The IICA delegation formed part of local organizing committee for the recent Caribbean Food Crops Society meeting that was held in Belize City from 8th to 13th July. The event was well attended with over 50 technical presentations, from speakers around the Caribbean, on their research to improve crop production, control pests, or mitigate against climate change.
On Thursday, July 12, 2018, it was Belize's turn to arrange the agenda and it did so through a Farmers' Forum under the theme - opportunities for linking agriculture to tourism.
The presentations were dynamic and inspiring. They began with Alfredo Villalta from the Subway franchise explaining his company's standards for ingredients, such as precisely sized and coloured tomatoes, that go into their sandwiches and how they work with farmers to ensure these quality standards are consistently met. This was followed by a case study of a grower cooperative in El Salvador. Andres Baiza explained how the group organized themselves to supply products to the food industry.
In the afternoon presenters from two Belizean resorts - Allan Jeal from Chan Chich Lodge and Wolfgang Brandl from Ka'ana Resort - described how they tailor their hospitality to provide an agricultural experience for their guests. This included growing and processing coffee and guests collecting their own vegetables and eggs from the garden and taking it directly to the chef in the kitchen for meal preparation.
The day’s presentations culminated with Chef Karim Mejia calling for greater innovation and use of locally sourced ingredients - such as cassava and tropical fruits - rather than importing food they are used to back home. He emphasized how most people remember their traveling experiences from the food or drinks they consume and that Belize should be marketed for its exotic cuisine as much as for its culture, coral reef, beaches, forests and Mayan temples. Chef Mejia said there is a demand, but not the supply, for quality tomatoes and microgreens all year round and asked for the Ministry to identify precisely where and when such shortages occur and to work strategically with farmers and resorts to fill in the gaps.