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The Cohune Belt
Thu, May 27, 2010
You all know about the Banana Belt in the south, the sugar cane belt in the north and the citrus belt which is also in the south. But what about the Cohune belt? Well that runs through the Belize river valley where the cohune palm is abundant. But the nut gives that precious oil does so only grudgingly and now the Flowers Bank community has mechanized the process to make oil extraction a commercial, community based venture.

The plant was opened yesterday and 7News was there.

Jules Vasquez, Reporting
The cohune may be the definition of a tough nut to crack, but once cracked the cohune oil that is extracted from it is sought after and valuable. The history of the nut itself runs deep inside the Belize river Valley

Ruben Rhaburn, Community group member
"We used to do this cohune oil thing for many many years. I could remember when my dad use to go to the Mahogany work. In those days you sign up for 6 months. Then you get an allowance. An allowance with a big family will run out before they come back from Mahogany work. These same cohune use to help our family surviving until our dad comes back from Mahogany work."

But even then, nut cracking was a painstaking process.

Ruben Rhaburn
"We use to take the old axe that is not good and put a sharp stick in there then you get a rock stone and then you break the nuts. That was a very hard process. Then to refine it you had to beat it in a 'mata', a 'mata' is something that is made out of a round wood then you have a small stick to pound it until it is refined. It was very hard. We had to do it to survive."

That work is now partially done by this clanging machine which cracks the cohune nuts which were already de-husked by another machine. He manually feeds it and they roll out to be cracked by these grooves which bind and crush the nuts. It might not look exotic or high tech but it is functional and time saving:

Ruben Rhaburn
"What would take us to do maybe in a day, this machine will probably do it in an hour."

Hon. Edmund Castro
"I remember back in the days, what was done there in about 30 seconds would normally take 1/2 hour to 45 minutes to break cohune. This facility will enable the people of Flowers Bank to take care of the people of Flowers Bank much so than have to go out and depend and look for jobs. All the jobs now are here in Flowers Bank that can sustain each and every family here in Flowers Bank. "

And self sufficiency is the goal.

Hon. Edmund Castro
"This facility here in Flowers will enable the people here in Flowers Bank to produce enough cohune oil that we can send to the international market and thus bring in much needed foreign exchange for Flowers Bank and the rest of the country."

"How will this improve your way of life?"

Ruben Rhaburn
"We will always have money to purchase some of the things that we need, not what we want but things that we really need."

There are three machines and an entire production facility funded the Belize Rural Development Program and the UNDP

Diane Wade Moore - Program Analyst, UNDP
"Cohune oil and a lot of by-products of this process have markets internationally. The idea behind this project was to grow this industry locally and then grow it to an international market."

Ruben Rhaburn
"Our dream is to produce oil by the drums. We want to produce so that if we get a market we can sustain that market. A lot of time we can get market but then we can't sustain it. So the only way we can sustain the market is to get as much oil and have it stored until we get a market."

But before they get to dreams, they'll have to get everything working right. Hear that mighty roar? Well that was the first and last gasp from the grinder: that's right, it broke because persons with no training took over and loaded it with nuts before they started. A delay-causing SNAFU but it should not stand in the way of realizing a dram.

Ruben Rhaburn
"You know sometimes when you are sleeping and you dream and then when you wake up you wish that dream was true. So, this was a dream for me and now its reality. We will try and do our best to make sure this facility is use to the best of our ability."

The machines were designed and assembled by Rodla construction and cost sixty thousand dollars. Repairs are being looked after for The one that grinds the cracked nuts. Apparently the machine has to be turned on before the nuts are put in; what happened yesterday is that the nuts were put in and then it was turned on.

The total investment is 350 thousand dollars. Further investment will be provided for bottling and labeling and a business office.

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