In the best of times most Belizeans weren’t eating food of the highest quality, and with the harder economic times that are currently upon us, the meals on most tables in our country will become even less wholesome. Ironically, even in these tough times, which are expected to become even tougher, Belizeans across this land can eat better, much better than they did in our best times.
The cost of vegetables and fruits is high in Belize because our market is small, and some of the crops are seasonal, and also because we ignore some valuable crops that are native or well-adapted to our country. Throughout the year it is a story of glut and scarcity: when there is a scarcity, which can be solved by processing our excess when there is a glut, prices are highest, but prices are high during gluts too because we have a marketing problem that our political leaders and technocrats have not made sufficient effort to solve.
We continue to ignore crops that are native or well-adapted to Belize. Chaya, kalalu, spinach, okra, kraabu, and govna plum are tasty, nutritious greens and fruits that grow pest-free in Belize, and some varieties of pumpkin, squash, and sweet potato are easily grown all year round. If these crops were recognized and encouraged by our leaders and we found new ways to prepare and preserve them, we would see their production and consumption go up.
Increased backyard gardening will help to provide more quality food for our people also. There should be no fear that more backyard gardening would negatively impact our small farmers, because this type of production is mainly supplementary and for folk who don’t have money to buy at the market.
Farming is a long-term endeavor, hardly a get-rich-quick scheme, and it can be very discouraging for people who don’t have the technical skills and other support. It must be the goal of the next Government of Belize to help farmers harness the potential that is dormant in so many areas of our country.
Lack of vision could be the explanation for the failure of our present political leaders and technocrats to assist BGYEA. Whatever the reason for the lack of interest, we are missing a golden opportunity, for if that project doesn’t get a healthy injection of government assistance, the people in urban areas who live on the margins will be dissuaded from aspiring to own and farm their own parcel, on which they can produce healthy food to help raise healthy families in our country.
Our governments must focus on helping Belizeans who need help the most. The Ministry of Agriculture must hire trained technicians, farm demonstrators to go into the countryside and teach people how to bud and graft, how to preserve fruits and vegetables. They must teach our people how to manage milk goats and milk cows, and make cheese.
In the past, a time when our leaders had some energy and understood why we had to pool our resources, we had farmers’ cooperatives. Fishing and banking cooperatives (credit unions) are a success story in Belize, but farmers’ cooperatives, most of them, are synonymous with failure.
There is talk that right-wing leaders came along and damned the cooperatives as “communist.” There is talk that Belizean farmers can’t work together, and other negative things. What is a fact is that our farmers were abandoned by our political leaders and the technocrats. Our farmers’ groups did not receive the quality supervision that was necessary to help them make a success of cooperative farming, which they had no experience with, which wasn’t part of our culture. We must revisit the farmers’ cooperatives, and we must use the information we have from the past to guarantee success.
All indications are that things are going to get tougher for Belize. Our foreign exchange earnings will not increase much, at least not soon, and much of the little we have is committed to pay bills to foreign money lenders. We won’t have the money to buy the bad food that our country likes to import, so we will have to grow what we eat. The good news is that we can grow what we eat, and we will eat better if we eat what we grow.
Respecting the contribution of rural folk
Mayan land rights activist and former head of the environmental NGO, SATIIM, attorney Greg Choc, speaking to KREM Plus’s Evan Hyde, Jr., a couple months ago about the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, said:
“Historically rural communities have always been marginalized in the decision-making process… If I am to take what has been formulated at the top currently, they’ve looked at traditional industries, the money-earners for this country, and that’s where it ends…but it’s not only in Belize, it’s across the Caribbean and Latin America —that there’s a significant informal sector operating, which some experts say, if it were to be integrated into the formal sector, it would double the GDP, the true value of each country…”
Disappointingly, our political leaders and technocrats see the value of foreign exchange earned to import corn kernels in a tin, but for some reason, they don’t see the true value of a tender ear of corn produced by our rural folk for their dinner table. Our country is starving for creative, progressive leadership that recognizes that the produce of our people which doesn’t make it to local markets and the big markets abroad are a major contribution to the wealth and health of our nation.
When they appreciate this important part of our economy, they will encourage, support it, and we will be on the road to becoming a better country.
Belize PM writes to Honduras Prez about kidnapping of Garinagu leaders
There’s a lot going on in our country right now, with COVID-19 and what it is doing to our health and economy, and with an imminent general election, and maybe that’s why neither our Foreign Minister nor our Prime Minister responded when the NGC alerted the nation about the recent kidnapping of our brothers in Honduras.
As they say, better late than never — the Prime Minister communicated this week with the President of Honduras how deeply disturbed our people are about this situation. Garinagu and other indigenous leaders in Honduras are under attack from people with wealth who want to take control of the lands they live on. We have to pray that the Prime Minister’s letter provokes a response that will help bring an end to the violence against our brothers and sisters.