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Taiwan Dumps Surplus Rice on Belize Local Rice Producers Cry Foul

Taiwan Dumps Surplus Rice on Belize Local Rice Producers Cry Foul
August 23
13:16 2018

Rice farmers, as well as members of the opposition People’s United Party (PUP), have raised concern about a recent donation to Belize from the Taiwanese government in the form of five containers of rice valued at BZ$250,000. The rice, which will be disbursed through the Ministry of Human Development, is meant to go to needy Belizeans, however, rice farmers maintain it will have a negative impact on the industry in Belize as there is currently a surplus on the local market and not enough demand.

The Taiwanese Embassy gifted the rice to officials of the Ministry of Human Development on Wednesday at a handing over ceremony. The five containers amount to approximately 220,000 pounds of rice, less than a week’s supply for the country, at roughly 96 cents per pound. Farmers, however, contend that their rice, which producers have in abundance, is still cheaper than the rice donated by Taiwan.

Persons in agriculture we spoke to said Taiwan is currently experiencing a surplus in rice, so the move by the Taiwanese government to purchase that surplus from their farmers is one that any good, responsible government should make. But ‘dumping’ that surplus in Belize, where farmers also report a rice surplus, is bad news for the local industry.

A rice farmer who spoke with the Reporter said most farmers have a hard time selling all their crops in any given year. “If they import 220 thousand pounds of rice, then we sell 220 thousand pounds of rice less. That’s all it is,” the farmer said. Farmers supply rice based on a quota and according to the farmer, he still has rice produced from last year on his farm that he has been unable to sell or do anything with because there is not enough demand. Farmers believe the government should focus on facilitating the exportation of rice rather than importing foreign rice. Furthermore, farmers incur an additional cost in storing the rice properly so that it does not go bad on top of the high taxes that farmers pay on importing equipment, machinery and fuel as well as GST.

Jose Abelardo Mai, the PUP’s Orange Walk South area representative, told the Reporter that the move by government to accept the donation sets the wrong precedent. “Why would Taiwan donate 250 thousand pounds of rice to the government when we are a net producer of rice in this country and at a cheaper price?” According to Mai, it would have been better if Taiwan had bought the surplus from the local farmers to donate than to import rice from the other side of the world.

Mai said the concern is that the 250,000 pounds of rice will displace rice already on the market. “What they did was totally counter-productive. It affects the farmers; it affects the economy!” Mai told the Reporter. He also noted that the rice donated by Taiwan was not subject to any taxes, meanwhile farmers pay hefty taxes before even starting to plant. “The only people who benefit is the Minister and those they say they will give it to – and we don’t even know if they will get it,” Mai said.

Minister of Human Development, Anthony “Boots” Martinez, however, told the Reporter he believes that the complaints being made about the donation are purely political. Martinez said he fails to understand how the donation will affect the rice farmers because the rice will not be sold on the market and will not compete with locally grown rice. He said the rice will be donated to organizations which run feeding programs, which are often underfunded and don’t have enough to purchase supplies. Martinez also responded to criticism that the equivalent funds could have been used to purchase the surplus rice from local farmers saying the donation was not in cash but a generous donation from a long-standing diplomatic ally. Martinez further noted that the donation was accepted and arranged by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and that he was not directly involved in arranging the donation.

The Reporter also contacted the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Taiwanese embassy for comments on the concerns which have been raised. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it was not responsible for handling the donation and directed us to the Women’s Department, which it says is responsible. The embassy did not respond to the Reporter’s request for comment before press time. A source within the Ministry of Agriculture also said that ministry was not responsible for arranging the donation and added that the decision to import the foreign rice was “regrettable.”

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