Interview: Javier Valdés
Where is agricultural technology being widely applied, and what is its level of sophistication?
JAVIER VALDÉS: Agricultural technology is used all over the country, depending on agroecological conditions. While the north is the most developed and the south the least, we are seeing new opportunities due to an advancement of technology application southward.
Northern Mexico contains some of the world’s most sophisticated vegetable production fields, utilising Israeli irrigation systems, Spanish fertilising techniques and Dutch production methods. The production of vegetables in this area grows by 1000 ha per year. In the centre of the country, sophistication is limited but improving, while in the south farmers’ parcels of land are small and they lack the financial capacity for technological solutions. This will allow companies like ours to duplicate or even triplicate the production of corn in this region through the introduction of improved seeds. In Chihuahua there are farmers that yield, on average, 10 tonnes of corn per ha, and there are some who produce up to 15 or 16 tonnes per ha. In Oaxaca or Chiapas, farmers yield only 2-3 tonnes per ha.
What is your view on the agriculture reform?
VALDÉS: The reform has many important pillars and among them is the importance of access to funding to acquire technology. There have already been important announcements from Financiera Rural, Mexico’s rural government agency, about the need to increase small loans to Mexican farmers, which is a great sign for the future. Moreover, use of genetically improved seeds, which would, without a doubt, increase productivity nationwide. Access to better fertilisers is also on the agenda, with high expectations of a reduction in price of up to 30% due to the Energy Reform. More than 70% of water in the world is used for agriculture and if we want to increase productivity in Mexico we must use better irrigation systems to optimise water use. The lack of water has been a determining factor limiting the growth of agriculture, with an alarming decrease in production in recent years due to a shortage of water. This also needs be addressed.
Of which products should Mexico increase output?
VALDÉS: The climate in Mexico is temperate in the north and tropical in the south. In accordance with the needs of the value chain and the national focus to increase exports, this means that we should focus on tropical fruit in the south and vegetables in the north, though there are some fruits, such as apples, that can also be produced in the north.
How does the prohibition of genetically modified organisms (GMO) affect the sector?
VALDÉS: GMO products can help increase productivity. One example is Mexican cotton, to which farmers at one time had to make more than 20 applications of insecticide, which made it unprofitable. When transgenic cotton was introduced, cotton became profitable again and the industry grew. We believe transgenic seeds are a key element in developing agriculture. GMO technology has been studied for 17 years and there is no scientific evidence against it. It is important to take advantage of technologies that align with the country’s climatic conditions. To protect diversity, GMOs should be introduced in places where there are no restrictions on the use of this technology, which will increase competitiveness.
To what new markets can Mexico export produce?
VALDÉS: Mexican products are of a high quality and can be exported to global markets through free trade alliances. Exports to South American markets are set to grow with the development of the Pacific Alliance. Mexico is currently negotiating with China to export berries and tequila, and the country is currently discussing meat exports with Russia. The Trans-Pacific Partnership is also expected to extend Mexico’s access to new markets. We therefore hope to send exports to such places as Australia, Singapore and Vietnam.
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