Elena Cebrián: “We must diversify the destinies of our citrus fruits because the European market is almost saturated”

New Holland Eng

Text: J. Sanchis

 Elena Cebrián Calvo is Minister of Agriculture, Environment, Climate Change and Rural Development of the Generalitat Valenciana since July 2015. She is an agronomist from the UPV. He joined by opposition in 1999 the Agronomists Engineers of the State of the Ministry of Agriculture, where he has held various positions of responsibility and also in community institutions.

 Q.- A few months after holding new regional elections, what would you highlight about the management carried out?

After a start not without difficulties, we have recovered many lines of work and we have initiated and strengthened new relevant lines. But the first task was to create a Conselleria that did not exist as such and therefore had to design the entire structure and reinforce it. All this has been possible thanks to the effort of the whole team to work together. Even so, we are left with the feeling that we still need more time and more resources. Many of these lines of work need longer implementation periods, including regulatory developments. But, above all, they mark areas of action that are very interesting and necessary for the future and that should have continuity.

It is necessary to differentiate the two large areas of the Conselleria necessarily. In agriculture, highlight the Law of Agrarian Structures, which is in Les Corts and we hope it will be approved by a notable majority. It is a conscientiously worked law that addresses classical structural problems of the Valencian agricultural sector, such as the small size of farms or the dispersion of property. In addition, it is a law of social innovation that includes measures such as the Common Management Initiative or the Terres Network, a tool to mobilize the plots in favor of professional farmers and the incorporation of young people.

Given that these days we celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Valencian Institute for Agrarian Research (IVIA), I would like to highlight the new draft Law on the Generation of Agri-Food Knowledge, which will soon be approved by the Consell. And I can not fail to mention the impulse to cooperativism and organic production. Very good results are being achieved with an increase in the area devoted to organic products and the consolidation of ecological markets.

Q.- What would you have to do in these few months that remain before the next regional elections? What are you most happy about and what are you most unhappy about?

We still need to finalize some of the issues mentioned above. For example, once the Law of Agrarian Structures is approved, it will be necessary to address its regulatory development and its application. There would be no programs or subprograms that derive from the main lines of work drawn. There are many pieces of the same gear with which we want to accompany actions in the area of ​​local commerce, promotion of organic production, support for appellations of origin and small and medium-sized Valencian agribusiness companies. We have pending, in addition, the concretion of the legal form of the Agrarian Council of l’Horta de València, fruit of the already approved Law of the same name, which will be in charge of proposing the Agrarian Development Plan of l’Horta, in which We work in a participative way with the sector and the neighbors of l’Horta.

I am particularly happy to recover a positive, dignified and proud vision of the agricultural sector, which is much more than a primary sector and creates a social and economic fabric. It has cost a lot and it is necessary to insist on this change of vision and raise awareness about its strategic value in the Valencian economy. I am also pleased with the tremendous effort made in waste policies, forest management and biodiversity conservation, with initiatives that mean looking back to the interior areas, taking into account the local population and sharing future projects that also have a identity component.

And I think we can be satisfied with the turnaround of water policies, something that we need to continue working on, precisely because it fits into this new challenge / paradigm that represents climate change. We must move towards a better use in the combination of all sources, desalination, reuse, transfers and continue working towards a greater efficiency in saving water, a more rational use to maintain a resource marked by a scarcity horizon and extreme weather phenomena.

Q.- How do you rate the work done in Spain in recent months to prepare the new PAC of the future? Is there collaboration between autonomous communities and the central government in this regard?

The new government has meant a significant change and has made a difference. With the previous one, shared general lines were designed, but from that moment there was no progress, concretion of the themes or the idea of ​​being able to participate from the needs of an autonomous community like ours with a very unique Mediterranean agriculture. The agricultural sector of the Valencian Community has been negatively affected by the current Common Agricultural Policy and therefore needs special attention which is what we have been claiming.

Since the change of government, there have been several meetings and we have found more permeability when listening to specific proposals, unique or different from that common idea that was established.

The question now is how we go down to detail and how we quantify it and when. All this negotiation process depends a lot on the European and State calendars. In any case, what we have requested several times from the current minister is that we accelerate in the previous work, that is to say, we do not wait for Europe to specify the issues. We will work internally on what is worrying us, on what we agree and we will reinforce it.

 Q. – Could you explain what is the position of the Generalitat Valenciana about the new PAC?

We want to highlight the role of Mediterranean agriculture. The importance of going towards a professional agriculture, but without detriment to our productive structure, in which part-time agriculture, small farms or small producers have a considerable weight, not only economically but also socially.

We are also looking for a boost to rural development policy, the second pillar of the CAP. This policy, in terms of financing, will be substantial, because issues related to strengthening the structure of agricultural production, support for agro-food SMEs as well as more environmentally friendly measures in rural areas are addressed. The forestry sector is very important for our autonomous community where more than 60% is forest.

And, of course, we want a more demanding CAP in the face of commercial exchanges, which requires that reciprocity of which we always speak. That is demanded at the border the same as we are required to Valencian and European producers for the health risks that may involve and at times for market risks.

Q.- Has the relationship between the Generalitat and the central government changed with the entry of Luis Planas at the head of the Ministry?

There is now a more open attitude to dialogue, to the understanding of the particular situations of each autonomous community, the feeling of having an effective interlocutor. And also, the perception of wanting to make sectoral conferences or advisory councils an effective mechanism of effective coordination and collaboration between the autonomous communities and the State. Now we will see how it is translated for practical purposes.

In any case, we will not stop transferring the same claims as hitherto in matters of agrarian policy, water, the environment or renewable energies.

Q.- Do preferential agreements harm Valencian agriculture?

In the European Union, farmers – and Valencians in particular – as part of European society have self-imposed some very demanding forms of production. European consumers are asking for healthy and high quality food, among other things, and the absence of phytosanitary products, which will generate a certain vulnerability with a different treatment to our production. Therefore, we must have good protection at the border, but considering that we are in an open market, in a global world in which other realities must be observed. It can not be said that preferential agreements are positive or negative. It is a complex reality and must be managed in the best possible way, with solidarity.

P.- Plant health is one of the main concerns for the Valencian agricultural sector. What do you think can be done in European and state levels? What is the Ministry of Agriculture doing?

The Region of Valencia has a powerful prevention and control system against plant and animal pests and diseases, with an extensive monitoring network for our main crops. Thanks to this we have been able to deal seriously with Xylella, Ceratitis and many others.

But it is true that we need stronger financial support. This is one of the most tense issues in terms of underfunding. Sometimes you forget that you also have to finance all these services, since good health and production is what guarantees the income of farmers and our exports, allowing us to move in open markets. We must ensure healthy and healthy production, both plant and animal. We speak of products that can have an impact on human health, therefore, the health policy of agricultural production is one of the basic policies that have to be well financed and staffed.

There would also be many requests for the EU. First, border demands, fair protection and a scientific basis. It is also very important, and the agrarian sector demands it, an acceleration in the authorizations of phytosanitary products, because they are very expensive and slow. In short, stronger support for these policies, both from the EU and the State. With financial means, with personnel, and also applied research to the reality of the agrarian sector.

“We are doing everything in our power to stop the Xylella and prevent it from expanding, all in strict compliance with European and national regulations and our own contingency plan”

 Q. – Do you think that the expansion of the Xylella can be stopped? Do you understand the repeated protest of some affected by the Xylella and some Alicante agrarian organization?

We are doing everything in our power to stop the Xylella and prevent it from expanding, all in strict compliance with European and national regulations and our own contingency plan, agreed with the entire agricultural sector. Plant pests and diseases do not understand borders, so addressing them must be a matter of State and that is what we have claimed and we will continue to demand from the Ministry.

We are sensitive to what many farmers have moved us and their perception of the harshness of these measures, which, I insist, the EU imposes in a very strict way, requires the state regulation of plant health. We transfer our sensitivity, empathy and understanding to farmers, in a situation that requires the removal of trees, but it is the only way to eradicate the infection in a plant. And what we ask from the Regional Ministry is responsibility and loyal collaboration to the agrarian organizations to face together the problematic of the Xylella.

Q.- They have just presented the new citrus capacity, what would you highlight about it? How is the campaign presented? What would be the emerging markets for the entrance of our citrus fruits at this time?

It should be noted a return to normality in terms of volume of production, after the fall of the previous season. But it is only a forecast, the whole campaign is ahead. Some areas have been affected by the hailstorms, but also the September rains can be very beneficial for others, which enter harvest in October. That is why we expect good calibers and a balance of demand and supply, that is, a campaign with sufficient quality and within what we could consider a usual campaign. 

We have made again the effort of transparency and information to the sector, we are still leaders in production and export of citrus, therefore, we must be leaders in information also, in transparency and rigor.

Europe is still our main market, but it is true that some markets are opening in countries with purchasing power in North Africa and Asian countries offer good expectations for our products as well. You have to diversify the destinations to prepare for markets that, like Europeans, are very close to a saturation point. But, today, the bulk is still Europe and we have to take care of production, adjusting to the demand, which is increasingly organic products or with very little presence of phytosanitary products, of high quality and covering the entire season .

P.- They have launched an Ecological Agriculture Plan, what are the main axes of it?

The Plan seeks to encourage the transition towards more sustainable production systems. This will allow obtaining agrifood products of higher quality and without waste, meeting the needs and demands of citizens and markets, which seek a safe and quality food. At the same time, this productive model will help us fight against climate change, helping to curb pollution and desertification, as well as the loss of agrarian and cultural diversity in our territory.

Its specific objectives, translated into five strategic lines, are the following:

– Promote quality food and consumption of organic agricultural products.

– Give a special boost to organic production.

– Promote ecological commercialization and industrialization as a territorial strategy for the necessary rural development.

– Promote agroecological knowledge, through technological innovation and the continuous improvement of safety and quality.

– Connect with other lines of work for sustainability and equality in our territory.

Q.- Is it possible to change the productive model of the Valencian Community or is it a utopia?

Of course, it is one of our objectives and part of our work. That is why the new agri-food knowledge strategy is so important, because it is one of the pillars of the change in the productive model. Also important are all the measures we have discussed in terms of organic production, local trade … Environmental awareness and education are also essential for a change of model.

Changes in behaviors in food consumption, research, training and the incorporation of young people and women into the sector, with a different and modern vision, are important. The future passes through new technologies and greater connectivity.

Q.- What is the policy of the Generalitat regarding the differentiated quality of its products?

Support for our figures of differentiated quality (protected designations of origin, protected geographical indications and organic agriculture) is one of the main policies of the Generalitat in the agri-food sector, as the backbone of our wealth, both economic and rural, environmental and recovery of heritage and traditions. Without forgetting that its recognition guarantees a unique origin and uniqueness linked precisely to our territory.

That is why we are developing a set of actions aimed at improving their competitiveness and giving them greater visibility through multiple promotional activities such as their participation in the main agricultural fairs of the sector, both national and international, or the development of information and promotional material . These are actions articulated through a quality technical table of which all our differentiated agri-food quality figures are part.

Q.- Tell us about the new Law of the Valencian Institute of Agrarian Research (IVIA) …

The objective of the law is to create a new framework that regulates the coordination of agri-food knowledge generated in the Valencian Community and update the legal regime of the IVIA. With it, we wanted to give a broader approach to the IVIA in which we talk about a specific Valencian agri-food strategy, based on knowledge, on research, on the transfer of that knowledge to the sector and focused on responding to the needs and demands of the sector. society and challenges of the global world such as climate change.

Q.- Farmers always complain about the low prices they receive and the excessive commercial margins. What do you think can be done about it? What is your opinion about the Law of the Food Chain?

The Law of the Food Chain is a state law in essence very positive because it addresses the question of the low profitability suffered by many farmers, farmers and agricultural production. but it is true that the implementation of this law does not yield the required results.

The situation has to be addressed from different fronts. The principles of market freedom and European competition policies do not allow action in some cases, such as through price intervention. However, we have to act, on the one hand, with policies that can reduce the cost of production of farmers such as the Law of Structures, and on the other, help increase that profit margin by achieving a greater added value of the products. That is why ecological production or designations of origin are so important that they allow for an increase in the margin that farmers obtain and that the investment made recover.

It is true that the code of good farming practices is a hopeful but insufficient measure of the law, since it can be assumed voluntarily by the marketing chains and is not perceived in a visible change of the situation.

Q.- Do you see progress in equality in the field?

I see less progress than I would like to see. I also say this as a woman and as an agronomist engineer who has been in the sector for more than 20 years. Women have to overcome their own barriers, but above all other barriers and we must be able to position ourselves in decision-making bodies and management in the sector, in cooperatives and in companies and agricultural organizations.

There are many examples, very positive as the days of agrarian women organized from the Ministry, but still need more. The agrarian women are and have worked all their life in the sector and they have to be visible, they have to be representative and have a voice and decision in the sector. In addition, they are fundamental to change the productive model.

“The Agro Mujer Project can be important so that agrarian women can learn about other similar experiences and learn to exchange and reinforce each other”

P.- Since Siete Agromarketing, publishing company of ECAGRI magazine, the Women Agro project has been launched to promote equal opportunities in the agri-food sector, what do you think?

Every initiative is necessary and well received. It is also necessary that women connect, that they know each other. We need to create spaces for communication. It is therefore welcome that a means of communication can be a platform for agrarian women to know other similar experiences and can learn to exchange and reinforce each other. It is important to create a network, create a connection

P.- There is much talk in recent months about a National Water Pact, what is the approach of the Generalitat on this matter?

We have to take up this issue with the Ministry of Ecological Transition, in a framework of dialogue, solidarity and a technical consensus to reach a national agreement on water, as we have been saying so far. But what we saw and we worried a lot about the previous government is that it was posed exclusively as a political pact between parties and that suffered from two fundamental deficiencies.

On the one hand, it did not represent the entire political arch that is very varied, both in the State and in the autonomous communities. On the other hand, a political agreement on water can not remain in the parties, it must be of autonomous governments, since we are the ones that ultimately have to manage those resources, the territory and the sectors that depend on it.

That is what we expect from the current government. That this pact is more open and has a future perspective that integrates the issues of climate change and seeks a consensus between territories. In addition, it must be possibilistic and very realistic. All users must be taken into account, also the environmental user and, in our case, guarantee the supply in areas that need it as

Alicante or many other irrigable areas of the Comunitat Valenciana. It must also consider the fundamental role of coastal wetlands, which represent a necessary space for adaptation to climate change and for regulation of our climate and our vital spaces.

I like to talk more in agreement than in agreement. A pact is static, it is made to close a situation of conflict, while an agreement is dynamic and seeks something in common, it means consensus and dialogue. We want an agreement that is to work together for a different future than 15 or 20 years ago.

Q.- Are you in favor of the transfers?

That is a debate of the twentieth century. It is not about being in favor or against. We will make available all resources, conventional and unconventional in the most efficient way possible, with more technical and knowledge behind so that we can have a guarantee of use and supply. That is why it must be a dynamic and flexible agreement to the situations that we are going to face in the future. The transfers are a solution of the present, but not the only one. We have to prepare for a 21st century debate.

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