by Dorian Nunez of Ambergris Today

While Belize Sugar Industries reports that cane farmers in Belize need to produce more cane per acre to be able to cope with the projected falling earnings of 2017, Belize’s newest Sugar production mill is set to crank up operations in February of 2016. Santander Group projects that the company’s production will grow the country’s agricultural GDP by a minimum of 4%.

Santander began working on their investment to construct and operate a new sugar mill in Belize back in 2008. The investment group has brought with them over 50 years of experience in the sugar industry that includes sustainable and efficient methods. Today the construction of the mill, located on a 20,000 acre property in the Cayo District, is well underway with less than a year away from their first milling season. 

The Guatemalan-based company chose Belize for this project after looking through a list of possible sites in Nicaragua, Guatemala, Costa Rica and even Brazil. Why Belize? Legal certainty, security and fertile land were just a few of the reasons that made Belize perfectly suitable for their investment, stated Santander. Belize’s important trade agreements with European markets (because of its Commonwealth status) and wit the CARICOM countries. 

The state-of-the art operations brings new technology to the sugar cane farming and milling industry that is poised to increase the yield of production, create new jobs for Belizeans and teach them new skills. The operation in Belize is said to be Santander Group’s largest agricultural development in this region, with a foreign direct investment of USD$150 Million.

The Santander Group points out that this very large investment will undoubtedly create jobs and opportunities for Belizeans, to not only work but to be trained as part of their apprenticeship program, where the local labor force can learn specific trades from international experts. Already the company hires 575 Belizeans which represents about 80% of their workforce. Other benefits to Belize include:

* The foreign direct investment of the company injects funds into Belize’s economy and promotes growth in multiple areas.
* The increase in export will solidify Belize’s current balance of payment which directly supports the stability of the value of the Belizean dollar.
* The syndicated loan that Santander has made puts Belize in the ledgers of Banks around the world and not only allows them to take notice of the country, but also establishes a level of comfort in continuing to support investments within the country. (Santander indicates that the group has managed to secure the first-ever and biggest syndicated loan for an investment in Belize. This opens doors for Belize to be able to gain this sort of financial backing for future investments.)
* The company indicates that it brings with them a high level of social responsibility and willingness to give back to the country. Their goal is to contribute in areas of education, infrastructure and culture in the communities directly surrounding the property.

You see all these benefits to the country come because the Santander Group is a fairly large company that consists of three branches that includes Santander Farms, Santander Sugar and SS Energy. Santander Farms is the company branch responsible for the agricultural processes involved in the sugar production – the planting and harvesting of the sugar cane along with all the additional steps involved in the process. Santander Sugar is responsible for the production and packaging of the final products for sale and distribution of sugar and molasses. This branch covers the industrial aspect of milling, production and distribution. SS Energy, which was recently selected by the Public Utilities Commission as one of the companies that will supply power to the local market, utilizes the bagasse, which is a by-product of sugar, to produce clean energy that can provide approximately 27% of the energy demanded by the local market.

According to BSI’s data, Belize’s sugarcane yield per acre ranks among the lowest in the world, a reality which can cost the country millions of dollars in lost revenue once the European Union discontinues giving preferential prices for sugar in 2017. The data shows that Belize only produces 17 tons of cane per acre, while Mexico produces closer to 30 tons. Guatemala, which has the largest production in the region, produces some 41 tons per acre.

After touring the property of Santander Group and learning all the positive aspects the new sugar company will have on the Belizean economy, the job market and the impact on social aspects of communities directly and indirectly impacted by the company, we can only look towards a positive impact on the sugar industry of Belize and benefits to its people.