Interview: Rafael Mejía López
What is Colombia’s strategy in terms of boosting fruit and vegetable exports?
RAFAEL MEJÍA LOPEZ: Even before the negotiations and signing of trade agreements that brought greater economic integration, Colombia had been talking about the importance of diversifying its agricultural exports and the need to seize dynamic markets through agro-industrial products. The country has maintained and improved the competitive performance of traditional exports, such as coffee, bananas and sugar; while at the same time boosting non-traditional exports, including fresh flowers, palm oil and bananas. In recent years Colombia has been expanding access, supply and export of a variety of exotic fruits and vegetables. We are seeing export numbers grow for pineapple, avocado, mango, uchuva (cape gooseberry), dragon fruit, melon, watermelon, lemon, onion, carrot and others. Unfortunately, many of these products are still exported in limited quantities as target markets are very demanding in terms of quality, price and scale.
Additionally, this has caused big technological, commercial and business management challenges for producers. Today, we must consolidate the gains achieved in accessing new markets, continue to capitalise on opportunities for financing and commercialisation, and seek to increase exportable supply.
How can small and remote producers be integrated into the agricultural value chain in the post-conflict environment?
MEJÍA: In the post-conflict era we need innovative strategies to create and maintain not only a positive investment spirit, but the commitment of all Colombians, many of whom work in the rural sector. The main requirements of the post-conflict era must be peacekeeping; and the effective recovery of security and coexistence, especially for rural citizens, who are an element of society with full rights and obligations. Effective integration of agricultural growers and producers into national and global value chains requires an improvement in their access to basic services, as well as the development of economic and productive infrastructure, and a better understanding of the needs of consumers. Small producers should be able to benefit from new market opportunities, to the extent that they effectively take advantage of the institutional offer, and take an empowered, innovative and proactive attitude towards themselves and the market. For producers to maximise their economic gains, we need to focus on increasing competitiveness, sustainability and economic inclusion in the rural sector. In order to achieve these goals, producers must improve in technological, commercial and business areas.
What are the priorities in terms of food security for Colombia both on a local and global level?
MEJÍA: Food security is a concept associated with the fundamental purpose of having sufficient food in quantity and quality to feed the population. Currently, about 12% of the total volume of agricultural production is exported and 30% of the total volume consumed is supplied by imports. Colombia has both a natural and human potential, which if exploited will allow it to gain participation in domestic and foreign markets. A priority should be the availability of better public policies, and a greater entrepreneurial base of small, medium and large-sized producers that can take advantage of the country’s agricultural potential and its opportunities. According to an Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean study, in 2016 Colombia was one of the Latin American countries that had most reduced inequality between 2010 and 2015, bringing more than 4.5m people out of poverty, of which 2.6m were no longer in extreme poverty. Notwithstanding this great progress, in order for food security to have an economic as well as social reach, we need public policy and private investment that will bring sustained economic inclusion to the social progress achieved.