Better transport infrastructure is needed to enable Colombia’s rice growers to compete when the free trade agreement with the United States goes into effect, said the head of Colombia’s Rice Growers Federation in an interview with Colombia Reports.
Rafael Hernandez Lozano, head Fedearroz, told Colombia Reports that the main form of support the members of his organization need from the government when the recently ratified FTA with the United States takes effect is good transport infrastructure.
“The main thing that all sectors are demanding, not just the agricultural sector, is infrastructure on a national level. There is a serious problem with road infrastructure. The rainy season affects the roads of Colombia and these are very important roads. We are requesting [better] secondary and tertiary roads which now are practically destroyed by the winter rains.”
“This is a road that is permanently or very frequently blocked during the rainy season by the landslides.” Due to this and the lack of a divided highway, an excessive number of tankers on the roads of this area, and the fact that fuel costs have to be factored in, there is little movement of agricultural products.
Earlier this month, Agriculture Minister Juan Camilo Restrepo has said that rice in the neighboring countries of Peru and Ecuador is 30%-40% cheaper than in Colombia. Hernandez said this is the result of the lack of transport infrastructure, citing the area of La Mojana which is the delta of the Cauca River.
“This area is cheaper than the rest of the country for the production of rice because of the quality of the soil. But if you take a ton of rice to a collection center or a center of consumption, it becomes more expensive. In other words, it costs $53 to transport a ton of rice and there you lose whatever competitivity you had.”
Hernandez said that investment in the countryside is long overdue. “What has happened is the Colombian government has not invested in the agricultural sector for 30 or 40 years.”
The support Hernandez is requesting is land adaptation, and medium and long-term credits to be able to purchase “precision agricultural equipment,” and the conversion of land into irrigation districts. “We need three or four irrigation districts and each one costs around $263 million,” Hernandez explained.
Hernandez ended by saying “We have a lot of genetics in our rice, we have varieties with high-yield potential but we are not able to fulfill this potential.”
There are 500,000 families or 2.5 million people who earn their living directly or indirectly from rice in 215 municipalities across 21 departments of the country.