BELIZE CITY–The Caribbean Export Development Agency (Caribbean Export) announced today that US$255,000, or €197,000, is being offered to CARIFORUM agro-processing firms as part of the Regional Private Sector Development Programme (RPSDP) funded by the European Union under the 10th European Development Fund (EDF).
Among the recipients is Bel-Car Export and Import Company Ltd., an agro-processing facility owned by Spanish Lookout growers who have Export Processing Zone status for the export of corn, cornmeal, corn grits, black eye peas, red kidney beans and other dry agricultural commodities.
Otto Friesen, Bel-Car’s CEO, said that the grant will finance 41% of the project cost, up to a maximum of €10,000. The remaining 59% has to be funded by the growers, he said.
According to Friesen, a contract was signed two weeks ago, to secure the funds for the implementation of the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points, or HACCP, system of quality certification, which he said is a very expensive undertaking which requires that consultants are hired to get the job done. Having such a program in place, Friesen said, would help to give the exporting company a better competitive edge, as it will boost customer confidence in the quality of their agricultural exports.
Pamela Coke-Hamilton, executive director of the agency, said, “It is of paramount importance that food producers are able to compete on a global scale. This can only be achieved through meeting the stringent regulatory or certification needs for international food safety. The allocation of these funds will help these businesses in the first instance to get them export-ready or be able to increase their exports to new markets. This is the boost that the sector in the region needs.”
Similar grants were awarded to companies located in Barbados, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, St. Lucia, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago.
According to Friesen, Bel-Car has 150 direct members from Spanish Lookout and 35 employees. It exports primarily to the Caribbean, but also to Europe, the Middle East, USA and Canada.
The CEO said that last year, they exported 25,000 metric tons of corn and corn by-products, valued at about BZ$11 million, 3,000 tons of RK (red kidney) beans and 3,000 tons of black eyed peas, and this year, they are doing a little bit less, due to low market prices for corn.
Friesen said that up to about 6 years ago, all corn produced in Belize was for the local market and they are now able to export their surplus.
In announcing the grantees, Caribbean Export noted that, “The Agro-processing sector within the Caribbean is relatively fragmented and underdeveloped, comprising mainly of small and medium sized enterprises involved in the processing of traditional agricultural products for domestic use and export.”
It added that there are a number of competitive constraints that currently hinder the expansion of the agro-processing sector, one of which is food safety requirements.
“It is anticipated that the beneficiaries of these grants wishing to export to the European Union market will utilize the funds to develop in a manner that ensures food production under standard quality control conditions that meet the sanitary and regulatory requirements of the EU marketplace such as HACCP, GAPs, GlobalGAP, ISO 14000, BRC, QF 1000 and Primus GFS,” it said.
Caribbean Export issued its call for proposals in January 2014 and received 341 applications from across the region.