Growing up, I always seemed to learn much more about my country via road trips with the family, than by sitting in school. While Belize isn’t one of the largest nations out there, it has some impressive natural resources. In school, we learned that the agriculture industry was what shaped Belize into the country it is today – by fueling its economy. I never really understood the magnitude of this industry until my first drive down to southern Belize.
Along the Hummingbird Highway and through the Southern Highway, lies an area called the Stann Creek Valley. Nestled between breathtaking mountainous terrains, this patch of land is known to be the most fertile in the country. It is here that you find the heart of one of Belize’s main contributors to the agriculture industry, the citrus farms.
Rows and rows of orange trees as far as the eye can see, dot the roadsides. The sweet scents emanating for the plantations attract a number of birds and even butterflies, making for a beautiful natural sight. During harvest season, you can see growers hard at work, picking ripe oranges by hand.
These sweet oranges are very important to Belize, making up 1.6% of the country’s Gross Domestic Product. But just how did citrus come to be so important to Belize? It all started back in 1913 when grapefruits were first cultivated in Belize for export to England. At first, it was nothing more than a small-scale operation to accommodate the needs of our mother country. But in just 41 years, the industry saw major growth, reaching the million-dollar export mark. With a steady stream of investment, the Belize citrus industry grew from just 900 budded grapefruit trees to close to 48,000 acres of farmland dedicated to the growing of oranges and grapefruit.
Even though the industry has experienced a couple of setbacks in recent years, it still accounts for a minimum of $79 million in exports and 2,800 jobs.
For me, being able always to have fresh OJ is the real perk of having a prominent citrus industry in the country. In fact, one of my favorite cocktails is simply rum and orange juice – an easy way to get my daily fruit serving. Citrus is such a big part of our Belizean society that you can get it pretty much anywhere; fresh oranges from street vendors or concentrates and juices at the local grocery stores.
Note: Talking so much about oranges has me craving one of my favorite fruit snacks. Known to locals as Holchoch, this is a refreshing dish made using slices of hicama and sweet oranges. I like to sprinkle mine with some habanero pepper salt and just a twist of lime… yum! This Belizean snack is sold by local vendors across the country for just a dollar or two per portion. It’s deliciously refreshing and a real throwback to our childhoods!