TBY talks to Luis Felipe Arauz Cavallini, Minister of Agriculture and Livestock, on its major projects in agriculture, helping the sector adapt to new innovations, and encouraging people to work in the sector.

Luis Felipe Arauz Cavallini
Luis Felipe Arauz Cavallini is the Minister of Agriculture and Livestock in Costa Rica. An agronomist and biologist, he graduated from the University of Costa Rica and also holds a PhD in phytopathology from North Carolina State University. He has served as research professor at the University of Costa Rica and dean of the Faculty of Agri-Food Sciences of the same house of studies. He was director of the College of Agricultural Engineers of Costa Rica and the Institute of Innovation and Transfer of Agricultural Technology of the Ministry of Agriculture.

For more than 70 years the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock has been a key asset for Costa Rica's economic development. What have been its major projects in the last two years?

Over the last two years, the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock has been trying to recover the internal market. Our agricultural sector basically has two engines: one is the export market, which has been dynamic. The other is the internal market, but the small growers who produce for the local market are facing challenges, such as cheap agricultural prices in the international market. In response to this, we are trying to increase productivity with an emphasis on certain activities that are important for feeding the Costa Rican people. We have also identified a range of products we want to focus on, which are rice, beans, potatoes, onions, beef, pork, and milk. The Ministry is targeting and prioritizing coffee as well. In terms of research, we have helped the University of Costa Rica to develop a new potato variety. We are trying to improve not just the productivity, but the value of the crops in the production processes. We are also working to adapt to climate change in these sectors, which is both a value-added proposal and one that helps to reduce the costs of production.

How is the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock helping small producers to adapt through better access to basic services, new technology, and knowledge?

The past three years, Costa Rica suffered the most severe drought in the country's history. The agricultural sector needs to adapt to climate change, which includes producing new varieties and efficient water use. We are trying to promote irrigation systems based on drip irrigation rather than sprinklers. We are also trying to improve the marketing and the markets for small producers. The government institutions that buy food, like the Ministry of Education, the police, and the Ministry of Justice through the prison system, buy from local producers. Costa Rica has the Institutional Supply Program that tries to link up local production with institutional demand. We are doing that program with agricultural products and fisheries. In 2017, the ministry is starting a project that will provide the facilities to small producers so they can incubate their businesses for one or two years while they get their processes established and get to know the market. This administration is using Costa Rica's Development Banking System to give financial support to these small agricultural producers, manufacturers, and businesses. And this is growing exponentially in terms of the amount of credit that has been placed in the agricultural sector.

Around 80,000 producers work on 2.5 million ha. How do you foresee this number evolving? Is the ministry working to encourage young people into the agricultural sector?

It is one of the pillars of our policy to try to create opportunities for young people. We want to push this through various means, such as the Development Banking System, value-added concepts, and technology-based agricultural production. And not only at the universities, but at earlier stages through the Ministry of Education so that high schools get into these processes. We actually have a fair every year where people can showcase their value-added products, and we have a special space for younger people where we highlight their work in the agricultural sector.

What are your expectations and goals for 2017-2018?

The agricultural sector must move toward better regulations because the ones we already have in place can cause difficulties. We need to be more agile in our regulations so that our processes can go faster. Also, we are trying to improve our customs processes at the ports so business can move faster. In terms of technology, Costa Rica's borders and ports recently implemented a scanner system to scan containers more quickly and avoid any problems with the products we import and export. These are some of the efforts that Costa Rica can accomplish during the rest of this administration.