General — 28 April 2018 — by Courtney Menzies
Citrus Growers Association turning their woes into wins

DANGRIGA, Stann Creek District, Thurs. Apr. 26, 2018– Many Belizeans enjoy eating sweet oranges, or drinking a cup of freshly squeezed lime juice. Yet, many people are unaware of the major challenges facing the citrus industry. Henry Anderson, CEO of the Citrus Growers Association (CGA), sat down with Amandala to talk about what the CGA is doing to effect a positive turnaround in the industry.

The CGA is investing heavily in the future of the citrus industry, but all is not fine with the organization at this time. The organization borrowed from Atlantic Bank, $2 million to invest in a fertilizer program, and $1.7 million to establish Plant World Nursery. This loan has accumulated interest of a little over a million dollars, so the association has a total debt of 5 million dollars. The bank is set to foreclose on the nursery, but CGA has plans to save it. CGA plans, in coordination with the Legacy Fund, to float a bond for 8.5 million dollars. They are also opening the door for investors in the nursery.

Another problem that CGA faces is that of HLB (huanglongbing) disease, or citrus greening, which was discovered in Belize in 2009 by the CGA’s Citrus Research and Education Institute (CREI), headed by Veronica Manzanero. Since then, it has taken its toll on citrus production. The disease, according to Wikipedia, causes affected trees to have “stunted growth, bear multiple off-season flowers (most of which fall off), and produce small, irregularly shaped fruit with a thick, pale peel that remains green at the bottom and tastes very bitter.” This disease, though manageable, is incurable, and eventually kills the affected tree.

The CGA lab, which is the only accredited lab in Belize, tests for HLB in citrus, and it is there that farmers take their leaf samples when they suspect that their trees are infected with the disease. CGA technicians try to educate growers about symptoms of the disease, and what to do if their tree is infected. CGA has a four-pronged system that it implements to fight HLB. The first prong is control of the vector, or the insect (Asian citrus psyllid) which carries the disease. The second is the use of certified plants. It is mandatory for all nurseries to get certified, and CGA is in charge of the certification program. The third prong is plant nutrition and disease management, and the last is the removal of HLB-infected trees.

Plant World is the only nursery outside of Florida that has patented HLB-tolerant oranges. These tolerant trees mean better production, even if the tree becomes infected with HLB. This is a major step in the fight against the HLB disease.

Plant World is also one of the largest nurseries in the Caribbean and in Central America. The vision for Plant World is to grow other fruits, apart from citrus, maybe even vegetables.

CGA is also looking at other projects to improve the industry. One of the main uses of the oranges that are grown is the making of juice. Citrus will always be their main focus, but the CGA is planning a move to accommodate the production of a wider variety of fruit juices.

The Citrus Products of Belize Limited (CPBL), of which CGA owns 43%, plans to increase their production of pineapples, which will be used to produce juice. This increase in the production of pineapples will help Plant World Nursery to save itself from foreclosure, because a large amount of the pineapples CPBL will use will be grown by Plant World. The selling of pineapple seeds will also help generate revenue.

If Plant World goes under, Belize can face a plethora of problems with their citrus industry, since Plant World is the largest nursery in the country and grows 60% of the citrus in the industry. It is essential that Anderson’s vision for Plant World is achieved.

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Deshawn Swasey

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