As part of the country’s ongoing dialogue with the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) on ways to transform Belize’s sugar industry into a sustainable and economically viable one, a delegation comprised of 14 Counsellors of the Board of Executive Directors representing the 48 member countries of the IDB visited the Orange Walk District today. Aptly dubbed “Sugar City”, Orange Walk Town was the setting this afternoon for Sugar Industry stakeholders to host the delegation at an event in which special emphasis was made of the need to deploy sustainable practices to help grow the industry while protecting the environment, along with the health and safety of the industry’s workers.
Led by Elvira Méndez, Belize’s representative on the Board, the distinguished group benefitted from industry presentations, toured the Tower Hill sugar mill and power plant and met with sugar industry officials, representatives of cane farmers associations, local dignitaries and the media.
Over the past two and a half years, the IDB, the ASR Group-Belize Sugar Industries Ltd. (BSI) and industry institutions and associations have maintained close and continuous communication with regard to the needs of the sugar industry as it confronts the challenges of less than favorable market conditions and higher production costs. This visit, therefore, underlines the support which the IDB has provided to the industry in Belize, most recently in the form of a grant contribution of over US$1.3M for the implementation of a technical cooperation project designed to establish a dedicated extension service program for the benefit of the 5,400 sugar cane farmers in northern Belize. This support, received through the Multilateral Investment Fund (MIF) of the IDB Group, will help farmers to better prepare for the future by providing technical assistance to help improve sugar cane productivity and to increase efficiencies thereby reducing costs along the value chain of sugar cultivation and production. According to Yolanda Strachan of the Multilateral Investment Fund, “The MIF has since 2000, developed targeted interventions to support sustainable agriculture in Latin America and the Caribbean. To increase the impact on livelihoods and living conditions of the beneficiaries, the design of this capacity-building project included the active involvement of key supply chain stakeholders: farmers, lead firm, and finance providers.” This project is being implemented by the Sugar Industry Research and Development Institute (SIRDI).
The visit also entailed a review of ASR Group-BSI’s latest investments in the Tower Hill sugar mill as well as the Belcogen co-generation power plant which commenced operations for the Sugar Cane Crop 2015-16 two days prior to the visit. Notably, the IDB was one of the original co-funders of Belcogen in 2009, which provided the foundation for the sugar industry to expand to its current level of production and processing. Belcogen now supplies approximately 15 percent of the nation’s electricity needs from renewable sources, with that percentage forecast to grow as sugar production output increases through the industry’s collaborative efforts aimed at improving farm productivity and efficiency.
This visit to Orange Walk was part of a three-day tour of Belize by the Counsellors of the IDB’s Executive Board in order to have first-hand awareness and familiarity of the projects supported by the Bank in Belize. Other projects to be visited include: the Solid Waste Management Program, the Sustainable Tourism Program and the Community Action for Public Safety project.