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Irrigation and drainage

Evolution of irrigation development

Irrigation in Belize has been marginal because of its climatic and social conditions. Public irrigation and drainage systems are non-existent and only a few private irrigation systems were developed in the 1990s.

Considering water resources for irrigation, the country can be subdivided into three main areas (Ballesteros, Reyes and Astorga, 2007):

  • A southern high rainfall area (Stann Creek and Toledo), which has abundant good-quality surface water resources for use in the dry season and supports irrigation systems with lower water use efficiencies, such as flood irrigation;
  • An intermediate rainfall area in the central foothills (Cayo and the southern area of Belize), home of many small farming communities. The area is most favourable to irrigation systems with higher water use efficiencies for the production of rice, vegetables and papaya. Water quality of surface water resources is good although availability is low during the dry season;
  • A much drier northern plateau (Corozal and the northern area of Belize) characterized by lagoons, creeks, swamps, subsurface storage in limestone aquifers and slow and sluggish flowing rivers. Availability of water for dry season is good, but access to surface water and groundwater resources poses problems in small farming communities.

According to the Ministry of Agriculture, area equipped for irrigation was 3 548 ha in 2005 (Table 4). In 1997, it was estimated at 3 000 ha.

Area actually irrigated was assumed to be similar to area equipped for irrigation. Area irrigated with groundwater was 792 ha in 2005, most of it located in the district Corozal, while the remaining area was irrigated by using surface water (Ballestero et al, 2007) (Figure 2).

Surface and sprinkler irrigation are being used for sugarcane and banana production, surface irrigation for rice and localized irrigation for papaya production.

Role of irrigation in agricultural production, economy and society

Irrigation development has been successful in crops of high-intensity production such as bananas, papayas and rice. In 2005, total harvested irrigated cropped area was estimated at 3 548 ha. Rice and bananas are the main irrigated crops, followed by papaya and sugarcane (Table 4 and Figure 3). Rice is irrigated from April to August, during the rainy season. In the winter some vegetables are grown.

Women and irrigation

Belize’s poor rural people include rural women who are traditionally economically dependent on men and who are constrained both by traditional gender roles within households and by lack of access to financial resources and capacity-building. Women have in general the responsibility of resources management at the family level (IICA, 1995).

The government of Belize has promoted women’s participation in income-generating activities and food and nutrition systems at the local level, focusing on creating opportunities for equal participation by women (FAO, 1996).


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       Quote as: FAO. 2016. AQUASTAT website. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Website accessed on [yyyy/mm/dd].
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