The ITVET Campus on Freetown Road in Belize City was the venue for the first ever Forestry, Fisheries and Finance Fair which was hosted today by the Belize Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI) in collaboration with the Ministry of Forestry, Fisheries and Sustainable Development.
The event featured presentations from the Forestry and Fisheries Departments who mainly showcased sustainable forestry and fishing initiatives, as well as business people and entrepreneurs who displayed various local seafood products and cuisines in addition to wooden creations such as handicraft, sculptures, benches and other furniture, and even fully-equipped miniature children’s parks.
One of the reasons for the fair, according to Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and Sustainable Development, Hon. Senator Lisel Alamilla, is to showcase a snapshot of the economic opportunities that exist in the forestry and fisheries sectors.
In her keynote address during the opening ceremonies, Alamilla made it clear that Belize’s natural resources need to be protected and preserved if we are to have them for future generations, and that our abundant seas and pristine forests should not be subjected to unwarranted plundering.
She said, “Development cannot subsist upon a deteriorating natural resource base. The environment cannot be protected when development and investment fails to consider the cost of environmental destruction. We cannot continue to afford a business-as-usual scenario; we require a systematic approach based on a common understanding of our needs, identifying our common purpose and being responsible to our commitment because these natural resources can be easily undone from increasing pressures such as illegal logging and fishing, encroachment, unfettered agriculture and tourism development and extensive damages from climate-related hurricanes and storms. Unfortunately, our environmental managing practices and even our partnerships have focused largely on after-the-fact repair of damage so this fair is an opportunity for action. What I see before me is not a problem to be solved, but an opportunity to be seen.”
President of the BCCI, Kay Menzies, told us why the Chamber felt it necessary to collaborate with Alamilla’s Ministry to organize such a fair.
She stated, “This isn’t just for the Chamber or the Ministry of Forestry and Fisheries; this is for all Belizeans. It is an exciting new initiative which was suggested by the Minister and we followed through in organizing the event. The beauty of it is that it gets to highlight Belize’s sustainable business activities such as the harvesting of stone crab claws and sustainable seaweed farming.”
Eduardo Arceo, owner of Rose’s Bar and Grill in Caye Caulker, was present at the fair along with the Caye Caulker Stone Crab Association to promote the stone crab, which is native to Caye Caulker. Arceo explained, “We’re promoting this product because Belizeans know mostly about lobsters and conch, but stone crab is also a sustainable product. You don’t need to add anything to it when you cook it, you can just cook it like it is.”
He mentioned that since there’s not a specific season for stone crabs, it is one of the only types of seafood that can be enjoyed all year round.
Carlos Chan of the Caye Caulker Stone Crab Association told us that the association is currently on a mission to promote the stone crab as a new delicacy for both guests and locals in the near future.
Joseph Mena, Director of Wood Stop Furniture Company which is based in Belmopan, manufactures mainly pine wood products, but clarified that they operate strictly within the regulations of the Forest Department. “We’re displaying our different outdoor products. We have kid’s playgrounds with swings, see-saws, picnic tables and we are also explaining what we do whenever we extract wood from the forest.
Basically, we cut under a management plan which means that we have a certain area that the Forest Department marks out and we have to cut within those areas so we don’t get to choose which logs we want, we just have to cut under the plan and take out the logs that we can,” Mena explained.
Ernest Turner of T and M Wood Carvings, which is situated at the Market Square in Belmopan, told us that he plans to expand his business in the near future by doing custom made wood carvings and designs. The entrepreneur said, “I want to work on special requests for wood carvings and designs because no one in Belmopan is doing that right now. Today, I have some Mayan style wall decorations, center table pieces for outdoors and other pieces. They range from $10 to whatever price you want.”
Amandala also spoke to Fisheries Administrator Beverly Wade, and she mentioned that the fair was arranged so that Belizeans can examine the opportunities that the forestry and fisheries sectors provide to the country. She cited, “Today’s fair is actually as a result of a vision by our Minister to introduce to the business community and the general public some of the products that come out of natural resource management and also as a result of sustainable management which includes protected management as well. There’s a general impression by people that natural resource management and protected areas are just about locking up resources and it’s not really about that, it’s about sustainability at the end of the day and so we just wanted to highlight the various products which come out of the forestry and fisheries sector and we were able to partner with the BCCI with this endeavor to really bring in the inclusion of the private sector.”
According to Wade, there are various opportunities that lie within the forestry and fisheries sectors, the fisheries sector especially, including opportunities for future investment and there is a wide array of forestry and fisheries products that people can now look at as opportunities for development in Belize.
Maya, an American entrepreneur from Maya Mountain Cacao Company in the deep south informed us about the role that their company plays in regards to making the most of what we have in our forests. She stated, “It’s a company that works across the value chain in chocolate making so we work with 300 cacao farmers in the Toledo district at Fair Trade prices and then we do processing and connect with other chocolate makers in the United States. We make really high quality chocolate and we believe that partnerships are really important because there is a lot of opportunity in cacao, so if we work together with sustainable forestry initiatives, we can prosper more as a country.”
Amandala also understands that seaweed farmers in Placencia are about to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) that will allow them to use a 1-mile square within certain marine protected areas in order to conduct sustainable cultivation of seaweed.
Caribbean Tire and Motors was also on hand for the event and the proprietor, Barry Reimer, told us that his company has been in existence since the mid-80’s. “We’re the biggest provider of all brands of tires, lubricants, engine oils, gear oils and everything for the industrial needs, basically covering all the necessities of a vehicle and we’re here to provide our customers with the best deals on both vehicles and vehicle accessories”, Reimer said.
One of the main aspects of the fair was the vast array of seafood dishes which were available, including conch soup, fried fish, fish panades, conch ceviche, fish patties and even samples of the predatory lionfish.
To complement the fair’s objectives, financial institutions were also present to advise the public on how to get finances for business projects, vehicles, education, entrepreneurship and so on.
The theme of the Forestry, Fisheries and Finance Fair is “Wealth Untold: Investing in Our Natural Heritage.”