Santander: Sugar Production on The Horizon in Western Belize


Jose Rafael Rodriguez is the Chief Executive officer of the Santander Group - the parent company of Santander Farms, SS Energy and Santander Sugar. The operation of the company is located on a twenty thousand acres of land in the Cayo District. The facilities of the company are currently under construction and its primary goal is to grow sugar cane and produce sugar for export. Rodriguez says it all started with a childhood dream.

The media was granted a tour of the Santander Facility in Cayo. The Santandar group of Companies has been in Belize since 2008 when it first acquired land. Since then it has been developing in to a sugar producing factory.

Hipolito Novelo was part of the tour and here is his story.

“Since we were little my dad emigrated from Spain to Guatemala in 1954. He started a warehouse store and then he also loved to do farming. He started to plant sugar cane in 1967, the year I was born, and we as a family grew up in the sugarcane fields and we grew up thinking of doing a project like this all our lives. So we went to high school, university preparing for a project like this but we didn’t know it would be in Belize. We went to Costa Rica, Nicaragua, we even went to the States. We looked at an operation that is the only place that produces sugar cane in Spain, in the South, but in the end God brought us here and we found a place that we love the day we stepped here.”

According to Rodriguez, Santander group began purchasing land in the area in 2008. By 2013 the planting of sugar cane and the construction of all necessary facilities including the sugar mill commenced- a huge investment of over one hundred millions US dollars- it’s largest investment to date.

“We are investing here with a round figure of about a hundred and forty seven million US dollars. We are about sixty five percent of the investment already made here. In schedule we are a little bit behind as I mentioned before with all the issues that we have with the construction of the sugar mills basically but in the end we are here very advanced in the project. We planted the first fields with cane two years ago, we used that seed to plant bigger fields, to plant more areas and these days what you are seeing that we are planting is the fields that we are going to be harvesting next year.”

The company has employed about 800 persons- more than half that number are Belizeans and the remainder are skilled workers brought in from other countries. The company intends to harvest its sugar during a four month period. Over ten varieties of cane seeds were tested and only four are currently being use depending on several factors.

“We are in the first phase of the project that is the construction phase and we need to have skilled, for example certified welders to put together certain equipment that the manufacturers require that they are certified welders and we couldn’t find them here as fast as we need them. So we asked for the help from the Government to let us bring skilled certified welders to set an example because there are other kinds of jobs and we are a little bit behind on that but we are working with the government to give us the permits that we need to bring the people and to finish the things that they have to finish and they go back. With them having Belizean people working along with them, they will begin to start getting familiarized with the equipment and they will learn and as my sister was saying we are going to create our basic labor force from here and when we get an established group we will send them to other countries to learn the process specifically for one and every process.”

“The preference is for efficiency, for being more productive, or rather the mechanized or manually to be the most efficient we can be. We really look at our business and being one of the most efficient businesses worldwide. It’s not sounding pretentious but being proud of our Belize investment, our investment, this is your investment so we really feel proud of that. Right now the most efficient way of productivity, from a productivity standpoint is balancing our activities through a mechanical way. That’s now. Technology is a lead for this so as long as we keep investing in technology going forward we will always look at it in that way – what the best way is to increase productivity and be more efficient way to produce sugar.”

Unlike the farmers in the north, Santander uses machines to plant and harvest its crop to increase efficiency. The company wills harvest its first crop in Jan 2016.