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MILLIONS LOST Drought Devastates Farmers

August 22
19:55 2019

Farmers in the north have gone public with their concerns as a prolonged drought has caused millions of dollars of losses and is expected to have a significant economic impact carrying over into next year, affecting other industries and having a ripple effect on products and services across the country.

Peter Dyck, manager of the Northern Grains Cooperative estimated that farmers have taken a $2.5 Million loss on corn crops so far and said if the rains don’t come soon, farmers may yet take another $2.3 Million loss on soy bean crops. The Ministry of Agriculture, aware of the situation, has sent a team to the area to perform a survey, which is expected to be completed by next week and is scheduled to meet with farmers, particularly from Blue Creek to see what measures can be taken and what relief, if any, can be given to farmers.

Ronald Gordon, climatologist at the Belize Meteorological Service, said rainfall in the north has been below average for the past six months and has seen bodies of water including creeks and lagoons drying up. The Met Service has since issued a short-term drought warning. Gordon classified the current phenomenon as a “moderate to strong drought.” He said it is not yet classified as severe because it has not translated to a lack of water resources in households.

Blue Creek farmers Albert Rempel and Rodney Dyck, whose families have farmed the area for the last six decades, shared their plight with media, explaining how much of their crops have been lost to the drought and giving a comparative of healthy crops versus the malnourished crops currently in their fields. They said they have not experienced a drought this bad in many years. They shared that at the start of the crop season, there was enough rain for the crops to sprout but since then the rains have stopped and the crops have suffered, an experience the majority of farmers have shared. Larger farmers can afford costly irrigation systems but it is still not a guarantee that the crops will mature successfully in the current conditions. The majority of farmers, however, don’t have access to financing for these irrigation systems and struggle to recover their investments.

The farmers say in total as a community they planted over 1,400 acres at the start of the season and to date only about 400 acres has been harvested with the remainder going to waste. Dyck said in a normal season, he would have planted approximately 500 acres of corn but had only planted about 280 acres this season before the rains stopped. He said if he had planted the total acreage he normally does, he would have taken an even bigger financial hit. “We were lucky that the rains stopped completely, that we didn’t fill the farm with corn because we’d be further in debt…Now we only have 280 acres that is dying on us right now,” he said.

Several fields have already been cleared of dying crops, leaving acres of dried and flattened fields stretching for miles. A number of farmers have turned to cattle ranching to make up for the losses of their dying crops. “There comes a time in the cycle of the plant that you just see that it won’t be able to fulfill even if the rains come. That time has passed. It won’t be able to produce the crop that it’s supposed to,” Rempel said. The farmers are now trying to salvage the remaining crops by using it for feed for cows but say there is no way to recover their lost investments.

According to Gordon, normal rainfall is expected to resume by the end of September or October but by then all the crops would have already died. He also noted that there are coordination efforts between the Met Service and the Ministry to keep farmers informed of possible weather conditions. As the drought continues, the country may also be forced to import soy beans if the rains don’t come soon. Farmers in Blue Creek were expecting to plant 2,500 acres of soy beans but so far have only planted 200 acres.

Orange Walk South area representative and fellow farmer, Jose Abelardo Mai, suggested the government give consideration for an injection of capital to help the farmers. He said the farmers are having a difficult time accessing financing after suffering these losses. Chief Executive Officer in the Ministry of Agriculture, Jose Alpuche, also told the Reporter there are several climate resiliency projects underway that are expected to have a positive impact but said the majority of farmers will still see losses. He also said there have been considerations for exemptions for farmers interested in irrigation systems and related equipment.

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