Brasilia, 6 August 2021 (IICA). El Salvador seeks a recovery of its agriculture and hopes to become once again a regional benchmark in food production as it was in the 1970s, in order to support the development of its economy, explained the Minister of Agriculture and Livestock of El Salvador, David Martínez, in an interview with the TV program AgroAmérica, which is broadcast on the Brazilian channel AgroMais.
“We are a small country of approximately 20,000 square kilometers, but we are in a privileged geographical position and we have microclimates that help us grow different crops. In the 1970s we were the top coffee producer and our harvest of basic grains was number one in the region; we also grew fruits and were the largest regional melon exporter. But the level of agricultural production has declined over time to a much lower level”, explained Martínez
The decline of agriculture has had dramatic economic, social and environmental consequences for this Central American country. “We have almost three million Salvadorans”, said the minister, “living in the United States due to the lack of adequate conditions in the rural sector. That is why we created an Agricultural Rescue Master Plan. Through agriculture, we intend to economically rescue our country”.
The Plan was defined by Martínez as “a compass to visualize where we want to take agriculture in the next ten years”. He clarified, in that sense, that El Salvador will not seek to generate new technologies, but rather “to leverage the technology of other countries that have already experienced a situation similar to ours”.
Martínez, who recently visited Spain, provided Almería as an example: “40 years ago, this was an extremely poor province; today, it has a booming economy thanks to the changes made on the basis of technology, research, strategic alliances and the strengthening of cooperatives in the agricultural sector.”
The minister said that, since the beginning of the pandemic, the Salvadoran government has focused on guaranteeing food security, but clarified that the country was already facing a situation of extreme vulnerability before the outbreak of COVID-19. “Before the pandemic, we already imported 80 % of the food we consumed, which is simply tragic. We need to become a productive society through the support of the agricultural sector, generating adequate credit conditions, providing technical assistance and technologies, and strengthening the institutions in favor of the farmers. We are learning from friendly countries like Spain, Holland, Brazil, Costa Rica or Guatemala. With these strategic alliances we will make a giant leap forward. It will not take years to change the reality of Salvadoran agriculture”.
The first pillar of the Master Plan is the creation of a 650 million dollar trust fund to provide soft loans to producers of basic grains, vegetables, fruits, fish and meat. “At present, banks cannot address their needs and farmers end up resorting to usurers who charge them extremely high interest rates and make agricultural production unprofitable”, Martínez explained.
A second trust fund of 640 million dollars is expected to be created to rescue the coffee sector. “The flavor and varieties of Salvadoran coffee are fabulous” he said. “We want to relaunch coffee farming. We will probably never be the largest coffee producers in the region again, but we want to reach two million quintals per year of production. There will be a total investment of 1.29 billion dollars over the course of four years to reactivate the agricultural sector and generate two million jobs, which will attract new generations and include women”.
The third pillar, Martínez explained, will focus on bringing infrastructure to rural areas through productive projects, with schools, streets, public lighting, rural police, libraries, art, education and internet for the communities: “With infrastructure, our goal is to prevent rural people from emigrating to the cities and to the United States. By creating a decent place to live, we are going to change the reality of the country through the agricultural sector”.
The minister also spoke of the need to strengthen law enforcement in rural areas. “El Salvador”, he stated, “is one of the most violent countries in Latin America and the world. Part of the plan involves investing $ 120 million in the rural police to guarantee security, curb the entry of contraband and create fair competition”.
Furthermore, Martínez said that he is working to strengthen the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock: “We are going to make radical changes to align our services to the objectives of the Master Plan. We have four independent institutions that we intend to modernize: the National Agricultural School (ENA), the National Center for Agricultural Technology (CENTA), the Salvadoran Institute for Agrarian Transformation (ISTA), which is centered on cooperativism, and the Salvadoran Coffee Council”.
The minister revealed that a new research center will be created as a result of the merger between ENA and CENTA, with the mission of training technical experts, teachers and farmers, who will be given technology kits to “change agriculture in a gradual and orderly way”.
He also announced the reengineering of state banks: “We are going to turn the Banco de Fomento Agropecuario into an agricultural development bank, to give loans to the sector.”
The minister underscored the role of the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) in El Salvador’s agricultural development plans: “IICA is our technical arm. Their experience and know-how is essential, especially with respect to livestock and the coffee sector”.
Mr. Martínez also announced the plan to create the first coffee research institute in El Salvador: “We have obtained a loan from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) for 45 million dollars, of which 10 will go towards research.”
He went on to express his confidence that the Master Plan “will create opportunities and will be a driver of economic growth. Nobody wants to leave home. People migrate when they don’t have the adequate conditions in their country. Salvadorans thrive wherever they may go. The three million Salvadorans living in the United States send us between 5 and 6 billion dollars annually in remittances. The 1.29 billion dollars that we will invest for the rural population will help put a stop to excessive migration. We have a huge challenge ahead of us”.
AgroAmerica is a program on the Brazilian TV channel AgroMais, belonging to the Bandeirantes Communication Group, which is the result of an alliance with the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA). The show features the current situation of the agricultural and rural sectors in the member countries of IICA, with the aim of promoting the exchange of experiences and a discussion on challenges and opportunities in Latin America and the Caribbean in the area of agricultural and rural development
Institutional Communication Division.