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Belize’s Shrimp Industry Rebounds

Jul 5, 2023

Belize’s Shrimp Industry Rebounds

The local shrimp industry has a new lease on life after almost a decade of recovery efforts. Back in 2015, a viral infection known as the Early Mortality Syndrome devastated the industry. Hundreds of employees lost their jobs and tens of millions of dollars in losses were recorded.  For years, multiple methods were implemented without much success. The industry is now utilizing a technological and scientifically proven method that not only prevents the deadly disease, but also contributes to yields of up to seven times more than the industry’s peak in 2014. News Five’s Paul Lopez reports.

Paul Lopez, Reporting

Belize’s shrimp industry is rebounding and has the potential to surpass the national production volumes of 2014, when the industry was at its peak.  That’s according to Alvin Henderson, the President of the Belize Shrimp Growers Association. This news comes after almost a decade of downward spiral in local shrimp production.

Alvin Henderson

Alvin Henderson, President, Belize Shrimp Growers Association

“In 2014 I think it was a good place where you could provide some reference. In the year 2014 high currency earnings in this industry was just about ninety million dollars. In terms of actual production, that is the lion share of it was exported, some of it was being consumed locally, with prospects for massive expansion because this industry doesn’t go into markets for preferential access and all that. With shrimps you have this wherewithal to actual go to many markets across the globe. So it is not restricted. So the opportunity for those involved in the industry was wide open. In 2015 we got exposed to a disease called the early mortality syndrome.”

The viral infection dealt a devastating blow to the industry, decimating shrimp production in Belize, leading to wide spread layoffs and tens of millions of dollars in losses.  This period also saw the closure of a couple of the major shrimp producers.

Jose Alpuche

Jose Alpuche, C.E.O., Ministry of Agriculture

“There is a viral infection in the industry. It’s been affecting the industry for a few months now. All farms have had to dry out, basically stop production to clean out and then restart. The industry is taking a little bit of a difficult…let me say they’re taking the hard way around it but it’s the best way to restock with new genetic material, and that’s the wisest decision that they could have taken. It’s taking a little time. Originally they thought that they would be able to restock by early next year, but it appears that we will have a few months delay in that industry.”

The Development Finance Corporation has been a longstanding industry partner, even before the viral infection. DFC had been patient with industry stakeholders, as several attempts were being made towards rebound. In February 2021, the lending institution was faced with a critical decision.

Henry Anderson

Henry Anderson, Chief Executive Officer, Development Finance Cooperation

“You roll back to February 2021. From the DFC perspective our exposure to shrimp is one of the biggest exposures on our portfolio. So we looked at how we should approach it. Should we stay or throw in the chips. In talking with one of our clients, we were talking about the science of a new way of growing shrimp. So we looked at the science and the science made sense. So, we decided to make another investment to try the science. It worked, I think we are about eighteen or nineteen, field trials later, or harvesting later and the numbers are solid, around ninety percent survival rate.”

So, after almost a decade of trials and errors, science and technology have proven to be the solution the industry was desperately seeking.  The new sanitation technology prevents Early Mortality Syndrome and other diseases.

Alvin Henderson

“In the past we use to do about two thousand, three thousand five hundred pounds per acre.  We are currently averaging about twenty-two thousand pounds per acre. If you ask me what is the secret behind this technology it is really very simple. It really has to do with sanitation. It is the ability to efficiently concentrate and rapidly remove this organic load. Almost without exception the diseases that are known to our industry are provoked or are made to accelerate quickly in the field because of the inability to control organic material.”

The industry is now at a point where it is able scale up to a point where stakeholders can collaborate locally and compete internationally. Recently, Cabinet approved the allocation of six million dollars in financing, through DFC, to lend shrimp growers.

Henry Anderson

“What we are seeing is the potential opportunity to get out of the commodity space. So we don’t only export shrimp. We export branded shrimp and that might be we, when i say we the industry, have to join ventures or set up shop aboard where send stuff, sell it and we are controlling the brand. If you look at the economics of things over time, over ten years or fifteen years, depending on the life cycle, the farmers are always on the short end of the stick if you are just doing commodity.”

According to Cabinet, the government will also request that Belize Electricity Limited applies the industrial rate to the shrimp farms.

Alvin Henderson

“The reason why that request even came to the table is because with this technology energy is such a significant portion of your production cost. We estimate that based on the trials we have done it is about twenty two percent of our production cost.”

Reporting for News Five, I am Paul Lopez.