An international expert who visited Belize last week says that the future of Belize relies in the further development of agriculture. This is in confirmation with a World Bank report which also states that Agriculture is the most important economic sector in Belize in terms of income generation, employment and poverty alleviation.
Frank Lam a specialist on Agro Economics and Commerce attached to the Inter-American for Cooperation in Agriculture IICA was present in Belize to urge leaders of Small and Medium Enterprises (SME) in agriculture to aim at the niche markets that now exist abroad. In doing so, Lam also stressed on the development of a higher quality of export products while ensuring timeliness; bolstered by an ample supply of marketing intelligence.
IICA is a technical cooperation agency and is part of the Inter American System, which includes 34 countries, with which Belize has partnered with; towards agricultural development and well being for rural populations. Headquartered in Costa Rica, IICA maintains an office in Belmopan as well as an office in Miami Florida; the main gateway of Commerce to the Americas.
The roles of Lam and his team are to support small and medium businesses to get their products into the United States, Canadian and European Markets. Frank Lam tells the Guardian Newspaper that Belize has several advantages in trading with the rest of the World because it is an English speaking Country, it is in a suitable geographical location (being only two hours away from Miami, Florida) and it has a tropical climate.
Belize now has an opportunity to tap into niche markets but needs to continue confirming to high standards.
“I think quality should be an important element in whatever business Belize is going to enter…many people think that competing with low prices will be an advantage but I don’t think so, this approach has been proven to be wrong, we have so many other countries in the Region that can compete with lower prices,” says Frank Lam.
“The market is changing very rapidly in the agriculture sector so if a farmer or an organization of farmers don’t follow up on what’s about to change in consumer behavior, in packaging, in color, changes in flavors, one product can be easily obsolete…we need to understand also that Belize can supply specific windows in the year when nobody else is producing, so we need to teach our farmer when is the right time,” continued Frank Lam.
The most valuable assets that IICA currently hold in the region are its information on prices, volumes and other marketing information; a treasure trove that Frank Lam says is critical for farmers to succeed. He recommends that both the Ministry of Agriculture or the Belize Trade and Investment Service BELTRAIDE further develop specialized units of marketing intelligence to inform farmers on the status of “very demanding” crops like fruits and vegetables on the World market; so that farmers can make intelligent decisions.
Frank Lam is recommending that Belize should bet on the agriculture sector; especially on the small and medium farms and try to link such farms with large companies. He maintains that it is the huge companies that are the ones who would be providing the technology and sometimes even the financial resources to link those SME farmers to the World Market.
Already, Hero Balani from BELTRAIDE is betting on an Export Unit-- now on the pipeline--within his organization “…to foster an enabling environment.” BELTRAIDE officials informed last week that Belize’s Domestic Exports are bananas, citrus (grapefruit & orange concentrate squash) and sugar. For marine products, the attractive exports are conch, aquarium fish, lobster, Pink Sea Shrimp and White Farm Shrimp. Other domestic exports for Belize are black eye beans, molasses, pepper sauce, R.K Beans sawn wood and veneer sheet.