Belize - Agriculture
Only 4% (89,000 hectares/220,000 acres) of total land area is used for the production of seasonal and permanent crops. Most Mayans still practice the traditional slash-and-burn method of farming, under which at any one time some 80% of the land is left idle. More efficient agricultural colonies have been established by Mennonite immigrants. Sugar and citrus are the leading agricultural exports. Sugarcane production, centered in the northern lowland around Corozal and the town of Orange Walk, totaled 1,141,000 tons in 1999. Citrus production is concentrated in the Stann Creek valley; the 1999 output included 170,000 tons of oranges and 41,000 tons of grapefruit. The US-based Hershey Foods Corp. has invested B $4 million in cacao cultivation in El Cayo.
Because agriculture is not sufficiently diversified, the country relies heavily on food imports. By establishing a marketing board to encourage production of rice, beans, and corn, the government hopes eventually to become self-sufficient in these crops. Rice paddy production, which averaged 9,000 tons annually during 1979–81, fell to a reported 4,000 tons in 1990 but rose to 9,000 tons by 1999. Corn production, which had been hovering at 18,000 tons per year, rose to a reported 38,000 tons in 1999. Dry bean production was 5,000 tons. Export earnings from sugar in 2001 exceeded US $35 million. Belize's sugar industry is heavily dependent on preferential price markets; over 50% of its exports are sent to preferential price markets (principally the European Union). Citrus output (exported in concentrate form), expanded by 170% as new acreage planted in the late 1980s came into production and weather conditions were very favorable. In 1985, a consortium that included Coca-Cola paid B $12 million for 383,000 hectares (946,400 acres) northwest of Belmopan for a citrus farming project. Citrus thus displaced bananas as the country's second most important crop, although banana production went up by 32% following a decline in 1991. Banana production was aided by privatization and restructuring in the production and marketing areas, which has acted as a catalyst to improve technology (success in combating sigatoka disease) and infrastructure. Banana production, however, fell from 68,000 tons in 1994 to 45,000 tons in 1995 before rising back to 78,000 tons in 1999. Papaya exports total over 10,000 lbs monthly, and mango, peanut, pineapple, and winter vegetable exports are also on the rise.