From the podium

From the podium

His Excellency Daniel Silva (Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Cooperatives of Belize)

During the last five years Belize has obtained relatively modest changes in the productive sector that constitutes the economic base of the country. Agriculture still continues to form the foundation of the productive sector and the rural economy of Belize. At least, 35 percent of GDP and 41 percent of total employment is directly dependent on agriculture, fisheries and forestry.

From 1990 to the year 2000 the contribution of agriculture to the GDP has increased by four percentage points. The increase is largely attributed to the increased contribution by the fisheries subsector from 2 to 5 percent of the GDP. This sustained growth within the agriculture sector has strengthened the supply and access of food through increased production and exports, respectively.

Belize's export trade is dominated by agricultural exports, particularly the traditional products of sugar, bananas, citrus and, in recent years, marine products. In 2000, total domestic exports amounted to US$194.2 million, of which agricultural exports contributed to 88 percent. The traditional crops such as sugar, citrus and bananas and fish products accounted for 83.3 percent of domestic exports and 94.5 percent of total agricultural exports excluding forestry products. While non-traditional agricultural exports such as papayas, peanuts, black eye peas, cocoa beans, honey, chicle and pepper products accounted for only 5.5 percent of agricultural exports.

Natural disasters contributed to a reduction in agricultural production and exports and to short-term increases in food imports. The aggregate impact from Tropical Storm Roxanne in 1995 and Hurricane Keith in 2000 in Northern Belize together with Tropical Storm Chantal and Hurricane Iris in 2001 in Southern Belize resulted in more than US$ 200 million in losses and damages to the agriculture sector alone. These natural disasters caused short-term shortages of domestic commodities such as rice, corn and beans and contributed to reduced exports of shrimp, lobster, papayas and bananas in the corresponding years. Damage to agriculture and fisheries infrastructure contributed significantly to the resulting shortfalls in production.

Food imports in 2000 were estimated at US$56 million, while imported agricultural inputs represented US$18.1 million. Food and agriculture imports were US$79.5 million, representing 18 percent of total aggregate imports, which was US$441.6 million. Belize has potential for reducing its food imports in the areas of animal feed, fruits and vegetables and some processed agricultural products. To ensure food security it will require that the agriculture sector engage in the following:

Firstly, greater linkages between small farmers and agro-processors. This would ensure more stable markets for primary products and provide greater value added,while at the same time assure a given quality of the product which is competitive due to the larger production volume and guaranteed market like contract farming.

Secondly, better organization of producers' associations, cooperatives and other forms of farmer groups so that they may be economically viable in producing and marketing their products. This will also ensure maximum utilization of all capital investments such as machinery and infrastructure, for example, storage irrigation, drainage, land preparation, drying, marketing and harvesting.

Third, the primary agro-processing sector needs to have greater linkages with the tourist sector since this represents an export market. This would require that farmers be educated on how the tourist sector operates and on the benefits of capturing this market.

Counteracting consumer preference in favour of imported processed food. Consumer perception is that locally produced commodities and locally processed products are inferior and that health and quality standards for such products are non-existent and/or not being enforced.

From recent experience, the Ministry of Agriculture has learnt valuable lessons that should guide future development pathways to modernize the productive sectors. These are: macro-economic policy and coordination strategy for sector-wide development for food security, export promotion and development of complementary cross-fertilization between national, local and international donors/cooperation agencies; institutional strengthening for sustainable development by creating viable and effective partnership among government, private sector, NGOs and community based organizations; the commodity approach in response to market and consumer preferences, by integrating production with processing and value adding strategies and technologies; excellent market demand and opportunities for non-traditional, high quality exports, for example, fresh fruits and vegetable, organic products and marine products.

In light of the above constraints, challenges and lessons, the new mission of the Ministry of Agriculture is to enable agriculture and fisheries as the economic pillar of Belize, ensuring food security, generating income and foreign exchange, creating employment, and conserving natural resources, in order to grow the economy, reduce poverty and empower the local populations for sustainable development. Thus, her strategic objectives, in collaboration with her partners, are to: increase the efficiency, profitability and competitiveness of the agriculture, fisheries and cooperative sectors; accelerate the diversification in production and processing sectors; improve and conserve the natural and productive sector base to ensure long-term and sustainable productivity and viability; improve access to productive resources and services and create economic opportunities for small farmers, women and young farmers, and indigenous people, particularly in poor, marginal areas; and strengthen the institutional capacities to provide effective support in marketing and trade, research and extension, as well as relevant education and training.

Mr President, I would like to thank also the Government and people of Italy, and the Director-General of FAO, Mr Diouf, and the staff at FAO who have given Belize full support.

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