Belize is now proceeding with cattle sweep 4. Based on our good results indicating a healthy livestock population, and proposals at the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) we may qualify for some testing reductions. The OIE has drafted changes for the entire world, that, if accepted, would only require 3 tests for brucellosis under some conditions, rather than the currently required 5.
Currently we must test 99.9% of our livestock, but we have applied to test only a representative percent of 22.7% of livestock for the fourth sweep. If those results are clean, they could be accepted and used to declare our official status. Throughout the country, it would then involve selected herds, identified into 6 risk areas: breeding herds, imported animals, herds milking for human consumption, and herds tested only in sweep #3 (not #1 and #2), so categorized as “new” farmers, and those farms involved in trading of animals or other risks.
Another good indication for the cattle industry: in May 2016, Blue Creek Community in Orange Walk was notified by Mexico that they can now export any animals to Mexico that have passed all the sweeps. Mexico states that if the OIE approves the aforementioned reduction in testing down to 3, then Mexico would follow and adjust its import regulations.
Representatives of SuKarne (sukarne.com), one of Mexico’s largest cattle finishing and meat processing companies visited BLPA recently; they expressed a desire to purchase up to 22,000 animals per month from Belize, both slaughter animals and weaners. However, current cattle inventories preclude commitments of that level, as our total annual exports fall somewhat under 25,000 head. Also, our agreement with Mexico’s SENISICA is for only slaughter animals. BLPA escorted the SuKarne visitors to ranches in Blue Creek and Spanish Lookout, after which SuKarne verbally expressed interest to purchase all of Belize’s export animals.
BLPA’s ‘Implementation of the Surveillance System Plan’, continuing with sweeps 4 and 5, will be totally funded by ranchers – a total cost of Bz$1.6M. The BLPA board passed a resolution to charge Bz$10 per head per year for 2 years (until reaching the 5 year mark of the sweep), using authorized collectors in communities. Some farmers have been reluctant to comply with the system so far, and now they must pay Bz$ only per head to get into the system. If they do not comply with this, then they can apply only for local slaughter, essentially putting themselves out of the cattle business.
Also noted by BLPA is that 3,800 animals, belonging to 54 farmers, have been given notices for non-compliance penalties of Bz $2,000 per farmer. If these farmers elect to go to court and lose, they would be liable to pay Bz$5,000, and then forced to slaughter their animals. There may be several reasons why farmers have gotten into this situation: some just do not want to do, others have ‘wild’ animals or lack the necessary facilities, or are just not informed. BLPA has requested that Belize Agricultural Health Authority (BAHA) enforce the necessary quarantines mandated since completion of the first two sweeps.
Some suggest that more rigorous testing is needed within the slaughter system. Currently there are no enforced standards and new legislation with penalties could be useful. There is a need for more communal slaughter facilities but at this point, there is no clear indication who would fund these.
BLPA reports that now there are 5 authorized agents in country to handle movement permits for cattle. There is one agent per district, except for Stann Creek, which has a low cattle population and is covered by the Toledo agent. These agents issue permits for cattle to leave the country, at a cost of Bz$10 per head. For movement within the country, there is no cost for the permit. Tagging of newborn animals is done at Bz$10 per animal (plus the Bz$10 compulsory fee for 2 years mentioned above). Branding is also compulsory as a requirement for export sale.
Many cases of cattle rustlers have been solved and animals returned to their owners by utilizing the information available from tagging and registration. Under a memorandum of understanding in 2015, between BLPA and the Belize Police Force, BLPA offers a Bz$5,000 bounty upon conviction.
BLPA reports that they have assisted ranchers to meet new banking regulations for deposits. Formerly, many sold their animals for cash, which the banks have increasingly been reluctant to accept. Now BLPA can certify the amount of animals sold, by issuing a letter which the rancher then provides to his bank. There is no charge for this service for any BLPA member. The association is also working towards supplying member cards with security features and the member’s brand, for use in transporting stock and securing discounts from various businesses.
Dr. Itza reported that many individual educational and research projects would be useful to boost the livestock sector, including meat quality assurance, improved sylvo-pastoral and agro-forestry, disease management and bat and tick control. He stressed the need for GOB to create a National Policy for Cattle, which would define where we are heading with the industry. Will we remain with natural grass cattle, or will we aim for intensified (feed lot) system? Will we focus on low-carbon, environmentally friendly production methods? BLPA and GOB are reliant on The Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture’s (IICA) guidance to assess these.
BLPA announced that Dr. Itza will be leaving his post as CEO at the end of July. The association and ranchers countrywide are appreciative for his administration and work organizing baseline data which was and remains critical for the industry to move forward. A new CEO had not been named at press time.
Photos of the Red Angus cattle contributed by Mr. Emile Mena of Cedar Hill Ranch, operated by Cayo Cattle Company in Camalote Village, Cayo District. Contact him at 610-3591 or email@example.com.
Belize Ag Report invites BLPA members to share your livestock photos for use with BLPA articles. Send them digitally in high resolution to firstname.lastname@example.org.