PREPARING THE GROUNDWORK

Colombia 2016 | AGRICULTURE | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Aurelio Iragorri Valencia, Minister of Agriculture, on the key role the agriculture industry will play in securing lasting peace in the country's rural areas.

Aurelio Iragorri Valencia
BIOGRAPHY
Aurelio Iragorri Valencia was born in Popayán in 1966 and graduated from the Universidad Javeriana as a lawyer. He has a long trajectory in the service of the state and private industry, fulfilling important responsibilities. Before taking up the portfolio of agriculture, he was Minister of the Interior. His ministry was characterized by good results in such essential affairs as rural areas, strengthening democracy, security, justice, international relations, and coexistence in the community. His primary aim is to create policies that will generate equity in the rural sector, as it is there especially that opportunities lie for constructing peace, and transforming the Colombian countryside.

How important will the peace agreement be for the development of rural Colombia, and what role can agriculture play in achieving peace and stability in the coming years?

The Ministry of Agriculture plays a key role in achieving peace. Without a doubt, it is the right setting for various opportunities for progress and development. On the one hand, it is the right time for Colombians to reconsider the countryside and to rediscover the essence of rural development at the heart of being an agricultural country. This is outlined in the Integral Rural Development Policy (Politica de Desarrollo Rural Integral – RRI), which places the family and community as pillars of a balanced economy based on a restructuring and transformation centered around farming. At the same time, the strengthening of this new institutionalism allows for the articulation of programs and projects that integrate committed municipalities with families and organizations, organized by the Ministry of Postconflict, the Office of the High Commission for Peace, and other entities. The test of this institutional transformation is represented by the new agencies for rural development, land, and Territorial Renewal that serve as guides for regional policy. In this sense, the carrying out of the obligations of the Regional Articulation Plans will continue, taking into account the differences and particularities of the country, and the issues of women and young people in the countryside, indigenous groups, vulnerable rural populations, victims of conflict, and the general concept of seeking reconciliation for the country.

The Colombia Siembra program is designed to encourage the development of agriculture. What innovations will be implemented as part of this program in 2016?

In 1Q2016, producers were offered the chance to express their interest in participating in this plan, and the results have confirmed that there is a strong appetite for turning agriculture into a primary sector of the economy. The provisional information gathered indicates that 391,667 producers are interested in sowing 2,588,075ha of land, surpassing the expectations of the national government, whose objective with the Ministry of Agriculture was 1 million hectares over the coming three years. The people believe in the project; the challenge now is to obtain additional resources to finance double the target that we had set out. This is positive news, and we need to achieve it for the people. We are working together to reinvigorate investment, growth, and employment in the countryside. At the same time, we will soon announce new credit instruments to finance this policy.

What are your expectations for the Colombian agricultural sector for 2016?

The forecasts of financial organizations in the private sector and the Ministry of the Interior project that the economy will grow by between 2.5% and 3.2%, respectively. We hope that the tendency toward growth of the past two years will be maintained, with growth of between 3% and 3.5% expected for 2016. This growth was sustained thanks to the beneficial exchange rate for permanent export crops like coffee, bananas, and flowers. Elsewhere, rice continues growing, with cultivated land growing by 18% in the second quarter of 2015. Modified yellow corn, according to FENALCE, grew from 51,541 sown ha in the 1Q2014 to 75,720ha in 1Q2015, that is to say an increase of 47% in terms of area, with production expected to stand at around 400,000 tons in the first quarter of this year. We believe that with the reduction of the effects of drought, short-cycle crop yields will be rejuvenated thanks to financial support provided by the government through FINAGRO and the Agrarian Bank, and by projects from MADR such as Colombia Siembra. The Colombia Siembra strategy will continue to expand in the countryside, and in 2016 it is expected that 232,215 new ha of prioritized crops will be sown.