After two decades of producing and packaging papayas for export, Fruta Bomba and Belize Fruit Packers are closing shop permanently.
Chief Executive Officer of Brooks Tropicals, the parent company of Fruta Bomba and Belize Fruit Packers, Greg L. Smith said via press release: “After 22 years operating in the Central American country of Belize, Brooks Tropicals has found it necessary to close its growing and packing operations there.”
As a result, over 250 employees will be laid off in the next six months, which is the estimated timeline for both companies to conclude operations.
According to Smith, economic conditions, particularly after Hurricane Dean in 2007, have hindered the company’s efforts to rebuild and maintain profitable operations. In an effort to fight off Dean’s adverse effects, Brooks Tropicals improved infrastructure at both companies.
“Efforts included the building of a 16,000 square-foot operations building and considerable improvements to growing, packing and nursery facilities and processes”, Smith said. But these investments resulted in losses for the company. Over the last three years Brooks Tropicals has kept on taking financial blows – something that the company “can no longer sustain”.
Fruta Bomba had been experiencing problems for quite some time. It was believed that the companies would have terminated more employees sooner but the most recent news came as a shock to employees when the Packing Manager, Martin Aguilar, informed workers that the company was closing for good during an emergency meeting on Thursday.
On Tuesday, when the media inquired about 38 employees that were fired last Friday, Smith issued a statement saying, “This lay off is due to the dramatic reduction in volume related to reduced acres planted at Fruta Bomba…We regret very much having to do this but financially we have no choice. We are still committed to growing in Belize but with fewer acres.”
Chief Executive Officer in the Ministry of Agriculture, Jose Alpuche, said the Ministry received a verbal notification from the company on February 9.
According to Alpuche, Fruta Bomba is the single largest papaya exporter in the country and the company’s closing represents “almost a total loss”.
“The entity almost equals the industry. I don’t believe the entity’s operations here in Belize could have been saved simply because they have said to us they have been sourcing fruits from Guatemala and they have investments in the Dominican Republic,” Alpuche shared. He further explained that one of the companies has enjoyed fiscal incentives, which were recently renewed.
Alpuche says it is an unfortunate situation and teams from the Ministry are tasked to actively look into finding replacements for Fruta Bomba and Belize Fruit Packers in order to keep the papaya industry alive. Several other exporters have attempted to penetrate the market but it has been difficult for some.
Employees from both companies have expressed concerns that they will not be properly compensated. Alpuche said, however, the Government will make sure that Brooks Tropicals clears up all liabilities they have in Belize before moving out. Smith, in his release, also assured that “Brooks Tropicals will work closely with its employees and the government of Belize to bring about a systematic closure that meets the laws of Belize. All wages due to employees, based on Belize labor laws, will be paid at the time employees are laid off.”