Meet Benancio Romero, he is a Rice farmer from the Toledo district who has been planting rice for the past 44 years. he has worked with the government in the industry from the age of 22 and he says that rice farming in the Toledo district is almost becoming a lost art form; they have the land and are willing to keep planting rice, but there are three areas in which the government is failing Toledo farmers; late payment for their rice, lack of machinery to harvest their crop, and no assistance from NEMO in times of flooding and other natural disasters. In order to get another perspective on the Rice controversy that is taking place as producers battle importers on the topic of rice, our friends at PGTV spoke to Mr Benancio Romero about rice farming in the south. here is that entire interview.
Reporter: In the last few years how many acres of rice did you grow? Or how many pounds of rice did you harvest, just you?
Reporter: Why did your rice spoil?
Benancio Romero, Toledo Rice Farmer: Because we don’t have a combine, because it always breaks down.
Reporter: And who did the combine belong to?
Benancio Romero, Toledo Rice Farmer: Government. Agriculture.
Reporter: Okay, and in the past, did Toledo use to produce rice? How much rice did Toledo produce at its heights?
Benancio Romero, Toledo Rice Farmer: I am telling you between 18M pounds of rice in total with everybody who plant rice. Those times we had combines, we use to have up to 5 combine.
Reporter: And what happened to the combine?
Benancio Romero, Toledo Rice Farmer: Well they broke and they didn’t fix it.
Reporter: And who did those combines belong to?
Benancio Romero, Toledo Rice Farmer: Government. Everything was the government.
Reporter: And you mentioned earlier about Garifuna People Planting Rights.
Benancio Romero, Toledo Rice Farmer: They should plant a 100 acres of rice.
Reporter: And what happened? Why did they stop planting the rice?
Benancio Romero, Toledo Rice Farmer: They stopped planting rice there because they said the place was too far for them to go up there and come down every day because they use to catch a ride with us when we’d go up there. So they said they couldn’t carry that much because sometimes they really have to and they can’t go.
Reporter: Now the rice production in Toledo has gone downhill. What do you think led to that?
Benancio Romero, Toledo Rice Farmer: I already told you equipments. Tractors to plow, harvest and things.
Benancio Romero, Toledo Rice Farmer: If it isn’t here you get it from Central Farm.
Reporter: Did central Farm send their equipment down?
Benancio Romero, Toledo Rice Farmer: Yes, until we completed everything and then they went back.
Reporter: And that doesn’t happen again?
Benancio Romero, Toledo Rice Farmer: No. You know, many years and not even a bloody thing, not even a plant or a broadcaster. So long I’ve been quarreling with those people, I have to borrow thing to go plant my rice from other people, from private people.
Reporter: And do you think that Toledo could once again become the rice capital of Belize?
Benancio Romero, Toledo Rice Farmer: Nothing can stop Toledo because the people have their land fi plant rice. And if they had equipment, everybody will go back to planting rice because what else would we do? Nothing else is planting here and we get a little money off of that. We don’t have anything else to do, no other money is coming through us.
Reporter: We also heard that sometimes the farmers once they get their rice they take to marketing board and then they don’t get paid. Tell us about that?
Benancio Romero, Toledo Rice Farmer: Well the marketing board just started lately with this thing with the two payment business you know. That never use to happen before, you use to get all your pay as you sell your rice, on big cheque. I remember one time when you sold a lot of rice you had to go to Belize.
Reporter: Really? And now what happened?
Benancio Romero, Toledo Rice Farmer: From a couple years ago when the rice get smaller now, then they come with this 2 payment that you get the payment as you sell it to pay the truck man and pay the combine and them thing and then you wait. Up to now we haven’t gotten our second payment yet. I don’t know when we’ll get it.
Benancio Romero, Toledo Rice Farmer: Well they said December. But we’re approaching the end of December and nothing yet.
Reporter: So Government owe you right now for the rice?
Benancio Romero, Toledo Rice Farmer: Yes for the rice.
Reporter: If you don’t get that payment will you be able to plant rice again?
Benancio Romero, Toledo Rice Farmer: No man, you can’t do anything if you don’t get that payment. How will you plant if that’s the money that you invest with? That’s the reason why I couldn’t plant much rice this year because last year didn’t cut it, the little bit that I made, I made $2,000 with my whole 40 acres of rice.
Reporter: Why was that?
Benancio Romero, Toledo Rice Farmer: Well through the flood and they no assist anybody. So again, all of those things da government thing. I went to NEMO, I went all about to try to get help and thing and they say they don’t help on that.
We will continue to update you on this important pillar of our agricultural sector in the next days and weeks.