about this is beyond the resources of this NGO, the Belize Development Trust, a group of volunteers, all over the world willing to help. We suspect that probably market populations in different countries will need to be identified, along with the type of processed vegetables favored by different cultural and national types. I would think personally, we need a variety of different nationals from different target market countries to assist us in researching these things, as technical assistance, as the local Belize government bureaucracies lack such capabilities and talents, as proved in past years. We do get lots of promises and reports on these issues that sound great locally, but in practical terms, nothing productive, timely, or useful. The next move belongs to our UDP Belize government, but it does look like we can produce vegetables sufficient for export, just like Marie Sharpe did with her habeneros and found the local consumption was too small and had to save her crop and capability to grow and supply, by experimenting with different food processing and marketing techniques, aimed at first at the local market and evolved into foreign target market niches. What progress has been made so far in this vegetable exporting field has been accidental over many years. For progress, we really cannot wait for such accidents and need to continue onward with pre-planned steady incremental steps. The ball is in the lap of our UDP government CABINET. The next step is theirs!

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