Expanding Agricultural Investment Opportunity In This Embarrassingly Blessed Market: Belize
Belize is a green and fertile place. Most everything grows here. This is a big deal, both in a current global context and also in the context of regional geography.
Central America and the Caribbean are running short of locally produced food. One reason is regional climate change. For the past couple of years, Central America and the Caribbean have been suffering through drought cycles that have caused severe crop losses. Meantime, more and more land in this part of the world is being given over to the production of cash crops. Countries can’t feed themselves on coffee, sugar, and bananas, and it’s all being grown for export outside the region anyway.
At the same time, the Central American diet is evolving. Increasingly, people in this part of the world are interested in expanding beyond their traditional beans and rice staples to eat a more diverse “Western” diet that includes quality meats, more dairy, and a range of vegetables.
Bottom line, throughout Central America, populations are growing and diet interests are broadening while available farmland is shrinking. Meantime, the only island in the Caribbean that is self-sufficient for the production of food is Jamaica. Otherwise, these little countries have little arable land. CARICOM estimates that the Caribbean as a region imports US$4 billion of food annually.
All these factors are creating increasingly dramatic market pressures… that in turn are creating opportunities in Belize.
Belize is the only net exporter of food in CARICOM and, unless current policies elsewhere in the region change, may soon be the only net exporter in Central America. It is not an overstatement to say that the countries of the Caribbean are looking to Belize, their nearest neighbor and their duty-free trading partner, to feed them.
When it comes to growing things, Belize is almost embarrassingly blessed, with vast amounts of unused arable land, an abundance of water, and a geographic location that makes it part of both Central America and the Caribbean. Land routes allow for easy shipment of food products throughout Central America, and good shipping connections make it easy to transport harvests to the Caribbean. Also note that CARICOM has a free-trade agreement in place with the EU, meaning that anything produced in Belize can be shipped duty free into that region. The demand for agricultural products from Belize is seemingly bottomless.
In the past couple of years, Belize has made major investments in its food-production sector, especially in large-scale commercial and industrial operations focused largely on corn, soy, and beans. A lot of this investment has been in Cayo, where a state-of-the-art corn mill and a drying plant have just been commissioned.
In the north of the country, the main crop is sugar. Historically it was a small farmer’s cooperative that managed sugar production, but now bigger players are coming in, investing in a plantation and refinery in the north with a view to exporting all around the world. Farmers in the north also grow rice. Across the country you find plantations of citrus and bananas, traditionally our strongest agricultural industries. We also have shrimp and fish farms, including tilapia and experimental cobia farms.
The recent implementation of cattle testing in Belize has opened up the possibility of exporting livestock to Guatemala and Mexico. Previously, because of tuberculosis concerns, all Belize beef had to remain in the country. That changed last year, and now the borders are officially open. The price of livestock in this country has doubled in the last several months as a result, and livestock farming is attracting a lot of new attention. All livestock in this country is grass-fed with no grain finishing.
The most common and popular meat in Belize is chicken. We have a quality poultry industry here; the growing conditions mean that Belize poultry is healthier than poultry in a lot of other countries, especially in the region. The pork produced here is also good quality. Both these markets are prime for additional investment.
A new industry that is getting attention is papaya. The conditions for growing it are ideal here, and fresh papaya is shipped from Belize to the United States several times a week. The U.S. market for this crop is growing.
Other markets worth a Belize investor’s consideration include chia, tropical fish, organic produce (you can get three crops a year easily in this country, and some farmers squeeze out four crops annually), and neem. This last is an amazing tree initially from India. The leaves are a natural pesticide that can be brewed into a tea and that will kill most pests that might attack your crops. The berries can be crushed to make a natural fertilizer.
Belize is also a prime choice for a long-term investment in forestry. In addition to teak, this country is an ideal place to grow mahogany, rosewood (which is native), and ziricote, which is so valuable it is priced by the ounce. (One use is for the crafting of high-end guitars.)
I like the bay leaf palm. If managed well, these trees can last up to 15 years. The trees are rarer and rarer while the demand from resorts around the region and around the world is strong.
Of course, as I said, this is a long-term play. You can look for thinning harvests from Belize teak at years 7 and 15, but the real harvest won’t come for 22 years. Ziricote is even slower growing; you’re looking at 30 years before you’ll see a return from a ziricote tree. Mahogany is a medium-growth wood (13 to 20 years to maturity). Rosewood trees are harvestable after about 30 years…