Rodrigo Sánchez Haro: “we must make the agreement between the EU and Mercosur an opportunity for our productions”

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By Milagros Jurado

The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Rural Development of Andalusia, Rodrigo Sánchez Haro, addresses in this interview given to ECA the main lines of action of his Department, together with the main challenges, strengths and opportunities of the Andalusian agri-food sector. Free trade agreements, such as that of the EU and Mercosur, and the Brexit challenge have been other issues analyzed.

e-Comercio Agrario (ECA): what are the priorities and objectives that have been set during the duration of your mandate at the head of the Andalusian Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Rural Development?

Rodrigo Sánchez Haro: to be at the side of our agricultural and fishing sector, at all times, to help them keep moving forward along the path of innovation, sustainability, diversification, quality that defines and differentiates our productions … To contribute with all this, together, because this climate of cooperation, that sum, is essential, to improve the lives of people, to generate wealth and well-being in our rural environment. That is our priority, the objective that is at the epicenter of all our government action. And we face it with a firm commitment, that the resources reach the territory as soon as possible, so that they can, from the minute one, generate employment, opportunities, equality, in fixing the population, because we do not want, nor we will allow it, that no one, wherever he lives, will be left behind. A commitment that we are fulfilling, as evidenced by the fact that we have already put, from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Rural Development, more than 1,300 million euros at the service of the development of our field, our peoples. It’s not trivial. We speak, with it, of 71% of the budget that we manage from the Rural Development Program (PDR) 2014-2020, when there are still several years left before the current community framework is finalized.

ECA: what are the challenges facing the Andalusian agro-food sector? What opportunities should you take advantage of to continue leading in such emblematic and exporting sectors as fruit and vegetables?

R.S.H.: there are always challenges, because there is always room for improvement. And, at the same time, each achievement opens new horizons and, therefore, new challenges. The internationalization, the consolidation of the markets already conquered and the arrival to new destinations are, in this sense, fundamental. Our origin is a brand, a guarantee of food safety, because we do things well, and excellence. But we must deepen in this, not fall into complacency and continue to feed that entrepreneurial spirit of our agri-food sector, in general, and the horticultural, in particular. We have a very well structured, highly integrated sector that has known how to see and take advantage of the advantages that the concentration of supply supposes for the quality of production and the commercialization of it. But we must take even more steps, and we are giving them.

We have in our autonomous community 104 Fruit and Vegetable Producers Organizations (OPFH) and we must grow even more, to take advantage of the possibilities and the doors that open the operative funds, the same ones that, only in 2017, have promoted the investment in the Andalusian countryside with the payment of a global public aid of 67.1 million euros. We have to go even further, to go further, which is why we have also approved, to encourage cooperatives to join, the decree of Agri-Food Priority Associations of Andalusia and we have launched aid for the merger and integration processes (3.3 million euros in 2017 and another call in 2018), without forgetting the model so that the farmers of alhóndigas are constituted in OPFH and can thus also access the community operating funds.

ECA: continuing with the Andalusian horticultural sector and its clear exporting vocation, from its Ministry highlighted, in the last edition of Fruit Attraction, the significant fact that the exports of vegetables of Almeria have experienced a growth of 70% in the last ten years, what factors do you think is fundamentally this spectacular evolution?

R.S.H.: our agrifood production does not stop breaking records as far as exports are concerned. Sum already seven consecutive years of growth to reach already in 2017, between January and October, the 9.166 million euros, 12.4% more compared to the same period of the previous year. And this is very important, because it affects the value of our production and agricultural income, because it generates wealth and added value in our rural environment. There are many sectors. The behavior of sales abroad of Almeria horticultural or Huelva red fruits is spectacular, to which is added, let us not forget, the global leadership of our extra virgin olive oil. The reason, undoubtedly, the good work of our agri-food fabric, that has been overturned, that believes in it, in what it does.

“We have a primitive agriculture, highly technified, modern, with a clear vocation towards the ecological and that, in addition, knows how to promote itself, that has known, I insist, integrate to compete better and be a reference in international markets”

And, of course, on this path, that of differentiation, of stamps like those of our appellations of origin or our protected geographical indications, has the full support of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Rural Development, as well as an ally as the Andalusian Agency for Foreign Promotion (Extenda). We have already called within the current Community period aid for the promotion of agri-food products covered by a quality regime both in the internal market, within the EU, and, in the case of wines, in third countries, worth 11, 9 million euros, to which are added another 3.8 executed between 2016 and 2017 within the framework of a promotion plan that includes, for example, actions aimed at international tourists. We pack your presence in national and international fairs that are erected in unbeatable shop windows and we spread their benefits where there are potential buyers.

ECA: taking into account the current situation of water scarcity caused by the persistent drought, and being Almeria an area where, due to its intense agricultural activity, water is one of the most demanded goods, what actions will be promoted from your Department? to give solution to a constant need of the horticultural sector of that province?

R.S.H.: water is our priority. Because everything depends on it. We walk towards an increasingly rational and responsible use of resources, with a sector, it must be said, very committed to it. Since that cooperation, we have made great efforts to modernize that have resulted in a public-private investment in the whole of the autonomous community of more than 1,000 million euros between 2007 and 2015, something that places us as undisputed leaders. Thus, in our community, the implementation of localized irrigation systems covers 74% of the area (well above the national average, which is 49%).

“The commitment of the Andalusian Government to the Almeria countryside is total. The president herself, Susana Díaz, has committed to streamline the pending administrative concessions and to carry out a follow-up with the sector of all water needs in the province of Almeria”

A province that, as we know, carries a water deficit of 179 cubic hectometres. A deficit that can not and will not paralyze us, nor will we stop vindicating the Government of Spain, tirelessly, to carry out the infrastructures pending in the province, and that are within its competence, so that irrigators can have access to the existing resources.

Do not forget that most of the pending actions are works of General Interest of the State, such as the treatment plants of Adra, El Ejido or Roquetas and desalination plants such as Villaricos, in Cuevas del Almanzora, which since 2012 has been out of service after a flood and that there is even a need to expand it. These interventions would contribute around 100 cubic hectometres, an amount that would increase to 150 if, in addition, the desalination plants in the province are put to 100% of their capacity, which would alleviate Almeria’s water deficit to a great extent… It is enough, therefore, with each party to comply. From the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Rural Development we are doing, with the call, in 2017, of 66.2 million euros aimed at the modernization of irrigation and the reduction of energy dependence, aids that will be complemented in 2018 with the allocation of 30 million euros more.

ECA: with regard to sustainable production systems (organic, integrated production, biological control of pests …), how do you assess the evolution that the Andalusian fruit and vegetable sector has experienced in this regard, with crops such as strawberry, with a strong bet on integrated production, or horticultural Almeria, with an important area of ​​cultivation under biological control?

R.S.H.: Andalusia as a whole is a reference in the ecological, a mirror in which to look for agriculture around the world. Not in vain, our autonomous community is a leader in organic production with 51% of the total area of ​​Spain dedicated to these techniques (976,000 certified hectares). And within the region, without a doubt, the Almerian horticulturals and the Huelva red fruits have gone an important way. The degree of implementation of biological control in Almeria exceeds 24,000 hectares, a province that has more than 2,700 hectares of horticultural certified as organic, 68% more in just one year. And the same goes for the Huelva strawberry, with 70% of the area under the Integrated Production system. They are an example of something that is the norm in the Andalusian horticultural sector. And we have to be proud, very proud, but we can not lower our guard. It is the way to go, and this is what we have to do, because that is what the markets demand, the consumers, who increasingly value the healthy, the quality, the taste of the ecological and the added value of a culture that respects the environment .

ECA: to what extent is this type of production being supported and promoted from the CAPDER? Is there any kind of support for the promotion and / or marketing of organic products in markets willing to pay for them? And in the internal market? (given that its consumption in Spain is not yet widespread, possibly due to lack of knowledge on the part of the consumer).

R.S.H.: from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Rural Development we are firmly committed to Ecological Production. We will maintain, from the Andalusian Government, a firm support to these productions.

“Our support for Ecological Production has already materialized in a first increase of 45% of the budget originally planned to reach 241 million euros, and will be expanded in 2018 with a new call endowed with another 31 million euros plus”

Together with this, within the framework of the III Andalusian Plan for Ecological Production, Horizon 2020, we also contemplate the promotion of these foods with the implementation of a program to promote social consumption of Andalusian organic products, with the objective of introduce this type of healthy food in school canteens, hospitals and other public centers. Something to which is added the already approved decree of direct sales, which has given the green light to up to 8,000 organic producers throughout the region sell their production on the farm itself, in markets and retail establishments without intermediaries, thus ensuring food security and the quality of its products. This improves the economic viability of farms that obtain a greater added value and, at the same time, favors consumer access to products that, normally, are not found in conventional channels. We have instruments and we have to use them.

ECA: in the last Fruit Attraction, Freshuelva signed an agreement with the Fruit Exporters Association of Chile (ASOEX) to create a campaign to promote blueberries, as well as to collaborate during the campaign of this fruit … Do you think that do markets like Latin America represent an opportunity for fruit and vegetables from Andalusia?

R.S.H.: every alliance is an opportunity. And in this case, in the agreement between Freshuelva and Asoex, we are talking about a solid bridge towards a greater internationalization of our Huelva red fruits, because it is always the exchange of experiences in the production and marketing of a crop increasingly demanded and valued as it is the blueberry, between two entities that have proven to be true references of the sector in their respective areas, in their territories. We are talking about some berries, ours, with a long history, which, after strengthening its presence in nearby European markets such as the United Kingdom, Germany or France, have already made the leap to Asia with its growing entry into China. This is now reinforced with this agreement that will result in a climate of support for the organization of visits and missions between the two associations, the promotion of promotion and cooperation in the form of knowledge and technology transfer, the performance of joint actions or the exchange of information on exports. The strawberry, the raspberry and the blueberry of Huelva, of Andalusia, does not leave, in short, to make way.

ECA: what new destinations should the Andalusian fruit and vegetable sector look at?

R.S.H.: towards everyone. Without ruling out any. Studying every possibility, every opportunity.

“We must continue working in the analysis of each market, in the promotion and differentiation to favor both a greater consolidation of our regular customers and a greater diversification of destinations”

We are looking beyond Europe, the Middle East and Asia, as well as Latin America. We are aware, for example, of an increase in the consumption of products such as olive oil, encouraged by the increasing recognition of their healthy qualities and their connection to the Mediterranean Diet and by the increase in Asian and Latin American countries of a class medium that increasingly demands more quality food. We have to take advantage of it, to create synergies, so that we can also take our fruits and vegetables there, guaranteed, without doubts, for their benefits, for their health benefits, for their quality. We have to take advantage, in short, every space, every nook, every circumstance, every opportunity that offers us the possibility of going further and, therefore, of gaining value.

ECA: from your Ministry, what do you think would be the future implications of Brexit on exports of the Andalusian agri-food sector, in general, and fruit and vegetables in particular?

R.S.H.: the possible departure of the United Kingdom from the European Union is an issue that concerns us and concerns us, but the message is one of tranquility. We remain vigilant, through the working group constituted by the Board to analyze and minimize the possible effects of Brexit in the autonomous community and we will not stop being vigilant to anticipate the consequences that may have. But, I want to influence this, we have a great endorsement, which is the high degree of loyalty of our customers, who, as with the rest of Europe and the world, know and recognize the quality of our agri-food offer. Despite the scenario left by the announcement of the Brexit, and thanks to the dynamism of the companies in our region, their entrepreneurial spirit and the effort to continue positioning themselves in foreign markets, exports grow, the presence of our agri-food products in that market continues to grow. And that brings us certainty, that of knowing that it is one of our most important destinations and will continue to be so. Not in vain, let’s not forget, we also have important and growing commercial relationships with third countries, with countries outside the European Union, and this is not an impediment.

ECA: in what way could the Andalusian fruit and vegetable production affect the coming EU agreements with third countries, as in the case of Mercosur?

R.S.H.: the agreements must be seen, I insist, always, as an opportunity. With the utmost rigor, with the utmost zeal, always vigilant, because they can also pose a threat, ensuring that they are not, for their strict compliance and for the interests of our farmers. But, having solved this, they are, always, an opportunity. The agreement between the EU and Mercosur, for example, is. We must make it so.

“The agreement with Mercosur can open us further the doors of that Latin American market that increasingly demands our quality products from countries such as Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay, with a large population, with a large number of potential consumers of our foods”

We have a differentiating value, that of our origin, the taste and excellence of healthy and sustainable productions, socially and environmentally. And we have, of course, to claim the same demands for those who come from third countries. The level must be the same, because they can not compete on equal terms with our agri-food offer those that reduce costs at the expense of harming workers, employing cheap labor and in precarious work conditions, and the environment. You have to take care of that, ensure that no dumping occurs, but, at the same time, see the opportunity it gives us. If we mark differences, without a doubt, we will take advantage of it.

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