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Another year of drought threatens agriculture, including sugar cane farming, in Belize.

Solutions like water reuse and desalination could play role in preserving agriculture

The nation of Belize, a former British colony on the Caribbean Sea just down the coast from the Mexican state of Quintana Roo, supports a surprisingly cosmopolitan culture that includes Creole, Garifuna, Mayan, Mestizo, Asian, East Indian, and even Mennonite populations, all flourishing in the shade of the palms. And through this bustling, eclectic mix passes a steady stream of fishing tourists bound for blue waters and resorts. But all is not perfect in paradise. Drought has come again to Belize.

In early April of 2020, the National Meteorological Service (NMS) of Belize warned the nation to expect unusually dry weather, driven by the El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO), across large swaths of Belize until September, extending a 2019 drought.

Northern and central areas of the country — including Corozal, Orange Walk Cayo, and Belize City — are expected to bear the brunt of the drought, but ENSO is projected to stay in a neutral phase for the forecast period, leading to more uncertainty in forecasts for the season. Stann Creek and Toledo may be only slightly drier than usual or even normal.

Belize’s Sugar Industry

With groundwater levels and reservoirs already low from 2019, the agricultural forecast is daunting, especially for a sugar industry still recovering. In 2019, production of sugar cane was down approximately 30%, and growers now worry they are facing a similarly severe drought this year. Pests and diseases that thrive during dry spells are expected to proliferate during the drought, and fires will likely also become a problem.

Next to the Belize Sugar Industry Ltd. (BSI) sugar mill, which processes cane from 5,000 independent farmers, there is a co-generator fueled by burning bagasse (sugar cane fiber) from the plant.

The co-generator not only powers production, but it also provides 15% of Belize’s electricity to the national grid. Smaller sugar cane crops during drought might, therefore, threaten electricity production, as well as the 5% of the country’s GDP that depends on the industry.

The drought comes as the plant is facing the added responsibility of рrоtесting its еmрlоуееѕ from COVID-19 spread. Nevertheless, there are no рlаnѕ to shut the plant down, and although volume is down, higher quality cane is frequently grown under drought conditions. During the sugar harvest, BSI has been following social distancing and hygiene guidelines, and distributing locally made face masks to employees.

Protecting Water Supplies With Reuse and Desalination

The National Meteorological Service and the Ministry of Food and Agriculture, and Immigration (MFAI) urge water conservation across the board and warn ranchers and farmers that precautions will be necessary to mitigate livestock and crop losses.

With smaller, drought-stricken communities near coastlines, Belize is ripe for smaller-scale water reuse and desalination operations near the point of need. This type of decentralized treatment allows for flexibility not possible with large centralized plants, which require expensive pipe networks and in the case of desalination plants, run the risk of becoming obsolete with the return of rain, before they’re paid for.

Fluence has the experience, technology, and financing structures to quickly deliver solutions to produce safe, clean water anywhere in the world. The membrane aerated biofilm reactor (MABR) technology in Fluence’s Aspiral™ delivers a top-quality effluent suitable for reuse, while Fluence’s NIROBOX™ desalinates water at a price point that rivals that of larger plants. These Smart Packaged solutions are small, efficient, portable, quick to deploy, and can be resold or moved when needs change.

Both solutions offer high volume on the smallest footprint in the industry. Contact Fluence to discuss your Caribbean drought resilience plan.