Another friend may learn this lesson soon. He's planted thousands of coconut trees in Panama because coconuts have become a hot commodity for both their oil and their water. He made the investment in the plantings, though, before he had pinned down a sales outlet, and now he's scrambling to find a buyer. Probably he'll be able to sell his crops locally, but the local price won't get him the profits he projected based on international market values. I'm in the process of planting timber and fruit trees on 10 acres I own in Belize. My first question to the agriculture guy who's going to manage the work was, What can we sell easily locally? I know that the volume of production from the mixed trees I plant on my relatively small piece of land won't be enough to sell for export. Therefore, I want to grow things that the locals need and buy. The guy I'm working with recommended a couple of hardwood trees that few outside Belize have heard of but that are sought-after for local home building and wood working. It will be 15 to 25 years before these trees are ready for harvest, though, so I've got to bet that current demand won't shift over the next couple of decades. If it does, the trees still will have value as hardwoods, but the returns will be less than we're projecting now. For the fruit trees, again I'm going with what can be easily sold locally—avocados, bread fruit, bananas, and a few others. Once you're sure you have an outlet for where to sell your produce, then, unless you're interested in doing the farming yourself, you need an "operator," as one colleague with many agricultural undertakings calls the guys who do the work on the ground. Finding an operator can be easy enough in countries with an agricultural base. When this is the case, you'll find many companies in the business of running farms for people. Your challenge will be to identify one who has experience with your planned crop who you can also trust. My 10 acres in Belize won't throw off the same annual yields as a focused farm, but that's not the point with this land. This is more a personal experiment than a serious investment, and we intend to build a house here, too. Still, I'd say that planting trees is a good idea under any circumstances. As a friend who shares this perspective likes to say, if you need the income in 10 or 15 years, you'll be happy you planted the trees...and if you don't ever need the income, you'll be happy you planted the trees. Meanwhile, I'm researching pecans. Lief Simon
To get to Xalapa, you can fly into the El Lencero Airport (JAL). It's about 15 minutes from town, although the only airline there is Aeromar, which you'd pick up in Mexico City. Alternatively, you could go to the Veracruz airport (VER) for better connections, if you're willing to drive around one-and-a-half hours to get into Xalapa from Veracruz. In general, the Xalapa area is a great place to live and be a part of a thriving, energetic community with all the cultural and artistic amenities you could want. You'll find a great symphony, theater, and plenty of excellent restaurants...along with good and convenient shopping. Prices will not rise quickly, but for a super lifestyle at an amazing price in old, non-gringo Mexico, Xalapa will be hard to beat. Lee Harrison Editor's Note: This article ran earlier this week in our Overseas Property Alert edited by Lee Harrison. This once-a-week free e-letter service comes straight from Lee's laptop to yours as he's on the road scouting real estate markets of opportunity. Sign up to receive Lee's weekly dispatch here now. Again, it's free.
In fact, our chef is our new neighbor. He and his partner also have invested at Maya Spring Estates. They've already begun tilling their 3-acre parcel, preparing the earth for planting. James is a Cordon Bleu-trained chef with decades of experience, his partner a world-class baker. The pair has made their way to this spot in Belize to open a boutique restaurant. They'll prepare meals using ingredients grown on the property, one set menu each day. Last night Chef James' menu was cheeseburgers prepared over an open fire. Delicious. Another neighbor has begun construction of his guesthouse on his 5-acre parcel. This will be followed by gardens and then, later, the main house. Lief and I also plan to build a guesthouse and a farmhouse on our plot at Maya Spring. First, though, we're interested in getting some trees growing. The Maya Spring community barbecue last night was a chance for us to formulate a plan with resident horticulturist Con (the one with the flat tire). We have 9 acres to work with. About 1.5 acres will be given over to the farmhouse, guesthouse, and kitchen gardens. The remainder of the land we want to treat as a mini-plantation. Our idea is to plant timber intercropped with specialty plants prized by florists. Lief and Con considered different Belizean hardwoods—mahogany, cabbage wood, cedar, rosewood—and Con suggested two varieties of palms whose fronds are in great demand and saleable for relatively large sums even locally in Belize. "Let's start by planting 100 neem trees along the far perimeter," Lief suggested. "That'll create a wall for privacy and also help control pests." "No problem," Con replied. "Can you get 100 neem trees?" I asked. "No, I don't think so," Con admitted. "People here, they grow a few trees and sell them. You don't find anyone with large stocks of inventory. But I can work with a grower to produce 100 neem trees and everything else you guys want." "What about the harvests?" I continued. "We want to keep this experiment as simple and low-key as possible. We're working with a small piece of land. We won't be growing enough to make exporting the harvests worthwhile. Would we be able to sell the timber we're thinking of producing in Belize?" "Definitely," Con said. "The timber and also the palms. I've been working with a hotel out on Ambergris, for example, that wants hundreds of the specialty palm fronds I'm suggesting you plant per month, but they can't source them." Lief and I know next-to-nothing about farming. But we have an interest, based mostly on a natural curiosity and an affinity for growing things. We're not doom-and-gloomers, but we do also like the idea of learning how to be more self-sufficient. Our 9 acres at Maya Spring Estates is our first focused effort at this. We feel lucky to have connected with Con, the friend of a friend, who shares our passion for planting and backs it up with experience, know-how, and local connections. "Make it so!" Lief proclaimed to Con with uncharacteristic enthusiasm after we three had agreed a plan. Maybe he'd had one too many One Barrel rums. The Cayo sky was fully dark by now. Above us a bright moon and a blanket of stars...in the distance, beyond the hills, the lights of nearby San Ignacio. "Time to head out," I said to Lief and Jack. "Couldn't I stay here?" Jack asked. "I could sleep in one of these hammocks. Just cover me with bug spray and come back for me in the morning..." Kathleen Peddicord P.S. Whether you're after a place by the beach...or in the interior Cayo region (with its Mayan ruins, caves, rivers, waterfalls, and rain forest)... you'll find many options in this safe, welcoming, English-speaking haven. Registration for our Live and Invest in Belize Conference opens soon. To get on the Hot List—for VIP perks and to be notified of the best discounts—go here now.
Now that they've reached this important phase of development, the developer is planning a price increase. I'm writing today to let you know that I have talked them into postponing this for Live and Invest Overseas readers. I believe this is one of the best agri-land investment opportunities you'll find right now, and I want to be sure you have a chance to get in on the ground floor, so to speak. I also, as you know, recommend that you buy what you see...meaning you should, if you can, come see this organic mango plantation for yourself. The developer is offering a tour of the property in September and have agreed to hold current pricing for Live and Invest Overseas readers through the dates of that tour. One key risk in any agricultural project is implementation. In this case, at this stage, this risk has been minimized significantly. With planting underway, you can have a higher degree of confidence that your trees will be planted according to the contractual timeline. Another risk for any agricultural project is water, as I've mentioned. Farmers in California are having a rough time right now thanks to the prolonged drought. Panama is in the tropics and enjoys significant rainfall every year. Nevertheless, the developer here chose for his mango plantation land with several rivers running through it, including a river that runs year-round, even through the dry season. They have the rights to take as much water from it as they need. Market risk is something else to consider with any turnkey project. With an agricultural project, this translates to: Who is going to buy your product? Mangos are the most eaten tree fruit in the world. The market is large. That said, the tropical fruit markets in the United States and Europe could be considered in their infancy...but expanding big time. The USDA's figures for mango consumption between 1980 and 2012 show an increase of a staggering 896% (from 0.25 pounds per person to 2.49 pounds per person, on average), and the demand continues to grow. In 2013, mangos made up 39% of this market. Not all mangos are created equal. The agricultural partner of the developer behind the plantation in Panama has created a variety of the fruit that has more meat and is naturally sweeter than most any other mango you'll find. A quality product and a big and growing demand aren't a guarantee that you'll be able to sell your inventory, right? You have to have access to buyers. In this case, the developer already has a 350-hectare mango plantation in production and is selling those mangos to juice companies in Panama. These same outlets have said they'll take as many additional mangos as the developer can produce. Right now those juice companies have to import the vast majority of their mangos for processing, which is far more costly than buying locally grown fruit. While having that ready-made outlet available is great, it's not the most profitable strategy. Therefore, the developer is in discussion with several groups in the United States, from dried fruit wholesalers to grocery stores, lining up contracts for selling your mangos directly into the U.S. marketplace where they would be able to charge substantially more than the local Panama juice companies are paying. Selling directly into U.S. markets would mean a more profitable operation; however, the financial projections the developer has put together are based on selling at local Panama prices. In other words, the projections are conservative. Using those numbers, the projected annualized yield (or IRR) through 15 years (although the project will produce for 60 to 80 years) is 16.52% at the current investment price. The mango trees don't start producing until year four, but, when they do, the annual cash flow is very healthy. By year five, when the trees are fully producing, the yield on your original investment is projected at 30% per year. The investment price is US$33,500 per hectare right now. The developer hasn't finalized the plan for the coming price increase, but it will be at least 10%. As he's sold out phase one already and has started selling phase two, it's been a tough conversation to persuade him to hold the original launch price for a couple of months more for Live and Invest Overseas readers. But, as I said, he has agreed. If you're interested in an agricultural investment and like the idea of mangos or Panama, now is the time to take action. You can find out more here. Lief Simon
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Kathleen Peddicord is the founder of the Live and Invest Overseas publishing group. With more than 25 years experience covering this beat, Kathleen reports daily on current opportunities for living, retiring, and investing overseas in her free e-letter.
Her book, How To Retire Overseas—Everything You Need To Know To Live Well Abroad For Less, was recently released by Penguin Books.
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