Farming leaders see a glimmer of hope with Agriculture secretary-designate
Say appointee brings ‘perspective of a true farmer’ to agency
By Pedro Correa Henry
Special to The Star
Amid the struggles faced after hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017, the earthquakes that shook southern Puerto Rico in 2020, and the current COVID-19 pandemic, leaders of the Puerto Rico Farm Bureau called for the island Legislature on Sunday to confirm Agriculture secretary-designate Ramón González Beiró’s appointment, saying he has the suitable experience, knowledge and respect for the field.
During a press conference held at Terra Campestre Restaurant in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico Farm Bureau Chairman Héctor Iván Cordero said González Beiró, an agricultural business owner for 30 years, a third-generation farmer, and former chairman of the bureau for 11 years, “has all of the qualities and the knowledge to perform with excellence as secretary of Agriculture.”
He said further that aside from knowing about Puerto Rican farming, González Beiro brings “the perspective of the true farmer who suffers and enjoys this time-honored activity of sowing the land with tenacity and hope, and harvesting its fruits to nurture the well being of all.”
“We need to start advocating for the future of agriculture,” Cordero said. “Puerto Rico is an island that measures 100 by 35 [miles] where, unfortunately, before Hurricane Maria, we only produced up to 15% of what we harvested; after Hurricane Maria, and after almost four years, we have barely managed to recover up to 10%, maybe 12% of the harvest.”
“We constantly hear this discourse that we know as food security, and unfortunately, the political and governmental spheres of Puerto Rico have used this term and this juncture to play to the crowd,” he added.
Henceforth, Cordero said, the Agriculture Department, under González Beiró’s direction, must develop “inclusive agricultural public policies” that provide protection to both farmers and the food chain industry and put strategic plans into action.
“The past is the past; however, it has left its stains, those being a dismantled Agriculture Department, incentives for farmers completely destroyed, an agency with $0 in the budget that has been handed over to an agency that is supposed to handle the island’s economic development, treating farming as part of the manufacturing field,” said the Farm Bureau chairman. “Agriculture is more than manufacturing, it’s more than production, agriculture is a lifestyle, agriculture is health, agriculture is a social activity.”
Meanwhile, representatives of the dairy, coffee and fishing sectors said González Beiró has opened the agency’s doors to farmers in order to address their needs and doubts during his four months managing the commonwealth agency. In that sense his performance already compares favorably to that of the previous administration, which, fishing industry leader Roberto Silva said, fumbled federal disaster relief funds that had been assigned but did not reach farmers due to a lack of communication.
“In four months, he has already done what earlier secretaries haven’t done in 25 years,” Silva said. “With him, we will be able to see more fish on the tables as we are seeing that more is being done for us.”
When The STAR asked what farmers were expecting from González Beiró and if conversations on future mitigation plans for the island’s forthcoming hurricane season were being held, Cordero said the Agriculture secretary-designate has been holding conversations with representatives of different agricultural fields “since the day he was appointed.”
For her part, the bureau’s coffee sector chairman, Iris Jannette Rodríguez, replied to the STAR that they expect González Beiró to continue the dialogue. She said the secretary-designate has been sincere and open to negotiating solutions with farmers.
“I, representing the island’s coffee sector, never took a step inside the Agriculture Department in the past four years because I was never allowed, a sector that is so important as the mountain farmers representing the coffee sector,” Rodríguez said. “What we want is to be told the truth. We do not need to be told fairy tales.”
Dairy Sector President Manuel Enrique Martínez Arbona told the STAR meanwhile that the Agriculture secretary-designate must be “a facilitator for all farmers.” He said the agency “must cut back the bureaucracies” when it comes to services such as requesting farming certifications.
“We end up getting crucified because of this. Certifications don’t last for long and we must constantly be battling to renew them,” Martínez Arbona said. “If he were to facilitate the tools to improve [such processes], the agricultural field will change immediately.”