“The country is comprised of 90% of small farmers and ventures on the production of high value fruit for export”
María Emilia Undurraga is the Minister of Agriculture of Chile, Master in Social Policy at Duke University (USA), Master in Sociology at Pontifica Universidade Católica (PUC) and Agricultural Engineer at PUC Chile. She has already been the National Head of Territorial Programs, representing the Ministry of Agriculture in negotiations with indigenous people, and National Director for Agrarian Studies and Policies Secretariat, where she promoted important reforms, creating the Secretariats for Rural Development and Sustainability and Climate Change.
AgriBrasilis – What is the situation of Chile’s agriculture in face of the pandemic?
María Emilia Undurraga – Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have been actively working and coordinating a safe supply chain, from small farmers, through distribution markets, street markets, supermarkets, associations and those that are part of the Safe Supply Committee. This organization have granted collaborative and efficient work to ensure food supply in our country. Chileans have had access to food, even in difficult times for the country and the world.
Finally, the pandemic has turned into an opportunity as the challenges in our industry change over time. Along with the concern to produce more food for a growing population, we must adapt to trends and challenges, such as climate change, emerging crises, and the changing demands of consumers, who require healthy, innocuous, quality food produced in a sustainable way. Given these challenges, food systems and farmers have found the answer to successfully face the growing demand for food.
AgriBrasilis – Organic agriculture has expanded in most countries. Has this also happened in Chile? Why?
María Emilia Undurraga – Organic agriculture is present in almost all regions and territories of Chile, encompassing production, transformation, elaboration, marketing and export, being carried out by small, medium and large farmers. This production system is better adapted to the adverse conditions of climate change. For example, water scarcity, which today is one of the greatest challenges we face as a country.
Organic production for domestic consumption is becoming more and more relevant, highlighting the growth in recent years due to changes in consumption habits among Chileans. In the case of vegetables, fruits, livestock, smaller birds and dairy products, they are generated mainly by small farmers of Ecological Farmers Organizations with their own organic certification, a subject that has guided Odepa (Office of Agrarian Studies and Policies).
AgriBrasilis – What are the main agricultural products produced and main export markets?
María Emilia Undurraga – We work to facilitate international trade, reduce food loss and strengthen the supply chain. In this way, we have strengthened international relations so that those products in which we are in deficit are imported at reasonable prices. We focus on food security above sovereignty, whose implementation is unfeasible due to its effects on the pockets of the most vulnerable families. Here lies the importance of open markets, exporting what we have advantages and importing what we cannot produce localy in the country. This is the security we must seek and protect.
In this instance, it is important to thank and highlight the essential role of the agricultural sector and the food logistics chain in the pandemic, valuing its strategic role as a food provider, job generator and local engine. Thanks to farmers, truck drivers, street markets and markets, there was uninterrupted availability all this time.
Regarding trade exchange, during the year we have seen an increase of 7.5% of exports compared to August of the previous year, highlighting as main markets, China which have received 29.1% of our exports; United States with 21.8%; and the European Union, 12.3%.
Fruits from Chile are one of the world’s top five cherry and blueberry growers and one of the world’s ten largest harvests of grapes, apple, kiwi, peach, plum and hazelnut, with its agriculture focused on exporting high value fruits.
In terms of exports, we have a large number of trade agreements that allows our shipments to reach many more countries. Thus, our main export markets are China (29%), USA (21.8%), Japan (4.6%), Netherlands (4%), South Korea (3.6%), Mexico (3.5%), UK (2.7%) and Brazil (2.1%), among many other countries.
AgriBrasilis -How is the Chilean countryside organized in relation to the agrarian theme and what is the government’s role in the application of measures in favor of family farming?
María Emilia Undurraga – In Chile there are around 300,000 farmers, and 9 out of 10 are small farms, fulfilling the great work of feeding our country’s families and preserving the culture and identity of rural territories.
We support them through the Agricultural Development Institute (INDAP), an institution related to the Ministry of Agriculture and which is dedicated to supporting many people who have agriculture as their livelihood.
But supporting small farms is not just through INDAP. There is also support in the field of irrigation technification through the National Irrigation Commission (CNR), an institution that had a very important increase in its budget (doubled in the last 3 years) and which seeks to make irrigation technology possible to irrigate more and more hectares with the same amount of water.
AgriBrasilis – What is the role of agribusiness in creating jobs in the country?
María Emilia Undurraga – With a developing trend associated with the Covid-19 pandemic over the last year, labor shortages in the sector have reached unprecedented levels. Based on the National Employment Survey by the INE, the agricultural workforce has decreased by approximately 150,000 employees compared to the pre-pandemic level, from 750,000 to 600,000 in the Summer (2021 versus 2019) and from 650 thousand to 500 thousand in Winter.
The season of greatest demand starts at the end of October, reaches its peak between November and February, and ends in April and May. In the last quarter, 20 thousand jobs were created in the sector, still maintaining a strong structural delay in the recovery of employment, with a high rate of informal work (34.5%), while 40.2% of workers have job contracts with defined term, or by work or task, being higher than the national average of 25.1%. The regions with the most jobs in the sector are Maule (15.4%), O’Higgins (14.4%) and Valparaíso (9.7%).
To face this situation, in collaboration with the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare, we have promoted a strategy to promote employment in the sector through several initiatives that are in full development, especially now that there is greater flexibility in the sanitary measures adopted in the pandemic.
AgriBrasilis – What are the prospects for Chilean agribusiness?
María Emilia Undurraga – This sector has big challenges ahead. The current reality tells us that 800 million people suffer from hunger, while 670 million are obese. Globally, a population of nearly 10 billion people is projected until 2050, which will bring with it a 50% increase in the demand for agricultural and forestry products. Faced with this scenario, greater implementation of the potential of the agroforestry sector will be required: resilience, adaptation and coordination to satisfy a growing demand for healthier and sustainably produced food, balancing environmental impact, economic sustainability and responsibility for people and the rural territories where the activity is carried out.
We will have a future with less water and soil, but with greater technology and capacity for innovation, which will certainly allow us to make better use of available resources.
At this moment, to give the best support to the sector, its territories and its people, MINAGRI, together with its 12 services, defined 5 strategic work axes, with the purpose of highlighting the role of activities in the rural, agricultural and forestry world, as well as the production of food for all Chileans, to build a more fair, sustainable and inclusive Chile:
• Rural development and family farming
• Sustainable production, climate change and water
• Systems and food safety
• Modern partnership and cooperativism
• Modernization, innovation and competitiveness.