FERTILE GROUND

Ecuador 2019 | AGRICULTURE | INTERVIEW

Increasing agricultural exports and strengthening small producers will be key parts of the ministry's focus in the coming years.

Xavier Lazo
BIOGRAPHY
Xavier Lazo was appointed Minister of Agriculture & Livestock in 2018. He is an agronomist with a degree in agricultural sciences and management of natural resources from EARTH University in Costa Rica. Lazo is a banana producer and specializes in organic bananas for the European export market.

How do you envision diversifying the country's agricultural output?

To properly develop the concept of sustainability, there must be diversification in each agrarian production chain. Rotating banana with another crop is difficult. However, Ecuador has advanced in a positive way in terms of sustainability over the last 10 years. Many labor standards, environmental protections, and the distribution of banana land have been preserved. To sustain dollarization, Ecuador needs more agricultural exports, and our great diversity of microclimates allows us to produce 52 weeks a year. Ecuador needs a public agricultural policy to identify stellar products and encourage their sowing, transportation, and value transformation. There is potential for all tropical and Andean crops that have a market space. The current government, the Ministry of Foreign Trade, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs are working together to make these products shine on the international market.

How do you address the ministry's social responsibility and empower smaller communities in the economic process?

The public agricultural policy must be developed for the coming years. At this moment, small producers in Ecuador are suffering significantly because the crops have lost their competitiveness in the last 20 years. As part of the agricultural public policy, we must empower and strengthen groups of small producers with a long-term business vision. Our system of public and private banking has to strengthen the associativity and specialized credit for those small producers who can only develop jointly. The increase in productivity, with associative practices and the transformation of the value of their products, might help them compete in international markets. If there are no adequate credits or technical assistance, that project is not possible. Some products work well, and they only need support and strengthening through better infrastructure such as more roads, access to cheaper electricity, and access to essential services to have traceability and certifications.

What will be the impact of the new investment law on the agriculture sector?

We are reviewing the regulation of the law. The mission of the Ministry of Agriculture is to work together with public and private agencies to add to the new law the necessary incentives to develop the sector. It is extremely important to take advantage of this law to have higher levels of competitiveness. This law will be beneficial for Ecuador, which needs lower costs of fertilizer, supplies, and machinery in order to significantly improve production. This law also seeks to strengthen agricultural insurance and the support of private banks. Our challenge is that the interest rate of public banking for the agrarian sector comes down coupled with the elimination of risks. Risks fall when there is better infrastructure. If the objective of public policy is to increase agricultural exports, we must encourage the diversification of exports through this regulation.

What are your ambitions for the coming year regarding policies, creating employment, and having a healthy and flourishing agricultural sector?

The rural sector contributes a high percentage of employment, though we recognize there is greater poverty in the rural sector. Our goal is to reduce that rural poverty. Another objective is for our agricultural exports to increase. Those two goals go hand in hand. We have to ensure that small family farming is strengthened, which will happen when there is a more transparent market with less intermediation. In Ecuador, there are cost expensive products with inadequate prices that are difficult to balance; however, if we lower production costs, we can help small farmers economically sustain an agricultural activity. At this moment, this way of subsisting is complicated in the country, though not impossible. Another objective of the ministry is to ensure each agricultural sector has its specific credit and the increase of industrialized products, especially of small producers. Ecuador must enter into a process to achieve traceability processes and certifications that guarantee food security and access to markets.