BRIDGETOWN, Barbados – Sugarcane farmers in northern Belize, hard hit by one of the most devastating droughts in recent memory, are set to get relief through a project funded by the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB).
On Tuesday, March 31, CDB’s board of directors approved a loan of more than USD$ 1.0 million to the government of Belize to help farmers recover from the impact of the 2019 drought.
According to the Caribbean Institute for Meteorology and Hydrology, the severe drought conditions in the first half of 2019 were among the most intense in the country since 1981. Industry estimates for the 2019-2020 crop season assessed that sugarcane production dropped 30 percent compared to the previous season.
One key component of the project is a Drought Recovery Scheme (DRS), a specially designed voucher programme, which will help farmers get needed inputs (planting material, fertilisers, and pesticides), and services such as land clearing and preparation.
With the agriculture sector contributing up to 11percent of GDP in Belize and the sugar industry a key part of the sector, the impact of the drought has been far-reaching, and negatively affected employment during 2019. Economic growth slowed, with Belize recording just 0.3 percent growth in 2019, compared with an average of 2 percent for the previous five years. The unemployment rate also jumped from 7.6 percent in April 2019 to 10.4 percent by September 2019.
Director of the projects department at CDB, Daniel Best highlighted what is at stake for the farming communities in the project area.
“The livelihood and wellbeing of households in northern Belize is intrinsically linked to agriculture, in particular sugar production and prices. With sugarcane farmers already highly indebted and sugar prices relatively low, urgent support is needed to facilitate farm rehabilitation and replanting efforts. Without this support, the drought will continue to negatively impact the socio-economic conditions of households in the affected communities,” said Best.
The loan is the latest in a series of actions by CDB to help Belize deal with the impact of the drought. In October 2019, the bank provided a USD$ 200,000 emergency grant to the government of Belize. CDB also provided USD$ 49,730 to engage the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) in reviewing and making recommendations to improve the framework and application of the DRS.