This year, the citrus industry in Belize celebrates a hundred years in existence. The industry is a major part of the country’s economy, as it represents 22% of major export earnings and 4% of GDP. It is no question then, that the country relies heavily on the performance of this industry. And to improve the citrus production system in Belize, the Citrus Growers Association is building the largest green house in the country, spanning three acres. PlusNews headed south of Belize to find out more about CGA’s project. We caught up with the Chief Executive Officer of CGA, Henry Anderson who told us more about the project and what role it will play in the industry.
HENRY ANDERSON – CEO CGA:
We’re launching our Plant World Nursery. It’s in construction right now. That will be able to supply over three hundred thousand plants to the industry. One aspect of it deals with having certified, clean, disease-free nursery plants. Putting this investment in is setting the stage to complement the other entities that have nursery plants out there. But we’re doing it on a larger scale, and we’re going state of the Art, to bring costs sown obviously, but to ensure that we have healthy, vigorous plants, that’s when it’s put out there they grow properly. We’re seeing it as an opportunity to improve what we call the Citrus Production Management System of this country. The entire citrus culture is changing. It’s not just planting a tree and circling and collect the fruit, but it’s doing the right things to get the best production and maximize.
The facility, which will carry the name Plant World Nursery, is an unprecedented move in the entire agriculture sector and a very expensive one at that. In partnership with OIRSA, United Nations FAO, Government of Belize, Government of Mexico and private funding from the Atlantic Bank, CGA managed to receive funding for the project.
HENRY ANDERSON – CEO CGA:
In 2009, when CREI discovered HLB’s presence in Belize, there was an emergency meeting held and the Minister, then Hon Rene Montero. went to Dominican Republic and made contact with the ORISA official, his colleagues from Mexico, and was able to negotiate some assistance for HLB from Mexico through ORISA for Belize. At first there interest was to take up back-yard trees, and we said to them that the fastest was to move HLB is to take an infected baby plant and drive it 50 miles and go plant it. So we need to get a greenhouse, and that’s what the CGA was negotiating for. It’s a collaboration with ORISA and Mexico on one part, the CGA on the other. It’s through the Government, so we have to thank the Government for it.
Since its implementation last February, the project has generated employment opportunities for several Belizeans, and it is expected that more jobs will arise as the project progresses. Thomas Tate, the Senior Operation’s Officer at CGA talked to us about that. He also told us how the nurseries will work.
THOMAS TATE – Senior Operations Officer CGA:
This particular greenhouse will have drip irrigation, meaning that each single bag of plant will have a dripper inside. That system will be set up that we can fertigate, meaning we’ll be mixing fertilizer and putting it through the system. We’re looking at around a hundred thousand plants per greenhouse, and since they’re divided into four sections we’re looking at 24 thousand plants. Up to date, we’ve employed up to 25 people, and we’ve had contracts for up to about three or four different people to do the roads and the land clearing and other stuff. We believe we’ll be having probably full-time employment for around ten/fifteen people, but they’re times when we’ll be filling bage and other stuff, where employment in terms of people will probably go up to 30 or so people.
Fermin Blanco, OIRSA’s country representative was on site, and told us more about the managerial aspect of the project.
Fermin Blanco – OIRSA:
Citrus Greening is one of the deadliest diseases for citrus, and one of the three prong approach is the producing of certified plants. By doing that we have to have a structure that can guarantee and comply with the Certification Programme in Belize. In this case we are building this Nursery for the Ministry of Agriculture. We have an MOU with the Citrus Growers Association that they will manage it for the Ministry of Agriculture, but the structure is for the Ministry of Agriculture, funded by ORISA. This is the final part of the first phase of the control programme. Once this is established and running, then we kick off with the second phase of the project, which is doing also the area-wide control, monitoring, surveillance, and training.
While we were in that area, we stopped by the Citrus Research and Education Laboratory (CREI). CREI is a branch of CGA that provides citrus growers with an array of services. Veronica Manzanero Majil is the director of CREI.
VERONICA MANZANERO MAJIL – Director of CREI:
We have what we call the parent trees, which is really the origin of all budwood material that comes into the country and is distributed into the Citrus Industry. The CGA has been housing the parent trees for a very long time, and after a flood in 2008, and now with the threat of HLB, are relocating to a new site which is in the Red Bank area. This is very important because we now have this new home that is very, very structurally sound compared to what we have seen in other parts of the world, and it is the prime origin if all budwood, as I mentioned earlier. So it is important that these be housed in a very adequate environment.