FIELDING CHANGE

Panama 2015 | AGRICULTURE | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to HE Jorge Arango Arias, Minister of Agricultural Development, on the developmental strategy for the industry, the importance of utilizing new technology, and the plan to attract foreign investment in the sector.

HE Jorge Arango Arias
BIOGRAPHY
HE Jorge Arango Arias graduated from dentistry at the University of Costa Rica in 1966. He received a masters degree in orthodontics at the University of Oregon in the US. He was elected Deacon of the Faculty of Dentistry at the University of Panama at age 32. In 1978, he bought the Compañía Agrícola Industrial, S.A. (Caisa).

What is the Ministry's vision for developing the agricultural sector in Panama?

Our vision for the development of the agricultural sector in Panama is to focus on designing a developmental strategy that does not remain static but rather evolves over time in a way that will benefit the entire agricultural value chain. But our most important mission is to ensure the production of top quality affordable food for our population through humanitarian measures that utilize partnerships between the public sector and subsistence farmers, along with various institutions including family farms, schools, and participation projects for regional development.

Where do you see the greatest investment and growth potential in the Panamanian agricultural sector?

We see the greatest potential in agro-exports, particularly for crops such as pineapples, melons, watermelons, papaya, and squash. These products have extensive markets available to them in both Europe and North America. Every region in Panama has its own particular climatic conditions and therefore specializes in different kinds of crops.

A significant part of the national population lives in the capital city and other major cities. What is your strategy to stimulate the sector while also minimizing internal migration from rural areas to urban centers?

The most important task before us is to increase agricultural education while also convincing and incentivizing young people in rural areas to pursue a career in the agricultural sector without abandoning their fields and farms, and without feeling the need to emigrate to cities. With this objective in mind, we've apportioned $22 million in funds to invest in the Instituto Agropecuario de Panamá (INA), which has campuses in all major provincial centers. Another strategy we are undertaking is the provision of direct support to producers so that they don't abandon their lands. We're also making strides in terms of our Public-Private pact to reforest a million hectares of land throughout the country over the next 20 years, working closely with conservation agencies and national organizations and associations.

What are your main aims, objectives and goals for 2015?

The task of re-energizing and rejuvenating the agricultural sector in Panama has been slow and difficult, but we feel that by the end of 2015, we'll have rescued and revitalized our agricultural institutions while also having developed new projects in the process, giving confidence to producers in the sector that the national government is their friend and their ally. For both 2015 and the years to follow, we envision a dynamic agricultural sector that has renewed impetus and greater production volumes in all scales.

Sustained agricultural development is almost impossible without introducing new technologies to the sector. How much is being invested in new technologies, and where are the new investment opportunities coming from?

We can no longer base our agriculture on chance, hoping for rain. All our agricultural lands should have 100% access to irrigation and watering systems in the coming years. At the same time, IDIAP (the Institute for Agricultural Investigation in Panama) has been developing new seeding and sowing methods for various crops. The investment is still in its early stages, but the project is set to pick up pace in the coming years.

How attractive do you think Panama is for foreign investors? What is your plan for attracting more investment into the Panamanian agricultural sector?

One of the primary objectives of this new administration is to open new horizons and markets, because we know that Panamanian products and producers meet the high standards required by international consumers. Our products comply with the most stringent hygiene standards, and we have made great efforts to increase and strengthen our production of innocuous foods, in line with our dedication to the insecurity needs and expectations of the Panamanian population. This all demonstrates the great capacity that Panama has, not only in terms of excellent services, but also in terms of producing and exporting products of the highest quality.