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Citrus industry plagued by labour shortage

The citrus industry saw its worst first-quarter production in six years, the Statistical Institute of Belize reported this week, and a labour shortage has played a big role in the situation.

"Most of this decrease was due to the lack of labourers, so harvest was at a slower pace than normal," Christopher Hulse, a statistician with the SIB, explained.

According to SIB, citrus industry stakeholders said that a key factor in the labour shortage was the inability to obtain certain work permits to bring in labourers for harvesting. Industry insiders told The Reporter that the problem arose due to the borders being closed, followed by increased trans-border scrutiny brought on by the COVId-19 pandemic.

However, despite the hardships in the first quarter, the SIB's data showed that for the period January-May 2022, earnings from citrus exports were up by 16.8 percent. Revenues for the period totalled $20.8 million, a $2.9 million increase from the same five-month period in 2021.

Earlier this year the Government of Belize announced that it would be investing $15 million into reviving the citrus industry. The ambitious three-year project also saw the return of former Chief Executive Officer of the Ministry of Agriculture, Hugh O' Brien, contracted as a consultant to spearhead the industry's revival and diversification.

O'Brien lamented that the Citrus industry back in 2005, produced 7.8 million boxes of fruit, but by 2020, had produced only 1.4 million boxes. During the labour shortage this year, he issued a call to Belizeans who were seeking employment to take up open spots in the citrus industry to pick oranges.

For the first quarter this year, citrus fruit deliveries decreased by 31.2 percent from 35,000 metric tons to 24,500 metric tons.

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