HARVEST TIME

Colombia 2015 | AGRICULTURE | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Aurelio Iragorri Valencia, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, on integrating rural farmers into the national economy, regional disparities, and the recent success of Colombian agricultural exports.

Aurelio Iragorri Valencia
BIOGRAPHY
Aurelio Iragorri Valencia graduated from the Universidad Javeriana with a degree in law. Before taking up agriculture, he was Minister of the Interior. During the administration of President Juan Manuel Santos, Mr. Iragorri Valencia was also Vice Minister of the Interior, Counsellor to the President for Political Affairs, and Secretary General to the President. As Minister of Agriculture, his task is to create policies that generate equity in the rural sector, since it is there that opportunities lie for constructing peace, as well as for transforming the Colombian countryside.

What is the importance of Agro-industry and sustainable rural development in Colombia?

Some sources estimate that 30%, others that 50% of Colombians live in rural areas. The conflict in Colombia has also largely seen a rural setting. These conflicts have impeded the development of the countryside in Colombia, and at the same time generated high levels of poverty. If we compare rural and urban incomes, people who live in the countryside are 3.2 times poorer than those inhabiting urban areas. In terms of multidimensional poverty, which measures 15 different aspects, the rural population is 2.5 times poorer than its urban counterparts. These figures demonstrate that agricultural development is paramount, and also that additional public policy to end poverty is required in the rural sector. The ministry and a number of associated institutions have been distant from the reality of the regions in the past, and many issues have now to be addressed. On one hand, there is the situation with poverty and insecurity in the countryside due to the armed conflict that has hindered the growth of the sector; and on the other hand there is the rural potential. Colombia has 5.5 million acres dedicated to agricultural practices, and has the potential for 20 million additional acres. No other country in Latin America has this potential, especially with such privileged geographic location. A number of tools have to be implemented for this potential to become a reality. The first step is to review the procedures within the ministry to adjust accordingly; this includes institutional policies, which will be implemented in the future as they require legal intervention, therefore this will be addressed last. Firstly, in the past the Ministry processes involved public calls to regional entities to apply for certain programs. We analyzed the results of these public calls, and concluded that there was a significant impact on poverty figures, as almost 3 million people successfully overcame poverty. The centralization of the country has accounted for serious development impairment and this is caused by many factors, including the lack of capability to present adequate projects. This has evolved since the democratic election of mayors and governors were initiated, which has improved this aspect.

What is the ministry's strategy to boost agro-industrial exports, particularly now given that prices are more competitive?

Partially as a result of the fall in the price of oil, we have increased exports, even though our foremost priority is guaranteeing food security. We have witnessed the marked increase of imported products in many sectors, which caused a surge in prices on the market. On the other hand, the traditional export products such as coffee, bananas, and flowers, and several other new products that have entered the international export market such as cocoa beans, fruits and vegetables, pepper, fish and seafood, have all had an outstanding growth pattern. The export of cocoa bean doubled within one year. The fish product exports grew 200% in one month, and continues to grow. This shows the comparative advantages that we have as a country for certain products. However, as I mentioned earlier, the main objective for any country in the agricultural sector is to guarantee food security for its population. We have established five action strategies to increase our capability to produce quality products in the required quantity. We have also determined five strategies to confront poverty levels in the countryside. We are certain that the combination of these strategies will translate into positive outcomes. Agriculture cannot exist without taking the environment into consideration. The agricultural sector was affecting the environment negatively, as the sector utilizes the most significant volume of water. Therefore, we have to find ways to increase efficiency in the usage of water, such as drip irrigation systems, which allow for a more responsible use of this resource.