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  • Writer's picture@ Cynthia Adina Kirkwood

Soybean Oil Refinery to Crown Belize’s Success

(Photo by the Ministry of Agriculture, Food Security, and Enterprise)


“So confident is the farming community in the soybean success story” that a soybean oil refinery is expected to begin operation in Spanish Lookout, Cayo District, in July, said Jose Abelardo Mai, Belizean Minister of Agriculture, Food Security and Enterprise to the House of Representatives.


“The processing capacity of the plant is 12 tons of oil on a daily basis,” said Mai, according to Breaking Belize News (March 24).


“Belize currently extrudes 5 to 8 tons of soybean oil per day. So, the intention is for this refinery to buy all soybean oil from farmers in the north. This will still leave the plant will some additional capacity as soybean production continues to expand.”


The US$12 million investment in Cayo District will render Belize’s first refined – not crude -- soybean oil selling both on the local market and available for export, said Minister Jose Abelardo Mai. Crude oil fetches a much lower price, he told Love FM (August 23, 2023).

From the soybean, soybean oil is extruded for human consumption. After this process, what is left is soybean meal, which is normally mixed with corn and sorghum and used as animal feed, reported Breaking Belize News (January 7).


Minister Mai said that the Government of Belize has exempted the importation of processing equipment from duty just as it had on the Blue Creek plant that will produce soybean meal and sell crude soybean oil to the Spanish Lookout oil refinery, reported Breaking Belize News (March 24).


“The Ministry of Finance allowed the importation of these equipment duty-free so that it’s an incentive for investment to occur in the country,” Mai told Love FM. “As a result, farmers realized that we, as a government are serious and then they started to plant more soybean. The soybean extraction plant is a cooperative of farmers in Blue Creek. The oil refinery is owned by investors in Spanish Lookout.”


Belize has become the only country in the Caribbean and Central America that is self-sufficient in soybean and is exporting soybean and soybean oil.


The soybean industry, which is key to food security in Belize, is no longer dependent on imported soybean concentrates to mix with local corn and sorghum for animal feed. Minister Mai, an agronomist who raises beef cattle, said that soon Belize will not have to depend on imported oils, lard and fats for use in homes and restaurants, reported Breaking Belize News (March 24).


“From zero acres of soybean in the 1990s, we became self-sufficient in soybean in 2021, producing a record 38 million pounds, or 380,000 bags of soybean, from 28,000 acres that was planted,” said the agricultural minister.


“And guess what? If 2021 was not record enough, in 2022, farmers planted 36,000 acres and harvested over 55 million pounds, allowing Belize, for the first time, to be able to export soybean meal to Caribbean countries and Guatemala.”


A total of 64.2 million pounds had been harvested in the following year, the agricultural minister told the House of Representatives, according to Breaking Belize News (April 4).


Mai said that it has not been easy as the effort began 25 years ago, but now the industry has produced the desired results, reported Breaking Belize News (March 24).


He said that much has been accomplished yet, there are still many challenges that the Ministry is working on. He told Love FM:


“Any country that produces its own corn, its own rice, its own soybean, controls the price of food. When you don’t have to import your soybean, you control the price of poultry, of pork and of, sometimes, beef because that is the highest cost in livestock production. Let’s say in poultry production the highest cost is feed. So if you produce your own corn and your own soybean, then you can have control over your costs.”

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