$1.5 million could save southern rice industry

The rice production in the south experienced a record-breaking drop for the 2012-2013 crop, but the chairman of the Rice, Beans and Corn Association, Dennis Usher, says one “soft loan” from government is all that is needed to save the industry.

Usher explained that for the recent crop the south produced just  under  1.2 million pounds of rice, which represents a sharp decline when compared to the 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 crop years that produced 6.7 million and 5 million pounds of rice, respectively.

Usher argued that the decline is avoidable and reversible if the government  should agree to his repeated recommendation to have the Social Security Board lend  $1.5 million to the Belize Marketing Development Corporation (BMDC)—the institution formerly known as Marketing Board  which  buys and mills the rice from the southern farmers.

He told The Reporter that BMDC’s cash flow problems  which  affected its ability to pay farmers on time for their delivered rice in previous years has served to dissuade farmers from producing much, or at all, during the recent crop.

Another discouraging factor, Usher said, was the relatively low prices that the cash-strapped BMDC has set for the farmers’ rice: about 27 cents per pound for Milpa farmers and 26 cents for mechanized farmers.

Should the BMDC receive the loan to improve its payment scheme with farmers, Usher predicts that the southern production of rice—a crop which many in the area rely on as a principal means to earn an income—would rebound to approximately 5 million pounds a year.

However, while Usher blames the decrease on financial matters, officials at the BMDC said that other factors contributed to the drop.

They suggest that several farmers had abandoned  the rice industry because of the  lure of rosewood or tourism  which to them was more attractive.

In addition, some claim that certain unsubstantiated rumors that suggested that the BMDC would not be accepting certain types of rice also fuelled the felt need for diversification.

According to BMDC officials, the traditional crop year runs from August to July; therefore, technically, the 2012-2013 season has not yet ended.

Estimates show, however, that the  January to July production season  is traditionally low due to the dry weather, and for this reason the figures as of December 2012 are not expected to grow in any significant  way.

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