Local Industry: The next phase of development for BelizeThe Rise of Cohune

In entrepreneurial time, every plan, even the most well-organized one, is exponential in length. Everything takes time and “entrepreneurial luck” is largely based on preparation meeting opportunity. The driving force behind this venture, however, attributes the start of this journey to pure inspiration, which can appear in the most curious of places.

Diversification, a word that researchers conscious and economically sound minds consider constantly. This is especially poignant when we examine what the world has gone through and is still going through due to the pandemic. It is significant because diversification calls for strategic time considerations and when we consider the industry, uniqueness of the product. The world is shifting and emerging economies are realizing that local extractive industries with the potential of gathering foreign interest and investment may be the change that countries need. Belize is a small country with great potential power–a power that can be and will be harnessed not only through its once flourishing tourism industry, but beyond once we explore its natural resources. Our National Anthem observes: “Nature has blessed thee with wealth untold”, the Cohune Palm, and all its potential is one such natural resource.

The story of Cohune is one of resilience and stringent determination much like the plant itself. The idea of a large-scale Cohune industry dedicated to the development and redefinition of Belize’s economy was simple enough. Cohune oil is not uncommon in this small country with many local businesses. The inspiration came from a simple purchase of the oil and has developed into a venture which is over seven years in the making. However, fueling and driving a change in the machine is never without its share of trials and tribulations and Cohune is no stranger to these.

The question is inevitably thrown out with regards to this new industry- With the abundance of cohune countrywide, why hasn’t cohune been commercialized and taken a more dominant role in the Belizean economy?

The Idea and the drive

Cohune remains one of the most dominant palms in Belize’s green landscape. This monoecious plant requires little encouragement to grow, which when coupled with its resistance to damage by fire has secured it an indomitable reputation. For many decades its primary use to us has been somewhat isolated to serving as a yardstick to gauge the fertility of the land it occupies. In recent years, greater examination and exploration have emerged into its value as a crop. While it has been explored on a smaller scale, this story is focused on this crop‘s potential economically and socioculturally. On a larger scale, in 2012 a bid to make Cohune a viable alternative energy source was submitted to the Public Utilities Commission. This project was shortlisted and had also secured the necessary financing. It was the focus of a $350 million project for a 30 Megawatt (MW) facility aimed at supplying electricity to the Belize Electricity grid. The energy in the form of biomass created from burning the hard shells of the Cohune had the potential of placing Belize in a more sustainable position. The kernel itself would be cold-pressed to manufacture the oil. This project was tirelessly explored and secured the interest of European investors.

However, the beginning of the story of Cohune is not uncharacteristic of many entrepreneurial anecdotes. The plan to use it to generate biomass was the first iteration of the idea. First interactions, however wholesome as they may be, are often met with potentially destructive challenges or setbacks. In many cases during the creation of something truly meaningful the process can be impaired by challenges.  Political delays and roadblocks placed this project in a tumultuous position and stagnated its further development. However, Cohune, like the founder of this enterprise, is an energizer, both exhibit great resilience. The push to include it in the economic reconstruction of Belize endured after its first idea iteration.

Why now and what has changed?

Since its introduction as a prospect for a biomass industry, with a reach in several other sectors, Cohune has reconstructed its concept and redirected its plan. The appreciation of the potential of this crop should be coupled with an understanding of the external factors which almost daily are pointing to the need for such an alternative and national industry. There is growing evidence that while many major industries are present their yield, several are declining. Cohune is poised to be one of the most significant industries in the country. Belize like many of its

Caribbean contemporaries have placed their economy under the care of its once-thriving tourism industry. Tourism is a people-centered industry that has generated income for many in the territory. Then COVID-19 happened and the world experienced a paradigm shift in every sense. Limits were placed on migration and as death tolls increased, economies declined. This pandemic has forced the question and has forced a sort of economic introspection. While tourism can return energized, the real paradigm shift is the shift to create a diversified economy. 

What does Cohune mean for Belize?

Commercializing this palm is now aimed at ensuring it is an all-inclusive industry. The project which initially encompasses 30,000 acres catalyzes the rise of this national industry. Cohune which has similar properties as coconut offers diversity and once implemented will be a Belizean large-scale industry introducing unique products on the foreign market. Products that will emerge from this project include Cohune Oil for cooking (Cold-pressed); Cosmetics, Skin Care and Hair products, Alcohol beverages, Cohune Flour, Cohune-based snacks, and Bio-carbon products. 

What was once thought of as an energy industry has now evolved into a full-scale conservation project? The Cohune Industry is for Belize, it aims to include multiple rural communities in its extraction and processing. The creation of this enterprise will not only usher in a new era of local economic development, but it will encourage and assist in the development of a new Belizean Identity. It is geared at giving the people of Belize agency, an awareness that they can be involved and through their involvement, they are sustaining their future. As it relates to education, The Cohune Industry is aiming to encourage training and skill development for youths. More so youths in the communities where it is being farmed and processed can erase any economic inequality these same areas may have experienced in the past. It is the foundation of sustainable development, securing a skilled labor force by offering opportunities in all the fields that this industry will touch. With the creation of Cohune, products came with the eventual rise in employment rates. The opportunity for many Belizeans to enter into the numerous fields which can include, Administration, Technical/Technology, ales and Marketing, Road Building /Maintenance, Harvesting of nuts, Mechanical, and Surveillance/Patrols. This offers the opportunity for Belize to enhance its Gross Domestic Product placing it in a sound developmental position in Central America as well as the world.

Climate change, environmental degradation, and rising extinction rates continue to be pertinent challenges globally. The world is on the precipice of environmental turmoil. Belize can, through The Cohune Industry, stand as a landmark territory that has mastered the art of creating not only a unique national industry but an industry that is simultaneously protecting its environment.  Raising the economic value of the nut, securing its environs through vigilant security, limits the likelihood of poaching and destruction of the forests. It secures reafforestation by combating illegal agricultural activities in its secured acres. This usher in the era of Belizean consciousness of its environmental value. 

Cohune is an industry that is strengthened through strategic alliances, alliances that extend its scope not only to the government but to other stakeholders who hold conservation and economic development at great importance. It is community-inclusive and recognizes the value of youth. Economies are not built by adhering to paths that have been explored before, economies are built on the grit and determination of those entities who wish to venture beyond what is already known. This industry is set to offer a truly Belizean product with byproducts that are capable of changing the face of healthy, and healthy foods. If COVID has taught us anything is that change is inevitable, and as a collective, people can achieve great feats. As a tree, the cohune palm is a survivor, an energizer and it is capable of paving the way to Belize’s economic revitalization. 

Article submitted by Saidy Godette, Owner of The Art Shack

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