Farm Bureau: Budget cuts to Agriculture endanger island food security

By The Star Staff

Puerto Rico Farmers Bureau President Héctor I. Cordero Toledo charged on Thursday that proposed cuts in the fiscal year (FY) 2022 budget for the Department of Agriculture would put programs that provide financial subsidies to farmers at risk and endanger the island’s food security.

Four years after hurricanes Maria and Irma flattened crops and farmers are still in the process of bringing Puerto Rican agriculture back up, the sector is being hit again, this time with budget cuts, Cordero Toledo said. The Farmers Bureau presented the impact and consequences of the cut of more than $58 million to the agricultural sector proposed in the budget.

“According to information received from the Administration for the Development of Agricultural Companies [ADEA by its Spanish initials], of a combined budget between income from the General Fund and the agency’s own income in the amount of $120.2 million, the Financial Oversight and Management Board approved the use of $6.4 million from the General Fund, forcing the agency to seek $58 million since it only has $56 million in equity,” Cordero Toledo said. “These significant changes put at risk the provision of services and products for the island’s farmers.”

Act 4 of 2010 created the ADEA, which is attached to the Department of Agriculture, to serve as the operational arm of the department, whose public policy is to support farmers and provide stability and permanence to farming operations. ADEA is where the farmer receives the support of the Department of Agriculture because it is responsible for offering aid such as the salary subsidy, fertilizer incentives, and payment of the Christmas bonus to agricultural employees, the Farm Bureau president said.

The $58 million cut means that all the aid and support programs that farmers are entitled to have for fiscal year 2021-2022 cannot be offered, he said.

“For example, the wage subsidy program needs no less than $33 million, bonuses to employees about $5 million, to name a couple of things,” Cordero Toledo said. “In recent years we have seen a continuous reduction in ADEA funds. In 2019, out of a budget of $150 million, we see how in 2021 there was a reduction of $20 million for a total of $130 million. For 2021-2022 the resources available to ADEA are only $62 million. It is worth clarifying that the agency’s own income comes mostly from sales from the coffee program, so that item already has a first name and a last name.”

Food security is increasingly being put at risk on the island, Cordero Toledo noted, as budget cuts target an agricultural sector already hurt by natural disasters. He said the Farm Bureau is slated to bring its concerns personally to the oversight board after sending a letter to the fiscal body earlier this week.

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