The Cooperative Department of the Ministry of Agriculture in collaboration with the Embassy of the Republic of China (Taiwan) ended on Wednesday, a three-day workshop on Sheep Management and Leather Training.
The objective of the program was to train 40 farmers from the Cayo and Corozal Districts in sheep management, improvement of sheep genetics and leather tanning as an innovative approach to sheep production. The training focused on improving management practices and genetic stocks in Belize for sheep production efficiencies and competitiveness.
In a productive session on Wednesday, within the Department of Agriculture’s Conference room in Central Farm, farmers learned about the impact of Climate Change on sheep production. Dr. Lennox Gladden, Climate Change Officer within the Ministry of Environment told farmers that increased temperatures will place a stress on sheep and increase the incidence of reproductive diseases, delayed puberty, fertilization failure, retardation of fetal development and still births.
Dr. Gladden also enlightened farmers that the water aquifers are a limited resource and “…the future will be a challenge.” Depending on the situations on the ground, he urged farmers to pump for one hour in the morning and another hour in the evening to give time for the water table to “re-charge.”
Moving water requires energy and it has a cost. Stored water after a heavy shower can be gravity fed to sustain the sheep.
According to Dr. Gladden, one solution to the expected change in rainfall patterns would be to invest in water harvesting by purchasing Rotoplasts. “We can no longer rely on wells,” he said.
Hugo Miranda from the Cooperative Department was also present this morning to share with farmers that with the new awareness, farmers can now implement on the ground.
Joining the farmers were representatives from the La Inmaculada Credit Union, who were offering them loans to upgrade their much needed water systems. The Credit Union from Orange Walk is offering up to $10,000.00 in loans to livestock producers who do not yet have a well.
Farmers had also spent some time on Tuesday at the Western Leather Cooperative in Santa Elena Town. At that location, the farmers saw for themselves how master leather man Patricio Molina processed cowhide into amazing leather crafts. Cowhide that was previously discarded can now be converted into value added leather products and can be an additional income for farmers. In addition to machete scabbards, Western Leather Cooperatives prepares its own sandals, cell phone and gun cases.
During the three days, farmers have learned about basic management principles, record keeping and farmers organization done primarily through the Cooperative Department.
It is expected that the Corozal Sheep Farmers will be officially registered as the Corozal United Sheep Producers Cooperative Society Limited. Hopefully the Cayo Farmers will now follow this model and eventually register as a formal organization to supply the domestic and international demand for sheep products.
It will eventually pay dividends to become organized, because we learned that there is a multimillion dollar market for mutton in both the Caribbean and Central America. The aim now is to satisfy the demand from a stock of some thirteen thousand sheep distributed across Belize.
Andrew Mejia, National Focal Point, Sheep Development within the Ministry of Agriculture has told the media that in the Region, the sheep industry has “spiked”. To satisfy the demand, his project has introduced new genetics in sheep thanks to the Taiwanese. But experts in sheep production are now advising farmers to become registered and have a traceability system in place that will pave the way in exporting sheep to countries in the Caribbean and the Americas.
Specialists like Hsu Chen Chih from Taiwan has advised farmers on how to maximize the use of their land for sheep production. Chih maintains that the feeding must be supplemented so that the lamb can grow faster.
Both lamb and mutton are valuable sources of protein and can be prepared in various ways. The likes of Entrepreneur Gustavo Velasquez from Santa Elena Town, who has his stand near the Hawkesworth Bridge, prefers to prepare his mutton on the grill.
According to the American Lamb Association, the three most common cooking methods for lamb are grilling, braising, and roasting. Grilling (or barbecuing) over hot coals is great for burgers and lamb chops. The lamb association recommends dry brining and salting the meat for about 40 minutes before cooking to help break down the proteins.
Braising is where meat is first browned in fat and then cooked slowly in a covered pan with a small amount of liquid. This can be done on the stovetop or in the oven, and this method is best for tougher cuts such as the shoulder.
The dry heat of oven roasting is best for more tender cuts like the rack or the leg. The meat is cooked uncovered and produces a brown outside and moist interior. Because mutton is tougher, a slow-cooking method like stew helps to tenderize the meat and bring out the flavor.
The Belizean dish is now being enriched with mutton and lamb. Thanks to the Taiwanese Mission’s 30 year of service in Belize, these products will now be reaching faster on our dinner tables.