SOWING COLOMBIA

Colombia 2016 | AGRICULTURE | FOCUS: COLOMBIA SIEMBRA

The Agriculture Minister has announced a new plan to develop the agricultural sector and reduce the quantity of imported foods into the country.

Colombia presents massive potential to develop a strong agriculture sector thanks to its ideal climate conditions, vast cultivation area, and variety of products. In order to tap the country's full agriculture potential, the Ministry of Agriculture released the new Colombia Siembra (Colombia Sows) plan, a program that aims to boost production output and increase in over a million hectares the nation's arable land. Hence, the country will be able to satisfy its own consumer demand and reduce the number of imports. The government, pledging an estimated a public investment of $1.6 billion between 2016 and 2018, aims to increase growth in the agricultural sector by over 4 % per year.

Colombia's Ministry of Agriculture wants to use this plan to take advantage of the likelihood of a peace agreement with the FARC guerrilla group in 2016 that will showcase the country's primary sector as an attractive opportunity for FDI.

In a press conference held in late 2015, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Aurelio Iragorri Valencia presented the main ideas of Colombia Siembra. “We have to cultivate what belongs, where it belongs," said Iragorri. To this end, it will be necessary to set up an educational program for farmers to teach and make them understand what better suits their land. There are many things that farmers have to take into account, such as the quality of the land, the weather and environmental conditions, and the real possibilities to harvest. Consequently, the program includes an agriculture map of the country that explains what land meets the characteristics of different crops and types of plantations.

To achieve the expectations, the Ministry of Agriculture will hire 200,000 experts for technical assistance who will supervise the program. “Agronomists will provide the farmers with their knowledge and they will be the ones who will tell us what crop to seed," Iragorri remarked. The ministry assured an investment of millions in technical assistance that it will be used to provide solutions to 282 municipalities in 15 Colombian departments.

Within the promising plan lies another concern: the quality of crops. The ministry has taken this critical issue into consideration and has launched the Plan Semilla (Seed Plan), another program that aims to provide the best quality seeds to farmers requiring special attention all the way to the smallest ones. Professionals from large agriculture businesses have been working side by side with the government to develop and improve those crops. Over a period of about two years, the experts have tested 22 species and more than 120 varieties, rescuing, cleaning, and standardizing multiplication systems of the most valuable and useful seeds for farmers.
According to the data provided by the Censo Nacional Agropecuario, Iragorri concluded that the amount of cultivated hectares will jump from 7.1 million, recorded in 2014, to 8.1 million in the coming years. This plan also targets the generation of new jobs in rural areas and reducing the current 10 million tons of food imports by 50%, prioritizing the plantation of corn, soy, fruit, and vegetables in Colombian soil.

The Ministry of Agriculture focused on the figures provided by the National Administrative Department of Statistics (DANE), which revealed that Colombia has 114 million hectares of arable land, of which half are poorly situated due to unsuitable climate conditions, or because the particular crop cultivated is ill-suited for the location's climate.

Colombia Siembra is considered to be one of the most ambitious plans in recent years for Colombian farmlands. The plan's success depends on the government's ability to reach the objective of becoming a self-sufficient country in terms of food production and, thus, increase the sector's growth from 2.3% in 2014 to 6.2% in 2018 and generate 264,000 new jobs in agriculture.