SAN CARLOS, Orange Walk District, Wed. Feb. 6, 2019– Mexican potatoes should have disappeared from the Belizean marketplace three weeks ago to allow local potato farmers a chance to sell their produce, but it’s bad news for our local farmers, as the market is presently still saturated with potatoes from Mexico.
Hon. Abelardo Mai, area representative for Orange Walk Southeast, said that a meeting was held with the farmers on January 11, and the farmers were informed that the last permit to import Mexican potatoes was issued on January 11.
This permit was for 2 week, and the produce imported should have been consumed by January 28, leaving the market open for local potatoes for the next 8 weeks.
Mai said that potato farmers in San Carlos, which is in his area, can supply enough potatoes for the Belize market per week, and it was a reasonable expectation that no Mexican potatoes would be on the market at this time.
Mai said that the farmers in San Carlos have 32 acres of potatoes, an estimated 480,000 pounds, to sell, enough for the 8-week period. He said that the crop is ready to be harvested, but there is no market. He said that the potatoes cannot be kept in the ground for an extended period, because they will rot or be destroyed by pests.
Mai said the farmers have already begun to suffer losses, and they have bank loans to repay, and have to cover expenses incurred to produce the potatoes. He said that if farmers realize $1 per pound in the market for their potatoes, and they have good sales, they will make a reasonable profit for their labor.
He and the farmers believe that Mexican potatoes are still on the market at this time because of government corruption and contraband. Mai, on behalf of the farmers in his area, is calling on the public to support local potato producers.
This is not the first time that potato farmers are being devastated by imported Mexican potatoes. Local farmers faced a crisis in 2017 when their produce began to rot in storage, and organizations, including schools, stepped forward to support the farmers. Students from one school, St. Catherine Academy, organized themselves and bought 2,000 lbs. of local potatoes.
During that crisis, Hon. Senator Godwin Hulse, Minister of Agriculture, explained that 100,000 pounds of potatoes are consumed in Belize weekly. He said that the last import license, for 40,000 lbs., was issued by the Ministry on January 18, and that the amount imported at that time should have finished long before the produce from local farmers hit the market.
Still, the market was flooded by potatoes from Mexico. Minister Hulse, at the time, called on the police and the Customs Department to step up patrols to stop the contraband.
Minister Hulse explained, at that time, that a committee would be set up to oversee the importation of potatoes, but that contraband potatoes cannot be eliminated because local growers cannot supply the local market for the whole year. He said that the combined potato production of local farmers is 2 million pounds, which is sufficient for only five or six months.
Hulse said, also, that Belize needed a proper storage system by means of which produce could be held and released in a timely way into the market, and also, a schedule for planting and harvesting by the farmers to avoid overproduction. He said, at that time, that he would ensure that these things were done for the next season, 2018.
Heavy rains at harvest time damaged the 2018 crop, but this year the farmers have another good harvest. It is expected that the nation will rally to buy the potatoes produced by local farmers again.
Local potatoes are easily distinguishable from those produced in Mexico. Local potatoes are red and not so smooth, while the Mexican potatoes are brown, or tan, more smooth and also, oblong-shaped.
When we checked at supermarkets located on the Central American Boulevard in Belize City, we found that they were selling both potatoes for the same price, $1.50 per lb.