The recent Rice War was never about the Belizean consumer, but rather a plain case of greed and power.
Rice is big money and that’s because Belizeans consume about 24 million pounds of it annually, which is around 77 pounds per person. At the current price per pound of rice, just do the math, you will quickly realize that there is a tremendous amount of money to be made from it.
The market is dominated by the Mennonites, who are probably the only people with the agricultural might to produce this amount of food for the Belizean market.
For the most part, the Mennonites have managed to achieve food sufficiency for rice for Belize and there has just been limited cases where rice had to be imported to sustain demands. Any product that sells 24 million pounds of anything is ripe for opportunity and it was just a matter of time before some non-producer with enough money, power and clout tried to get his share of this very lucrative market.
Enter Jitendra Chawla who seems to have all three, plus the necessary distribution system to sell the product. The fight instantly becomes the battle of two gigantic financial elephants, essentially the productive-minded Mennonite community and the import-oriented ‘Turks/Indian’ community. Both possess big money, great influence and political behind-the-scenes power.
The primary producers of rice, the Mennonites are hard-working people and there is no taking away from that. However, never confuse the fact that a certain amount of the Mennonites’ wealth was obtained illicitly during the illegal marijuana trade in the 1980’s, so we are not talking about saints here.
My opinion is that the Mennonite community used their illicit gain as the seed money for many of the businesses and industries they control today.
Keep in mind that during the late 1970’s and 80’s, most Belizeans still grew their own food and raised their own chickens in their back yard. The Mennonites have always been an agrarian community and that has been their primary source of their livelihood.
But if most Belizeans were producing their own food during that time, then where would their money have come from? The Mennonites are ruthless businessmen and that is not an entirely bad thing since business requires a certain degree of ruthlessness in Belize in order to survive.
While I will say I admire the collectiveness and cooperative nature of the Mennonite community, we must also agree that it is an exclusive, rather than an inclusive community to Belizeans as a whole. To the Mennonites, the Belizean community at large is seen as a consumer goup and a huge potential source of income rather than an equal partner in any venture.
If you have any doubts, ask yourselves these questions. Have you ever tried to go and sell anything in any of their communities? Think they would allow it? Yet they operate openly in our communities. Do the vast majority of the people they hire in their stores, businesses and industry look anything like you? Do you see them giving to any Belizean charitable causes that you support? Do you see them marrying people that look like you? Still think the fight about rice is about you, the Belizean consumer, and about keeping prices affordable?
The difficulties of rice production in the productive sector in Belize comes down to one factor. The cost of production of any product in Belize is way too high and this is not the fault of any one person but of the Government.
The government has traditionally not created the right avenue for the productive sector to grow and hence we cannot compete in the agricultural, productive or manufacturing sector with any country.
Just look at the recent increase in taxes on fuel and then you will realize why the productive sector is punishing. Additionally, total rice production had the potential to be much higher, hence increasing supply, and lowering prices had Toledo not been virtually destroyed as a rice producing district. But because of a combination of government mismanagement, poor leadership, limited foresight and a tendency of dependency of the Toledo farmer on government hand-outs, the industry in the south, which was once the rice basket of the nation, has failed.
The ‘Turks/Indian’ community in Belize, on the other hand, have traditionally not been involved in the productive sector. Their business has always been focused on importation, distribution and sales. But it’s safe to say that they will dabble in anything that makes them money. Pretty much like the Mennonites they are collectively survivors and are no saints either.
They too have had their share of illicit activities, including drug smuggling, money laundering, human trafficking, immigration/nationalization hustle and customs/duties fraud.
Their entire empire has been built mostly by defrauding the government of duties/taxes along with all-too-willing customs officials. They are known to supply the commodities market with subpar, inferior and knockoff products.
But regardless of all this, they do have a hardworking nature, which has allowed them to prosper to becoming some of the wealthiest people in the nation.
They tend to be more philanthropic than the Mennonites and are and more liberal in their hiring practices. The importation of rice was seen as just another avenue to make monies, since deep down inside they are businessmen and the dollar is all that counts to them.
Belizeans are mainly consumers to them and nothing else. They care very little whether or not the productive sector survives, since the demise of the productive sector will open opportunities for more things for them to import.
Today it may be rice, with the elimination of the productive sector, it may be chicken, beans, fruits, vegetable, which would mean more money in their pocket.
As for the local Regional Trade Specialist and attorneys that were hired, it’s all about the money and they would have taken either side, depending on who paid them. Now with all this information, do you still think that the recent Rice War was about you the Belizean consumer and making rice more affordable to you?
It’s all about the people!