Thursday, December 10, 2009


Jungle milpa farmers

The CHICKEN business in Belize

50 YEARS AGO, the poultry business in Belize was started by a bunch of Mennonite immigrants that cleared jungle around Spanish Lookout. You would never imagine the changes to the land in those 50 years. They started with 6 chickens. Nowadays, the Poultry Industry is the biggest domestic industry in the country of Belize. The same story is found all through Central America and chicken has become the choice meat worldwide.
About 2,500 people are employed in the chicken industry here. We now have Breeders, hatcheries, broiler and egg production, processing plants, egg depots, transport, distribution and retail services.
The Chicken industry in Belize is a major contributor to the economy at 3.5% of GDP. Of all agriculture production, the chickens alone account for 14.5% of the agriculture production here. Poultry meat represents 80% of all meat consumed locally. Consumption averages about 100 lbs per person. Eggs are consumed by the population at 115 per person per year.
There are six major processing plants. The Mennonite communities dominate the industry, nearly all of it. We have two major hatcheries and six feed mills to support the industry. 90% of all broiler chicks are produced locally.
Yellow corn grown locally for chickens represent 70% of the productive, yellow corn capacity. We produce about 84.5 million pounds of yellow corn, valued around $22 million dollars of saved foreign exchange. Sorghum production is around 16 million pounds and valued at $3.8 million dollars.
From six chickens bought from jungle milpa farmers to the current industry, in fifty years the business is now valued locally at $55 million dollars. Two new processing plants have been built, worth about $3 million. Most investment is coming from Credit Unions for the Mennonites. There is a huge government bureaucratic presence in controlling the health of the industry. The myriad departmental acronyms need a dictionary to understand.
The local market is around 31 million pounds of poultry meat. Even TURKEY is produced at the rate of 359,411 lbs. EXPORTS are desired as the skills and money is available to expand, but at the moment nobody has figured out how to process something out of chicken and turkey and export it. That is probably the next step?
We produce about 3 million dozen of eggs locally per year. The egg market fluctuates with special holidays and is harder to handle on a steady basis. This makes it difficult to even out the cash and investment flows in the egg production.
A Poultry Association was formed about 20 years ago. They have since joined different REGIONAL organizations. These make for universal standards to follow.
Nowadays, the Mennonites organize seminars and production schools for new generations of farmers.
Production and technological improvements have shortened the time to cycle eggs and chickens. The cycle used to be 8 weeks and is now 6 weeks. The biggest expenses in the business are the utility costs and labor costs. Feed costs come third. The local market is saturated, and a lot of head scratching is going on how to grow for export. All our regional countries are also self sufficient in poultry.
The biggest chicken producers in the world are the USA, China is second and Brazil is third. The European Union is fourth and Mexico is fifth. Our Mexican neighbors consume about 400 eggs per person per year. Poultry meat is expected to become the most used meat product in the world over the next dozen years.

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