QCOSTARICA (Semanario Universidad) The end of 2022 leaves the country’s agricultural sector in flames: producers are drowning in expensive loans, agricultural supplies with sky-high prices, below-cost payments, and evictions from homes, lands, and work tools.
“30 or 40 years ago the abandonment began, but in the last 10 years, it has gotten even worse. They left us completely abandoned. The government does not remember that, when they sit at the table, everything that comes to them comes from the farmers,” said Blanca Viquez, a 75-year-old community leader who for decades dedicated herself to planting potatoes and onions in Llano Grande de Cartago.
Viquez lost a son, who, pressured by debts, took his own life in 2020, and counts another seven deaths among young men in his community and surrounding areas as a result of the evictions suffered by farmers: 37% of the work of men in the rural areas is from the primary sector (agriculture, livestock and fishing), according to data from the National Institute of Statistics and Censuses (INEC) for the third quarter of 2022.
“The government is to blame, they offer when they come to look for votes and, sitting in the chair, they don’t remember what they offered,” Blanca Viquez, producer from Cartago
“God save us. It is agriculture. The Agriculture! If they destroy it, what will become of the country? If all the farmers are heading for the city, what are we going to eat? There are no potatoes anymore, there are no potatoes here anymore, they sold everything, they left no seeds. Carrots have never reached ¢60,000 per quintal, peppers is at ¢500. And how many tamales do you make with one chili?,” Viquez lamented.
The potato is the food product with the highest price increase with inflation of 134% in the last year, according to data from the INEC to October, followed by sweet peppers (81%), carrots (72%), celery (70 %), cabbage (77%), cooking oil (53%), onion (52%), cassava (48%) and coffee (48%).
The agricultural sector is a highly risky enterprise since it is vulnerable to the weather and, in recent years, to the rise in international prices for agrochemicals and concentrates (since they are not produced in Costa Rica) aggravated by the container crisis and the war between Ukraine and Russia.
Delinquency in agricultural loans has increased since 2016 and in December 2021 it broke a record with an agricultural balance at risk of more than ¢68.9 billion, which represented 14.3% of the total agricultural portfolio and an increase of 3 .9% compared to the previous year, according to data from the Executive Secretariat for Agricultural Sector Planning (Sepsa). “It is an issue to which special attention must be paid,” says the Sepsa report.
This, however, is minimized by the head of the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock (MAG), Víctor Carvajal: “It is not that there is, at indicator levels, data on arrears that show that it is an extreme situation at a general level”, replied to Semanario Unversidad.
Onion producer Jeison Leiton, vice president of the Multisectoral Social Group, considers that the sector is widely affected: “The agricultural sector is being the victim of financial carnage. Public banks, private banks go after the assets of the producers. There is no agricultural policy that allows us to access true refinancing. There is no rescue plan for the agricultural sector”.
The second is admitted by Minister Carvajal: “The sector has certainly lacked public policies that directly affect its productivity and different problems.”
Viquez warns that abandonment has a cost for democracy that we will all pay, because every year there is less interest in voting in rural areas and the sector feels that joining the Pacific Alliance will be the last blow.
“No one is going to vote. Nobody is going to vote if this government does not help. The Government is to blame, they offer when they come looking for votes and then when elected they do not remember what they offered,” he predicted.
On the other hand, Leitón visualizes greater poverty in the country and unemployment, in a country in which 45% of the population does not know if their income will stretch to the end of the month, referring to the latest report from the Estado de la Nación (State of the Nation). This scenario becomes critical if the country had to face shortages in the face of a global food crisis in which importing countries close trade borders or raise their prices exorbitantly.