ON FERTILE GROUND

Peru 2015 | AGRICULTURE | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Juan Manuel Benítez Ramos, Minister of Agriculture, on the evolution of the sector, the importance of environmental protection, and the future of the industry.

Juan Manuel Benítez Ramos
BIOGRAPHY
Juan Manuel Benítez Ramos studied Economics at the Universidad del Pacífico, and completed his studies at the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile. He is an expert on the topics of public and private investment and rural development, with 25 years of experience in these fields. He has held important positions in the ministries of economy and finance and agriculture, including the roles of specialist in investment in the agriculture sector and general director of agrarian planning. He has also served as consultant for the Interamerican Development bank, the World Bank, and other international institutions, and has held several prominent academic positions in addition.

What role has the Ministry played in the development of the agricultural sector over recent years?

The agricultural sector has become one of the less volatile economic sectors, growing at an average of 4% annually over the past few years. The non-traditional agricultural exports, as well as the poultry industry are two of the most dynamic segments within the sector. The private sector has played an important role in the development of the agricultural sector over the past decade, and the Ministry of Agriculture focused its activities on being a promoter. We introduced the Law on Agricultural Promotion to make exports and labor regulations more flexible, and in doing so, boosted development of the agricultural sector in different regions of the country. This also meant investments in irrigation and Public-Private-Partnerships (PPPs). The Ministry has also invested significantly in health and Free Trade Agreements (FTAs)–our goal has been to eradicate several diseases affecting livestock and fruits. In this context, the coffee segment has been one of our priorities, and coffee exports currently total $1 billion. We also have increased investment to boost small and medium-sized producers' activities and help them with irrigation issues.

What are some of the other near future priorities for the ministry?

The ministry provides technical support to small and medium-sized producers, as well as support in terms of cooperation such that small producers can combine efforts to make their activities more profitable. We have as a main focus the promotion and development of alpaca, a type of meat the world has yet to fully discover. We also have plans to reforest some areas of the country for different purposes—wood production and simple reforestation of affected areas. All in all, our priorities and investment target infrastructure, credit lines, disease eradication, and the simplification of administrative and bureaucratic processes. In addition, boosting exports is one of our top priorities, and we closely work with the Ministry of Foreign Trade.

What are some of the highlights of the Ministry's activities regarding the protection of the environment?

The country is in the process of adapting itself to climate change, especially in the agricultural industry, and we are investing heavily in related activities and policies. We are investing in large water reservoirs, especially at river headwaters. We also attend to vulnerable communities in the mountains who are affected by extreme weather conditions. Reforestations and agroforestry processes are another aspect of this drive, especially for coffee plantations; but this also includes rice plantations along the coast, and promoting a change in cultivation and irrigation to foster greater efficiency.

What is your opinion on the ban on transgenic products?

We are keeping a close eye on transgenic products and evaluating their implications the country. At this time, they do not seem to be something that would affect the country in terms of export volumes, because we have a wide variety of export products and show great potential for growth in the near future. We have several specific projects based on these products that have great potential, and development will boost R&D and generate added value. This research is also aimed at reducing the usage of pesticides, and related costs. We have done a great job already with plantations of asparagus, for example, where the usage of high technologies has enabled us to reduce pesticides, optimize production, and become a world leader in this segment.

Where do you see the Peruvian agricultural industry in five years time?

Agriculture, including forestry, is set to become the second most dynamic sector of the economy after mining. We will continue improving as long as we are introducing modern agricultural techniques. Our strategy is to boost cooperation between small and medium-sized producers, and link them to exporting companies. We have a wide range of products and activities, which puts us in a highly favorable position to target foreign markets. We have great agricultural potential, and businesses here enjoy a stable economic and political community.