Microfinance in Northern Belize by Christopher Brittain


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Microfinance in Northern Belize by Christopher Brittain

  1. 1. Microfinance in Northern Belize: by Christopher Brittain with the Belize Project Background: While in Belize I worked for the Belize Project, a Nashville based nonprofit that works in education, health, and micro-finance. It is run nearly single-handedly by Mac Kelton, its founder. In Belize, a student from the University of Tennessee, Connor Rogers, and myself stayed in a village called Patchakan, in the northernmost district of Belize, Corozal. During my last week in Belize, we were joined by three Vanderbilt graduates who all had degrees in economics, as well as Mac Kelton. Belize is a small country in Central America that has a mixed Caribbean/ Latin American culture. For a country of its size, its population is very diverse. Its official language is English, though large parts of the population speak Spanish, English Kriol, and native Mayan languages. The village I stayed in spoke mostly Spanish, and had strong ties to Mexico due to its proximity. The map to the left shows the locations I worked in as well as the roads I took while in Belize. The Runner Route: The project that Connor and I spent the most time on was a “runner route” project. This project started when Mac Kelton met several craftspeople in the small villages near Corozal, specifically a man named Rodney. Rodney lives in a less-than-great village right outside Corozal Town, San Antonio. He has had trouble getting steady employment, but he is a very talented wood-carver. Mac also noticed that the tourist shops located in Belize City and San Pedro did not carry many Belizean-made crafts. So, Connor and I went and surveyed these craftspeople like Rodney to see what they could make, how long it took them, and how much they charged. Then we went to the tourist areas, went into the shops, and tried to see if they would purchase these same crafts and if they would, how often and at what price. Ideally, there would be a large enough profit margin that the difference would be able to pay a middleman, or runner, who would travel to the villages each, pick up the crafts, and then take them to San Pedro, Belize City, and the Art Box in Belmopan. However, the high transportation costs and other transportation limitations prevented this particular idea from working out. We did, however, find stores willing to carry the crafts and one that would, after meeting the craftsperson and evaluating their work once, allow the craftsperson to mail their products to his store. The Rice Milling Project: One of the projects that Connor and myself worked on was the creation of a women’s group that would run a rice milling operation. This was also the focus of the Vanderbilt graduates during their week in Belize. Belize has many areas that are well suited to growing rice during the rainy season, including the Corozal and Orange Walk districts. In Orange Walk, a group of Mennonites has a large rice milling operation going, and along with their other operations, has become a dominant force in agriculture in Belize. These Mennonites, based out of Shipyard, will also clean rice for any farmers who come by. The problem is, it costs too much for most farmers, and the Mennonites have set a minimum limit of rice they will clean; most farmers grow significantly less than this minimum. Transportation, as I learned first-hand, is also quite difficult in Belize, and thus most farmers cannot even get their rice to Shipyard. As a result, most have stopped growing rice, and the Belizeans, who eat rice and beans for most meals, have started buying rice instead of growing it. Our project attempted to solve several problems. First, by placing a rice-milling operation in a closer village, and charging less, we enabled local farmers to grow rice. Second, by setting up an organized women’s group to run the operation, we employed members of the community who would otherwise go unemployed. We made the loan, as shown in the charts to the left and below. Conclusions: My experience in Belize was very educational. I learned far more about life in Belize than I did about micro-finance, however. I also accomplished 1.5 of the projects I set out to do, assuming the women’s group stays together and makes enough profit to pay off the loan. Within the next year, farmers in Corozal should be planting rice and milling it in Cristo Rey, and the runner route will be reworked and hopefully established.