Agriculture Ministry working action plan for drought

On Tuesday we reported on the abnormally low percentage of rainfall that is affecting the country. Since May, the forecast for drought condition for Belize, done by using Standardized Precipitation Index (SPI),vlcsnap-2015-08-20-10h04m21s230 indicated that Belize was on a drought warning. Farmers and livestock producers in the North are already feeling its effects. Last year there was a 30% percent probability that an “El Niño” effect would be causing rainfall to drop significantly. Now that it’s here, the Ministry of Agriculture is ironing out a concrete plan of action to try and alleviate some of the effects and help farmers recover some of their losses. According to Chief Agriculture Officer Robert Harrison, the crop that is of most concern to the Ministry is corn, which will be taking the bulk of the damage from prevailing dry weather conditions.

Robert Harrison: The commodity that is being mostly affected by this time, obviously corn is in planting season, the main planting season that is. We estimate that out of approximately 41,000 acres of 

vlcsnap-2015-08-21-14h17m31s453corn, 14,000 acres have been damaged as a result of the dry spell. That means that this corn, the damage is nonreturnable that the corn won’t get back even if it rains today. We also see that the weather patterns for August, September, and October are in fact going to be below normal rainfall. We can safely deduce that the dry spell will continue even into September going into October. The damage by the drought has been effective, and we’re monitoring the situation to see how farther the damage will be.

Soy bean, which is in its seasonal time of the year, has also received some damage.

Robert Harrison: The only other crop or commodity that is going to be affected is soy beans. Out of the 5,000 acres that were planted, 3,500 acres has been already damaged by the drought. Combine these two commodities, the estimated value of loss could be around $20 to $25Million in lost to the farmers. We are working with these weather patterns again, for us it’s how do we mitigate these events from causing damage. The technology adaptation, the use of irrigation, the use of cover structures, the use of alternative feeding for cattle for example because we know in the Belize district pastures are 

vlcsnap-2015-08-21-14h17m51s931drying up now so that is a concern for us from the livestock standpoint.

Harrison encourages the farmers, particularly small farmers, to keep an eye on the weather pattern.

Robert Harrison: Again, one of the things is trying to study the weather patterns now. Two, in that you can effectively plan a better planting schedule. There are varieties that are more tolerant to drought conditions. We would know that there are some varieties that we could start to try out here in Belize and see how they will favor. In particular small farmers because right now the corn damage is by the large commercial farms, Spanish Lookout, Little Belize and  Shipyard and Indian Church areas, these are large acreages that the Mennonites in particular plant. 

The prevailing dry weather conditions is expected to continue up until the month of October. And while we may still be able to fulfill local demand for crop, specifically, corn and soybean, the drought will definitely have an effect on Belize’s export market. This also means that we will most likely see a spike in prices for products linked to corn and soybean.

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