Green Tropics Ltd. promised to bring as many as 700 jobs to the Cayo district, when the company acquired 7,000 acres of land near More Tomorrow to plant sugar cane and build a sugar factory with plans to start grinding cane in three years’ time. But they hit a snag when they began to dig a massive irrigation canal to bring water from the Belize River to the fields they plan to cultivate with sugar cane.
The Department of the Environment (DOE) has issued a stop order on the digging of the canal, because it cuts across the Belize Central Biological Corridor, which connects the untouched forests of southern and northern Belize, and serves as an important wildlife sanctuary for the Belizean jaguar.
Deputy Chief Environmental Officer Mr. Edgar Eck told The Reporter that while the company had submitted an Environmental Impact assessment (EIA), it has not yet been approved. In fact, part of the approval process requires that the company hold a series of public consultations, which have to be advertised in the local media.
Nevertheless, the company pushed ahead with their development. Four mechanical shovels mounted on caterpillar tractors have been working overtime to dig the irrigation canal, until concerned jaguar conservationists raised the alarm with both the Forestry and Environmental Departments a week ago.
Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and Sustainable Development, Senator Lisel Alamilla, ordered that the trenching be stopped immediately when she was fully apprised off the facts on Tuesday, June 5.
Further checks with the Ministry of Natural Resources, the Ministry of Economic Development and BELTRAIDE revealed that no one at any of these agencies was aware that the sugar company had begun digging the canal and whether they had gotten an EIA approved.
The Central Corridor is important to the survival of the jaguar, because it is the apex predator in Belize’s forests. The health of the jaguar is an indicator of the overall health of the entire eco-system.
The canal would severely hamper the freedom of movement of the jaguar within the forests areas, unpopulated by man., animal defenders say. They also point out that the jaguar is a nocturnal animal which does its best to avoid man.
But it is also true that a man-made canal can be a boon to the forest animals which are food for the jaguar. And it is doubtful that the jaguar, being an agile swimmer, would be daunted by a man-made stream.