Less than one hundred miles from San Pedro, Belize’s largest yearly Agriculture Show is held in the capital city of Belmopan. While many island residents avoid attending; complaining of extreme heat and crowded, dusty fair grounds, The San Pedro Sun decided that we’d make a go at it and decide for ourselves whether this highly anticipated three day event is worth the journey and the seasonal temperatures. While the event started on Friday, our best bet was Saturday and Sunday to get a really good feel for the show. Being that the last time I went to an Agriculture show was over fifteen years ago, I must admit I was quite excited. So much so, that I took the first flight at 7AM on Saturday from San Pedro en route to what could quite possibly be one of the best weekends in a long time.
After a short fifteen minute flight onboard Tropic Air, I arrived at the municipal airport in Belize City. The day promised to hold up well. As we approached the city the sky was vacant of any clouds and the sun was rising high, illuminating the city and promising a fiery heat. A cab ride took me to the City’s bus terminal on West Collet Canal, next to the Queen’s Square Market. There are several options to get to the trade show grounds at the outskirts of Belmopan. One can fly directly to Belmopan from San Pedro via Tropic Air. Another option would be to rent a vehicle and drive on down to the Capital. For those on a strict budget (i.e.: ME) the bus from the city will get you there in about two hours (depending on the amount of stops). Ordinarily the Western Highway is pretty easy to traverse – if a little winding – but no steep hills and minimal traffic. However being that it was the “Agric Show” weekend, the Western Highway was quite busy.
Just boarding the bus is an adventure. Unlike conventional bus systems where purchasing a ticket means purchasing a seat, public transportation in Belize is every man (or woman) for himself. I arrived about two minutes prior to the departure of the 7:30AM bus, which was pretty much PACKED. With all seats full and the promise of many check points during the busy weekend, drivers were taking no chances. So, I had to wait for the next bus which arrived thirty minutes later. As the clock ticked and the time moved, the crowd started converging into somewhat of a line. The makeshift line lasted until the bus arrived; that’s when chaos erupted as the group pushed and prodded to try and get a seat. Caught in the crush of the crowd, I thankfully lucked out and found a seat.
Two hours later and after various stops along the way, we arrived in Belmopan. At 10AM, the sun was not at its highest point and there was a nice, constant breeze. With heightened security at the gates, each individual was checked for weapons as a metal detector was moved along the body. Once cleared at security and the $5 entrance fee has been paid, the entire grounds are yours. This year the show was held on the 27th, 28th & 29th of April under the theme “Agriculture creating greater business opportunities, a healthier population and a more robust economy “.
The first National Agriculture Show was held on November 14 and 15, 1970, at the same location. In the official opening of the first show, Hon. Fred Hopkins Hunter, then Minister of Agriculture, Lands and Cooperatives pointed out the importance of the event, stating, “Today’s National Agricultural Show will go down in history as forceful expression of one of our National aspirations that is the greatest importance of Agriculture in our Belizean Economy.” Back then, he also stressed on the need for agricultural production to increase and be more efficient. That event saw over 10,000 visitors over two days of activities.
This year, the show spanned three days and I’m not certain how many attended but I can confidently say there were thousands. With four main ports of entry and exits, it was quite accessible with short lines for entering and exiting the grounds. The entire grounds is separated into about eight areas where exhibits are on display, showcasing livestock, small stock, cattle exhibit, a farmers’ market, horticulture and even mechanical rides.
The highlights of the show included Judging of Crops and Livestock displays; Judging of Commercial and Industrial display booths; Tractor operation contest; Coconut husking contest, Musical Entertainment by local musicians/groups; Horseback riding; Honoring the Farmer of Year; Rodeo; Dog Show; Canoe Race and the Motocross Show. With so much to do in so little time, there was no way to see and do it all, but let me share with you my experience.
The Agriculture and Trade show is the place where you can get some of the best deals on furniture, cell phones, plants, flowers, and even commercial equipment. Property owners had the option to visit the Lands and Surveys department booth where they were updating accounts or to simply check on your land record. Cellular World was offering cell phones for as low as $49; Fabrigas had their Industrial and Medical cases on display, providing oxygen, nitrogen, acetylene, argon, helium, hydrogen, and more. ProSolar Engineering was also at the grounds, encouraging green power for a green planet. HIV testing and counseling along with free condoms were available at the grounds and NEMO – National Emergency Management Organization was on hand, imparting information on being safe during emergencies.
One booth that really stood out to me was the 96 Orchid Garden. The adorable mini Bonsai trees definitely caught my attention along with the beautiful orchids. From the brightly colored phalaenopsis, the fragrant rhynchostylis, the king of all orchids the Cattleya, to the breathtaking Vanda, which takes five years to first bloom, they were all uniquely beautiful. Apart from the orchids, there was a huge variety of delightful cactus plants.
The Rodeo is one of the most anticipated events and takes place on both Saturday and Sunday. This event sees cowboys and cowgirls from across the country competing to win huge cash prizes and the pride of being named the best at what they do. Timing was of utter importance in all the competitions that took place in the rodeo section of the show.
When making your way through the various booth-lined pathways and looking at the individuals in attendance, one could easily deduce that not only is the show for agriculturally minded individuals but an occasion for the crowd to dress up, with UP being the operative word. Newest styles in fashion seemed to be the order of the day, with name-brand outfits paraded through the grounds, accompanied by the latest fashion footwear and accessories.
My personal take on all of this is that the Agriculture and Trade Show is a place to go and see what the country has to offer (which is quite a lot) so why not try to be as comfortable as possible while wearing appropriate shorts, shirts and nice sandals? And oh yes, don’t forget your rags/scarves, as the higher the sun gets, the more scorching it is. Hydrate, hydrate, and did I mention, STAY HYDRATED!
For more information about the National Agriculture and Trade Show in Belize, visit http://agriculture.gov.bz/nats/index.html