A meeting was held on Monday, July 10th 2017 at the Conference Room of the Ministry of Agriculture between the Minister of Agriculture, Hon. Godwin Hulse, along with his executive team and representatives of the Citrus Growers Association and Belize Citrus Mutual. The meeting was as the result of a joint request of the Citrus Growers Association and the Belize Citrus Mutual.
The purpose of the meeting was to apprise the officials of the Ministry on the ongoing collaboration between the Belize Citrus Mutual and the Citrus Growers Association, to discuss the performance of the 2016 – 2017 crop, the progress being made in managing the Huanglongbing (HLB) disease, the issues facing the industry such as labour and access to affordable capital and the need to develop a strategic plan for the industry.
The meeting discussed the outturn of the 2016 – 2017 crop, noting that despite Hurricane Earl which accounted for an estimated loss of 569k boxes of orange, the industry produced 3.2m boxes of oranges in 2016 – 2017 as compared to 3.25m boxes of orange in the 2015 – 2016 crop year. It was noted that the decline in production has plateaued and there should be an increase in 2017 – 2018 because approximately 2,000 acres planted three years ago will also start to come into production. When compared to Florida’s trend in production, the trend in production in Belize is encouraging as Florida experienced a fall from 81m boxes of oranges in 2015 – 2016 to an estimated 68.5m in 2016 – 2017 crop year.
The following points were agreed to at the meeting:
The Ministry agreed to work with both associations and processor to develop a strategic plan for the industry with an aim to increase production by planting 5m citrus trees in 5 years and transforming the industry to take advantage of the local, regional and global marketplace for juice blends.
The Ministry of Agriculture will collaborate with the Ministries of Labour and Immigration to put in place the required framework to implement a farm workers program to ensure the timely supply of labour needed from neighboring countries to complement the local labour force.
With the coordination of the Ministry of Agriculture, both Associations will collaborate with their respective membership and the Departments of Labour and Immigration to provide an estimate of number of workers needed and to report the movement of foreign agriculture farm workers.
All parties agreed that the four pronged approach to control HLB is the best strategy available at this time given the available science and reaffirmed their commitment to educate Growers, implement the four pronged approach and regulate as necessary. The four pronged approach refers to (i) the control of the Asian Citrus Psyllid vector that spreads HLB, (ii) the planting of only certified citrus trees, (iii) the removal of sick uneconomic trees and (iv)the implementation of a robust nutrition programme.
That Belize Agriculture Health Authority (BAHA) will strengthen its efforts to eliminate illegal citrus nurseries and the planting of illegal plants. To this end, the Ministry will assist BAHA in getting the requisite legal framework in place to strengthen BAHA’s ability to enforce. Planting non-certified citrus plants poses a high risk to spread diseases in the industry.
The Ministry will collaborate with the industry to attract additional capital to the industry to ensure the replanting of the aged tree stock over the next decade to increase production to 8m boxes and push the production of other fruits types that are identified for juicing like the MD2 Pineapple.
The Minister will meet with the Board of Directors of Citrus Products of Belize Ltd (CPBL) to engage CPBL in the dialogue on the way forward to transform the industry.
The Minister and his team applauded the continued efforts of both the CGA and BCM in collaborating for the best interest of the industry and for reaffirming the agreement to a scientifically sound and unified approach to managing HLB, the four pronged approach. The Minister pledged to work closely with both associations and CPBL to provide the regulatory support, technical assistance and leadership required to foster an environment necessary for the industry to rebound.
The representatives of both associations thanked the Minister and his team for the commitments made during the meeting and pledged to continue their collaboration and work to increase production and transform the industry to take advantage of the opportunities in the global marketplace.