Did you know that minimum wage in Mexico is close to 1/3 of minimum wage in Belize? This fact is the key to understanding the challenges that farmers face in Belize. Imported produce grown more cheaply in countries with a lower minimum wage competes unfairly with produce grown locally. Farmers in Belize suffer the same consequence in competition with imports from Mexico.
The great appeal of agro-chemical farming is largely due to the savings in labour. Farmers can simply spray rather than pay more workers to do the job by hand. In this way they can somewhat compete in both the world and local market by cutting the cost of production. This is where local organic farmers peel away the endemic veneer of false economy that oppresses growers the world over. The organic farmer uses labour rather than cheap agro-chemicals, which are specifically priced to target and entice farmers according to their local economy, making “agri-business” chemical farming the most economical choice. These chemicals, and the corporations that produce them, most often have their roots in chemical warfare applications from way back in the 1940’s. As wartime dissipated in the 1950’s and 60’s these corporations had to find new applications for their products, and locked on to food production as a more stable market, introducing everything from preservatives to chemical farming applications, and everything in between, in the process of profit. Now we can rarely read a food label that does not contain unpronounceable ingredients about which we have little information, and no education.
So how does all this affect our local market here in Belize? Belizean farmers must compete directly with the cost of Mexican imported produce, which is generally as much as 70% cheaper, and represents approximately 50% or more of the fresh fruit and vegetables in the fresh food open air markets in Belize. Both vendors and consumers are conditioned to purchase this low priced produce, leaving Belizean farmers to do what they can to compete. If we take away the chemicals, and add the cost of the actual labour that it takes to farm, we can understand the “high price” of organic produce. However, within the context of Belize’s economy the costs of agro-chemical farming are hidden in the high rate of diseases related to the misuse and consumption of these chemicals. The cost comes out of the health of the Belizean population, out of the soil, which is left depleted and chemical dependent, and out of the local economy, where instead of creating jobs in agriculture, we choose to save on labour, and poison our land, water, and people, to sell at a more competitive price. We might not pay at the market stand, but we do pay in the long run in the form of medical bills, subsequent medications, destruction of the farmland and the environment, and lastly, loss of jobs.
Let’s get real, and pay the real price of farming in Belize. Support local organic farming for a stronger future for the people, the land, and the country of Belize. Stay Proud. Buy Local. Go Organic!
Recent flooding in Belize City and the associated threats of contaminated water had me wondering about advice for public safety. In the city apart from bacteria from septic systems and garbage the problems would include propane, petroleum, household and garden chemicals. In the country there may be more serious contaminants such as glyphosate or atrazine. I heard there was a study in progress re these dangerous chemicals but why wait to inform people. At least a government warning. Maybe there is one?
David S. Ford