BELIZE CITY, Mon. Sept. 14, 2020– The People’s United Party has introduced another facet of their Plan Belize manifesto, this time focusing on the agricultural sector. Last Wednesday at the Fort Cairns Market Plaza in Orange Walk Town, Leader of the Opposition, Hon. John Briceño, made clear his party’s intentions to create a more agro-centric Belize and decrease the importation of produce that can be cultivated locally.
During his address, Hon. Briceño made mention of Belize’s past reliance on the tourism industry, which due to COVID-19, has taken a dramatic hit that has left tens of thousands of Belizeans unemployed. The solution, says Briceno, is a shift of focus to the agricultural sector:
“The People’s United Party feels strongly that for this country to develop we have to put a lot more emphasis, work and attention to the agriculture sector. The past government put all of their eggs in the tourism basket. The pandemic hit us in March and the tourism industry disappeared — almost forty percent of GDP, like magic, gone. We can’t do that. We are not saying we are not going to give importance to the tourism industry. We are going to continue to work with them, continue to rebuild,” Briceno remarked.
The PUP’s policy seeks to increase, diversify and sustain agricultural production, and boost food security, and the generation of income and employment opportunities — a feat that will be achieved by increasing productive capacity in the industry, improving technology and expanding innovation, raising labor productivity and being regionally competitive.
A number of farmers, experts, and PUP stalwarts also shared their views on the lack of attention that has been given to Belize’s agriculture sector by the current administration, and what a new agricultural system would mean for the country. Area representative for Orange Walk South, Jose Abelardo Mai, discussed how exactly the PUP’s vision will come to fruition.
Their strategy, says Mai, will entail the production of vegetables through irrigation systems, hydroponics and greenhouse technology. Mai also mentioned the PUP’s intent to review the entire tax system and remove GST from products that are used to produce commodities for export, reduce taxes on fuels used to produce food for local consumption, and reduce import duties and GST on equipment used for food processing.
In closing, the area rep stated that this policy requires cooperation from the other ministries:
“Whether you are blue, red, small, medium or large farmers, there is no difference. We want all farmers to grow, to thrive and to work together. Let us be clear – nobody will be overlooked or undermined in our Government’s work. To improve livelihoods, we must raise labor productivity. This requires enhancing knowledge and skills, investing in proper tools and equipment, using appropriate technology and manage farming like a business,” he said.
“Here is the best option to knock out poverty and crime for good in rural areas. To execute this policy, the Agriculture Ministry will require full cooperation of the other relevant Ministries. Hence our Government will put in place a national planning and monitoring mechanism to ensure that programs and resources are developed and managed to produce the desired impact,” he went on to say.
The PUP aims, through the implementation of these new measures, to increase exports by 10% every year, with a target of $700 million in five years. They will also attempt to reduce food imports by $100 million yearly, and increase farmer earnings by an additional $450 million annually, the party said.