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Minister of Agriculture, Godwin Hulse today said that the allegation of potatoes saturating the market is misleading. While admitting that imported white potatoes are still on the market, it was not an oversight by the Ministry. Meanwhile, Orange Walk vendors say that they are depleting their stocks of imported potatoes and have begun buying and selling locally grown red potatoes this week. Dalila Ical has more on this story.

Modesta Vasquez: “What we want is that they allow us to finish selling what we have already meaning the other potatoes so that we can also get our money because that is an investment that we made. We cannot throw out the products.

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Dalilah Ical: ”Modesta Vasquez says her stock of imported white potatoes are almost sold out but she already has local grown potatoes for sale as well. She bought these from the Mennonite farmers of New Landing in the Orange Walk District. She says San Carlos Village farmers are only starting to bring their produce to this market this week. Agricultural Minister Hulse says that Orange Walk farmers hold account for roughly 15% of potatoes growers within Cayo having the largest group and a few in the Stann Creek District. He says they have been working to keep a steady supply of potatoes on the market to meet the demand.

Minister Hulse: “The Ministry has tried its best together with the Ministry of Trade to balance this out and as consequence you will find that time to time in any commodities you will find this kind of overlap. The impression given out there that they are being disregarded is completely false because what has happened is that it is a balancing effort but it is not as though that the Government is issuing permits to the ignorance or the disrespect of the farmers, none at all. It is a balancing process.”

Dalilah Ical: “And there is another problem that has affected farmers annually. A lot of the produce that comes through is contraband and that gets put on the fact that oh permits are issued. No they came in illegally and that is something we are also trying to work with. That is a comprehensive work, that is Customs, Police, Immigration, BDF etc. A lot of the stuff you see on the market is contraband stuff so you have got to bear that in mind as well.”

Dalilah Ical:“By midweek Orange Walk market venders began selling the local produce. There is however one small concern as voiced by Concepcion Rosa.”

Concepcion Rosa: “Starting this week there won’t white ones just the local. Because the permits have expired there is none but like how we have potatoes we have to sell what we have. The balance of the potatoes and the local ones are good. The only thing is that San Carlos does not bring good potatoes. He does not select potatoes, he just harvests and picks. He should select it. We understand that he takes good potatoes to Belize City and brings the ones that are good to Orange Walk. If we are going to handle local potatoes they should be good potatoes in the same way the Mennonites are bringing good potatoes then they can also do it. Select the potatoes and the ones that are not good, these should not be packed in.”

Dalilah Ical: “And spoilage as it turns out is also a problem for farmers who have inadequate or low storage facilities.”

Minister Hulse:”The issue with potatoes in this country really is storage because everything tends to come in at one time and you have to have that storage so that we save. The Ministry is also working with some people with that in terms of processing and their ability to store and hopefully we should be able to get on top of that.”

Dalilah Ical: “And what of prices? Part of the complaint was that imported potatoes were selling at a cheaper price and venders disagreed.”

Modesta Vasquez: “There is no difference because the white potatoes are sold for $1.50 and the red are potatoes are at $1.50 as well right now. We buy it at $1 and we sell it at $1.50. We make 50 cents on a pound of potatoes.”

Concepcion Rosa “It is still the same because we buy and sell at the same price so it does not affect us.”

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Agriculture Minster Godwin Hulse added that government has begun working closely with farmers to improve agriculture produce nationwide.