Agriculture Dept. Bets On Success Of New Agriculture Project
By Melissa B. Gonzalez Valentin
November 18, 2001
The major problem with agriculture in Puerto Rico at the moment is individualism, according to Agriculture Auxiliary Secretary of Economic and Agricultural Development Henry Cordoba Diaz, who is hopeful that the project known as agricultural production groups will increase by 20% the capacity for agricultural production on the island, thus reducing the import of products.
"We don't promote organization. We think only of us. We don't think of organizing ourselves and gaining strength. Each farmer produces and minds his own business. The farmers become producers, distributors, everything, when in fact what they should be doing is just producing. There should be an organization that groups all of them and allows them to market their products," said Cordoba Diaz, when he expressed his enthusiasm for the project. So far this year, 16 agricultural groups have been created, and three others are being developed in the sector of ornamental plants on the island.
The groups formed up to now are in the sectors of plantains; bananas; sweet potatoes; cassava and other starchy foods; green vegetables; hydroponics; rabbit meat, sheep, goat, and lamb meat; forages; pineapples; and ornamental plants.
Such groups consist in uniting farmers by sectors. Farmers invest capital to become share holders of a food processing plant, which in turn processes their products, labels them, and distributes them, and the farmers benefit from 48% of the sale of the final product, Cordoba Diaz said.
The Agriculture official said in order to push this project forward, some $70 million from the Loans Guaranty Fund of the Economic Development Bank (EDB) for lending up to $100,000 per individual and up to $1.5 million for processing plants are available. These funds are ensured by the $100 million that the Agriculture Department has at the EDB.
There are also $25 million from the Agricultural Infrastructure Program and more than $50 million in tax credits.
These funds are focused on helping in the investment and acquisition of machinery and technology in farms with the purpose of improving production and the quality of products and to reduce the prices of local products.
While saying that the local agricultural production represents less than 25% of a $4 billion industry, Cordoba Diaz believes that the grouping system will help improve the Puerto Rican economy, since it would stimulate other industries that provide materials for packaging, thus bringing the opportunity of creating jobs for trained Puerto Rican professionals in the areas of high technology.
However, Cordoba Diaz admitted that part of the future success of the project relies on changing the perception of the consumer regarding local products.
"What is most important is that we must emphasize that the local product is a fresh product," said Cordoba Diaz, who added that the department already has an allocation of $3 million to begin an advertising campaign to promote the consumption of local products under the trademark of the Agriculture Department of Puerto Rico.
"All of these groups that I'm talking about will market their products under the trademark of the Department of Agriculture. In January, we will begin to promote the label D'Aqui (from here) which is the trademark of the Department of Agriculture," he said.
The idea of the local government to use funds to promote the technological development of the land instead of promoting direct aids or subsidies to farmers to increase production is not new. The European Union, for example, has made several reforms to its agricultural policies in that same direction, resulting in an increase of production, exports, and a decrease in market prices.
"That is the new tendency of the new agriculture around the world, because farmers won't be able to subsist individually. They must unite; they have to organize themselves. We are developing these production groups, and the role of the government in all this should be that the Department of Agriculture becomes an agency for fomentation and development," Cordoba Diaz said.