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About Belize
 

The Economy of Northern Belize

At the moment, agriculture comprises a fundamental sector of the economy of northern Belize. Agriculture falls into two different groups… The first is the export sector, which consists mainly of sugar and second the domestic sector, which provides vegetables, fruits, dairy products and meat for the resident market. Agriculture not only produces the most wealth and employs the majority of the people, but also feeds the country. For this reason the government assists farmers by providing technical support, incentives and export encouragement.

The major sectors of the economy of northern Belize are livestock, sugar cane, fisheries, logging and forestry, tourism and the Corozal Free Zone.

Sugar cane was introduced to northern Belize in the late 1840’s from the Yucatan and continued to be produced through the construction of the sugar factory at Libertad in 1935. The industry experienced slow growth until the 1950’s when the lands used to grow cane expanded from 2,000 acres to nearly 40,000 acres utilized for cane production today. Sugar production occurs at one factory operated by Belize Sugar Industries, Ltd. The facility processes the cane production supplied by more than 4,000 farmers.

The Mennonites of Belize are certainly the largest and most efficient farmers in Belize. They supply the country with 90% of its poultry and eggs. In recent years Belize has become totally self-sufficient in pork, beef, poultry and eggs mainly due to the entrepreneurial efforts of the Mennonite community, which also produces a wide variety of dairy products as well as producing ample stocks of corn, rice, beans and animal feed.

There are many small farms that grown rice, corn, beans, plantains, bananas, vegetables, citrus, sugar cane and a variety of other fruits. The smaller farms are usually family owned and operated, taking care of all aspects of farm business from seeding the crop to selling the crop at local markets.

Forestry, once the foundation of Belize’s economy no longer has the importance it used to have. Over half of Belize is still covered with forest, however, most of Belize has been logged. Today, northern Belize protects and manages some of the remaining productive forests. A great deal of the lumber harvested today is used in the local markets. The types of lumber include mahogany, sapodilla, buttonwood, cedar, santa maria and soft pine. The Mennonite communities log their own trees for construction as well as to make furniture.

Fishing is a very important part of the Belize economy. In 2001 the fishing industry accounted for 7.2% of the gross domestic product. This industry has grown from a subsistence activity to a strong commercial industry in recent years. Belize exports to the Caribbean, the U.S. and Europe. Export opened in the 1920’s with lobster and conch being the top export products. The fishing industry thrives in many towns along the coast of Belize. In northern Belize the towns of Sarteneja and Corozal are known to have experienced fisherman who rely on lobster, conch and fin fish to earn their livings. The fishing seasons for lobster and conch are:

  • Conch (Strombus gigas): Shell length must exceed seven inches and the market clean weight must exceed three ounces. Closed season is July 1st to September 30th.

  • Lobster (Panulirus argus): Minimum cape length of three inches and minimum tail weight of four ounces. Closed season from February 15th to June 14th.

The tourism industry today is unquestionably the fastest growing industry in Belize. It accounts for over 18% of the country’s gross domestic product, 25% of total foreign exchange earnings and represents one in four out of every job in the country.

 

 

  Northern Belize has a great deal to offer in tourism. There are numerous nature reserves, Mayan sites, jungle lodges and many outdoor activities such as canoeing, kayaking, bird watching, trailblazing, fishing and horseback riding.

Tourism costs are generally lower in northern Belize and often less crowded with more pristine environments to enjoy. Tourism has also just impacted northern Belize. The growth of tourism has made fishing less important to the local economy where many of the locals who used to fish for a living are now using their boats for tourist-based activities.

     
   
Altun Ha Mayan Archaeological Site    

The Commercial Free Zone Act of 1994 established a CFZ, Commercial Free Zone, at Corozal to attract foreign investment. The Commercial Free Zone Act is one of the most advanced and modern laws governing Free Zones. It allows business entrepreneurs tremendous tax free business opportunities. It is important to note in a CFZ all goods warehoused may be sold either retail or wholesale:

  • To ships that dock at ports in Belize
  • To diplomats of other countries
  • For direct export whether by land, sea or air
  • Entry to national customs territory

The CFZ is directly at the northern border with Mexico.

 

Natural History

The climate of northern Belize in general is vastly different from southern Belize. From January through May you can expect less than two inches of rain to fall each month. This time period is usually referred to by the locals of Belize as the “Dry Season.” From June through December, the “Rainy Season,” one can expect approximately six inches of rain to fall per month. The 80 inches of rain falling in northern Belize is quite a contrast to the 160 inches of rain falling in the southern extremities of the country. The climate of Belize is considered sub-tropical. Humidity is rarely oppressive for long and even less significant in the northern portions of the country where the humidity is significantly lower than found in southern Belize. The mean humidity of the country is 83% and with the prevailing trade winds high, humid days are not uncomfortable.

The temperature in Belize ranges from 50°F in the mountains to 95°F in the western districts with a mean annual temperature of 79°F. Traditionally, November and January are the coolest months having an average temperature of 75°F. May to September are the warmest months averaging 81°F.

Belize is a paradise having prevailing easterly winds averaging 10 mph. These “trade winds” blow intermittently between February and September reaching their greatest constancy in July. From October to January northeasterly winds predominate. These winds are a result of the southward extension of the North America cold fronts bringing overcast skies, strong northerly winds and cold damp air.

Tropical storms and hurricanes are not known to be frequent occurrences in Belize, however, the southeast coast of the United States has significantly more hurricane activity than Belize. The heart of the hurricane season in Belize is thought to be from late September to the end of October.

 

Vegetation

Northern Belize supports a wide and diverse variety of ecosystems. Lowland broadleaf forests blanket the escarpments of western Orange Walk and good portions of the Freshwater Creek Forest Reserve where rich, lime soils have built up over centuries. The nutrient poor soils have given rise to what is known as “pine ridge” where pine trees and savanna grasses thrive. Along many of the river ways and low depressions of northern Belize one can find freshwater wetlands and swamps often called “bajos.” And along the coast and the northeast region of the Corozal District lie extensive salt water swamps also known as “mangrove forests.”

The lowland broadleaf forests of northern Belize can be described as semi-deciduous rainforest. These forests are diverse in nature without having any one plant species dominating. Mahogany, cedar, sapodilla, ramon, cohume and figs are among the most common species characteristic of these lowland broadleaf forests. Often within these forests you will find immense trees forming a canopy so thick and dense that only occasional rays of sunlight filter down to the forest floor. The floor is generally a thick layer of decomposing flora. Heliconias, ferns, vines, orchids and bromeliads are all commonly found.

Right of entry to these lowland broadleaf forests is readily available at Chan Chich Lodge, the Rio Bravo Conservation Area and at the Freshwater Creek Forest Reserve where in most cases one can find well maintained trails winding through pristine forests.

The pine ridge they are often referred to are tropical savanna ecosystems having sedges, bunch grasses, shrubs, trees and palms that do not form a canopy. This ecosystem is usually water-logged during rainy season and completely dried-out during dry season. Most tree species found in these tropical savannas are somewhat fire resistant. They include Caribbean pine, oak, calabash, craboo and palmetto. The savanna does support a variety of birds, mammals and reptiles.

 

 

Freshwater lagoons, rivers, wetlands and swamps of northern Belize are truly the lifelines of the northern districts. They provide nutrients, wildlife and drainage from the occasional rains from the interior of the country to the Caribbean Sea. Exploring these waterways is best done by kayak or canoe either early in the morning or late in the afternoon. Riparian forests are the forests along the rivers. They provide densely rooted systems that hold soil together and prevent quick water flow from carrying away the river banks. The vegetation often forms a canopy rich in habitats for small mammals and birds. The freshwater lagoons are marvelous places to explore since they are stocked with an abundance of invertebrates, fish and wildlife.

The Shipstern Wildlife Sanctuary located at the northeast corner of northern Belize has one of the largest mangrove lagoon systems in the country. These mangroves and coastal lagoons have proven to be some of the most productive and important ecosystems for the continuing health of the marine coastal zone. Essentially biological debris is carried from the interior forests by the fast flowing rivers and waterways to the river deltas and shorelines where the flow of water slows and spreads nutrients on the bacteria rich bottom. The bacteria serve as food for microscopic invertebrates, which are in turn ingested by macro invertebrates like crabs, larvae, fish and shrimp. The feeding process continues up the food chain to the larger predators such as reptiles, small mammals, manatee, tarpon, snook and egrets.

 

Wildlife

Northern Belize’s diverse ecosystems provide for a wide variety of wildlife primarily due to the fact that there are expansive areas of undisturbed land virtually intact and relatively low levels of human contact. Below are descriptions of the more common species one may encounter when touring each of the various ecosystems of northern Belize.

The lowland broadleaf forests of northern Belize support two species of monkey. The Howler Monkey, known in Belize as the “baboon” live in the tree tops and feed on fruit and leaves. They can be heard howling early mornings and evenings. The Spider Monkey also lives in the tree tops, however, is known to be more agile than the howlers.

Five species of wildcats are also found in the broadleaf forests. The Jaguar, Puma, Ocelot, Margay and Jaquarundi. Northwest Belize is an area with probably the largest cat population because the natural prey has not been hunted out.

White-tailed deer sightings are commonplace. Grey Fox are commonly sighted also. And armadillo and opossums can be seen at night. One of the most frequently seen night time mammals is the Kinkajou, which is found high in the canopy and easily located by their eye shine.

Belize’s national bird, the Keel Billed Toucan can more easily be heard than seen since the dense flora of the canopy prevents easy sightings. Other bird species readily seen and heard are the Blue-Crowned Motmot, the Montezuma Orependola, the large Occellated Turkey and the Great Tinamou.

While often thought of as having little life, the pine ridge and savannas of northern Belize often have wonderful animal sightings. One of the most frequently seen animals is the Grey Fox. It feeds on insects and small animals. The Nine-Banded Armadillo can be found searching for ants, termites and insects. The Puma is certainly the top predator of the lowlands savanna ecosystem of northern Belize.

Birds are seen throughout the savanna habitat. The Yellow-Headed Parrot, the King Vulture, the Forked-Tailed Flycatcher, the White Flycatcher, the Aplomado Falcon and Vermillion Flycatcher are just some species found to name a few. Reptiles include the Anole Lizard, the Rainbow Ameiva and the Cane Toad, which protects itself with its poison glands on its skin causing headaches and nausea if ingested. The best time to view the savanna is early morning or late afternoon when its creatures are out and about. Tread quietly and lightly and bring a pair of binoculars.

The wildlife associated with the freshwater rivers, lagoons, wetlands and swamps in Belize are closely associated with the savannas of northern Belize. These areas are loaded with food sources for plants and invertebrates making up the lower level of the food chain. As a result of this rich food source many resident and migrant birds are attracted to this area.

Characteristic birds that can be seen in these habitats include Woodstorks, Ibis, Herons, Spoonbills, Egrets, Agami, Rails, Cormorants, Anhingas and Bare-Throated Tiger Herons. One of the most common birds found here is the black hawk-like bird known as the Snail Kite, a predator capable of extracting the body of an Apple Snail from its shell. This bird is primarily responsible for all the beautiful shell littering the banks of the lagoons and rivers of northern Belize.

There are two important reptiles found in the waterways of northern Belize. The Hickatee Turtle, widely hunted by locals for its meat, feeds on leaves and fruit found at the deep river and lagoon banks. The Mocelet Crocodile lives in inland lagoons and rivers feeding primarily on small mammals and birds along the shoreline. Due to the high quality of its skin, a large number of Mocelets were severely depleted by hunting and indiscriminate taking of skins. Increase development of the rainforest areas has also threatened the survival of the species and caused a dramatic and steady decline in their numbers.

The animals that inhabit the underwater regions of the mangrove and coastal lagoons are plentiful, however, these animal must be able to tolerate the sudden changes in water salinity. Life flourishes for such invertebrates as Tunicates, Sponges, Anemones, Barnacles and Oysters which live on the root system of the Red Mangrove. Grouper, Snapper, Lobster and Crabs begin their lives in the protection of the mangroves before moving to deep water.

The birds, reptiles, mammals and invertebrates also enjoy the protection the mangroves have to offer. In addition to the security the mangroves provide rich food sources and a perfect habitat for reproduction.

The Wood Stork, one of the largest birds in Belize is found in rookeries within the coastal lagoons. Other species such as the Heron, Ibis, Egret, Spoonbills and White Crowned Pigeons also frequent the coastal mangroves. There is no shortage of food. They feed on crabs, worms, small fish, insects and the abundant shrimp populations of the habitat.

Characteristic reptiles that frequent the mangrove and coastal lagoons include the Anole Lizard. Small snakes feed on the insects and young birds of the mangroves.

The most interesting and impressive mammal found while exploring the coastal mangrove habitats is the West Indian Manatee. These endangered species feed on the turtle grasses of the shallows around the mangrove islands along the northern coast. Other mammals are less abundant, however coatimundi, raccoons and squirrels may be seen in the mangroves.



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