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Early-year onion imports raise concern for farmers

GeneralEarly-year onion imports raise concern for farmers

Photo: Valentin Carrillo, a representative from BMCD

by Marco Lopez

COROZAL, Thurs. Jan. 12, 2023

The month of January is harvest time for onion farmers in Belize, but an almost yearly clash in the markets occurs due to the need to import the kitchen staple to meet the demand during the Christmas season. This year, the Belize Marketing and Development Corporation (BMDC), the marketing arm of the Ministry of Agriculture, was forced to do an early-year shipment of onions on January 3 – according to Minister of Agriculture, Jose Mai – about 40,000 pounds were imported. While this amount should be consumed by the nation in just a few days, onion farmers aired their concern over fears of continual importation, a move that would result in significant losses for those growers in the northern districts.

This week, on Wednesday, the Ministry of Agriculture, onion farmers from the Orange Walk and Corozal Districts, and also a representative from the BMDC met in the second of three sessions scheduled to be held as is customary each year, Valentin Carrillo, a representative from BMCD said. He shared that in the meeting they cleared the farmers’ concerns by clarifying that no further importation of onion will take place until the local produce has been consumed by the market.

“BMCD, because we import onion when they are no onions on the market, they have the concerns that BMDC is continuing importing onions, and I want to clarify that that is not true,” Carrillo said. He explained that on December 19 they imported onions in order to meet the Christmas demand on the market; no more onion was imported in December, but in January when they started to see a deficit in the market, they were forced to import onions.

“We imported 36% of the weekly demand because the weekly demand is about 100,000 pounds. We understand that we can’t import everything because it’s a phase you know – we stop the importation and then the farmers come with their local products,” Carrillo explained.

He said that the meeting held earlier this week with the farmers was scheduled two weeks prior to the concern raised about imported onions on the market. A release issued by the Ministry of Agriculture states that the BMDC has agreed to, “alleviate market sales through the purchasing of available onion for the next two weeks while imported amounts deplete in the local market.”

Minister Mai in his interview said that this window, where the importation of onions becomes necessary just before the local harvest, is seen every year; and because of that the small amount that was imported to the local market supply can be consumed. In addition to this, he shared that onion from the local market has to be given time to properly cure so that they can remain a viable product when they do hit the market.

“Sometimes farmers are in a rush, like last year – I went, I visited the farm myself – just harvested yesterday and they wanted to sell right away. Now, anybody who buys that onion will lose because the onion will rot because it is not properly cured,” Minister Mai said.

Carrillo from the BMDC said this process takes about a week or two, and that the quality of onions on the local market is at times compromised because this essential step is snubbed over. The ministry suggests that farmers wait for the curing time.

Onion produced by the local market is expected to meet the demand up until the middle of this year, around July, Carrillo said, at which time they will recommence the importation of onions from outside the Belizean market.

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