Tax Breaks in D.R. Fail to Boost Agro Sector

By El Dinero

Several economic sectors in the Dominican Republic benefit from the tax exemptions granted by the government with the intent of encouraging their growth so they contribute to job creation in the country, among other things.

One of these sectors—which has benefited from three types of tax exemptions since 2008—is the agriculture and livestock sector. These exemptions are an advance on income tax, tax on assets and withholding of income tax on payments made by the government.

 (Ted S. Warren/AP)

Exemptions were granted with the intent of contributing to the sector’s recovery after storms Noel and Olga in 2007, whose estimated damages exceed RD $14.5 billion.

The measure was justified by the scarcity of agricultural and livestock consumables and the occurrence of market events that affected the production or marketing of some products.

General Regulation 02-2009 had a new justification to continue with the three agricultural and livestock exemptions: the 2008 international economic crisis, “which affected the sector in the Dominican Republic in a considerable manner.”

However, since 2010, the regulations’ main consideration for preserving the exemptions has been “the interest of maintaining their contribution with the improvement of the conditions in the agricultural and livestock sector, so the fulfillment of their tax obligations does not alter their economic decisions.”

Few results

However, the fiscal sacrifice assumed by the government since 2008 to improve the development of the agricultural and livestock sector has failed to produce results. In terms of job generation within the sector, it has remained unstable.

The same can be said of its contribution to the gross domestic product’s (GDP) growth, which went from 6.1% in 2008 to 5.6% last year, according to Central Bank figures.

Tax sacrifices made by the government are classified as tax expenses, defined as the amount of income the government coffers fails to receive when granting a preferential tax treatment that departs from what is stated in the tax legislation with the intent of benefiting certain sectors or taxpayers.

“The tax expense is made effective through exemptions, deductions, credits or deferred payments,” stated a section of the 2017 General State Budget.

Although since 2008 the government’s budgets contained exemption estimates from sectors such as tourism, duty-free zones and electricity generation, the agricultural and livestock sector’s exemption amount is not included.

More beneficiaries

“When organizing tax expenditures by benefiting a sector, generalized exemptions for natural persons, duty-free zone companies, electricity generation and the healthcare sector account for 67% of the total sector’s tax expenditures,” this year’s budget pointed out.

These sectors are followed by exemptions for education (4.9%), tourism (3%), mining (2.8%), concessions and contracts with the public sector (2.6%), vehicle importers (2.1%), private nonprofit institutions (1.6%), internet purchases (1.5%) and the industrial sector (0.9%).

The remaining 10% of tax expenditures are awarded to the renewable energy, film, textile and footwear manufacturing border development and gambling sectors, as well as religious institutions, among others.




Senate confirms Sonny Perdue as agriculture secretary

WASHINGTON – The Senate on Monday confirmed former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue to be agriculture secretary in President Donald Trump’s administration as the farming industry looks to Washington for help amid a downturn in the market.

Perdue won confirmation on a strong bipartisan vote of 87-11, as several Democrats backed a Trump nominee after razor-thin outcomes for his choices earlier this year. Perdue’s cousin, Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., voted “present” but presided over the vote and announced the final tally.

The son of a farmer from Bonaire, Georgia, Sonny Perdue will be the first Southerner in the post in more than two decades. He has owned several agricultural businesses, but isn’t related to or affiliated with the food company Perdue or the poultry producer Perdue Farms.

At his confirmation hearing in March, Perdue assured nervous farm-state senators that he will advocate for rural America, even as Trump has proposed deep cuts to some farm programs. He also promised to reach out to Democrats.

Still, Perdue, 70, is getting a late start on the job. Trump nominated him just two days before his inauguration, and then the nomination was delayed for weeks as the administration prepared his ethics paperwork. Perdue eventually said he would step down from several companies bearing his name to avoid conflicts of interest.

As agriculture secretary, he’ll be in charge of around 100,000 employees and the nation’s food and farm programs, including agricultural subsidies, conservation efforts, rural development programs, food safety and nutrition programs such as food stamps and federally-subsidized school meal,

Perdue will take office as farm prices have been down for several years in a row and some parts of the industry, including cotton and dairy farmers, say they need the department and Congress to rewrite agricultural policy to help revive their business.

Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts, the chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, said Perdue will help facilitate recovery in small American towns.

“I know he will put the needs of farmers, ranchers and others in rural America first,” Roberts said.

Perdue’s main task over the coming year will be working with Congress and coordinating his department’s input on the next five-year farm bill. Current farm policy expires next year, and lawmakers on the House and Senate agriculture committees will have to find a way to push it through Congress amid heightened partisan tensions and concerns over spending.

At his hearing, he pledged to help senators sustain popular crop insurance programs and fix problems with government dairy programs.

Perdue may also find himself in the uncomfortable position of defending agriculture in an administration that has so far given the issue limited attention, despite Trump’s strong support in rural areas. Trump has proposed a 21 percent cut in USDA programs and has harshly criticized some international trade deals, saying they have killed American jobs. But farmers who produce more than they can sell in the United States have heavily profited from some of those deals, and are hoping his anti-trade policies will include some exceptions for agriculture.

At the hearing, Perdue said, “Food is a noble thing to trade.”

Perdue will also be part of the administration’s response to a dispute with Canada’s dairy industry, which has a new lower-priced classification of milk product that Trump says is harming U.S. producers in dairy states like Wisconsin and New York. Canada changed its policy on pricing domestic milk to cover more dairy ingredients, leading to lower prices for Canadian products that compete with U.S. milk.

Wisconsin Sen. Tammy Baldwin, a Democrat, voted for Perdue and encouraged him to come to Wisconsin to talk to affected farmers.

“I stand as a willing partner to work with Secretary Perdue and President Trump to address this urgent issue,” Baldwin said.

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer of New York also talked to Trump about the dairy issue last week in a rare phone call between the two men.

Trump has reached out to farmers on regulation, saying the government has too many rules that negatively affect farm country. That issue is expected to come up on Perdue’s first day in office Tuesday, when the president holds hold a round table discussion with farmers and sign an executive order “to provide relief for rural America,” according to the White House.

The White House hasn’t said when Perdue will be sworn in, but he is scheduled to speak to USDA staff Tuesday morning.

After Perdue, remaining nominees for Trump’s administration to be confirmed are Robert Lighthizer for U.S. trade representative and Alexander Acosta for labor secretary.




Puerto Rico Delegation Requests Federal Funds for Agriculture

SAN JUAN – Senate Agriculture Committee President Luis Berdiel Rivera announced Thursday that he will meet with representatives of federal agencies on Feb. 27, in order to request funds for Puerto Rico’s farming and fishing industry.

Also joining the meeting will be House Agriculture Committee President Joel Franqui and and Agriculture Secretary Carlos Flores. The meeting will take place on the island along with the federal representatives.

“In this meeting we could be able to receive funds, both for the fishing sector as well as other agricultural sectors,” said Berdiel Rivera during a public hearing in which Senate Resolution 58 was being evaluated to study the conditions for fishing villages in Ponce, Guayanilla, Peñuelas, Guánica, and Lajas. Juana Díaz is expected to be included in the resolution as well.

Senate Agriculture Commission President Luis Berdiel (File Photo)

Senate Agriculture Commission President Luis Berdiel Rivera (File Photo)

Thus, the legislator encouraged municipalities to have their fishing licenses up-to-date, because if they are “organized,” they qualify for federal aid. “If not, that aid will collapse,” he declared.

During the public hearing, Guánica Mayor Santos Seda Nazario explained to the Senate Agriculture Committee that the second construction phase of the fishing dock in Playa Santa is on hold because their $83,000 fund is frozen in the Government Development Bank (GDB).

The mayor of Guánica, a municipality that is also in charge of Barrio Pueblo and Salinas, acknowledged the study’s importance, since he believes the fish market’s facilities are in need of improvements.

Meanwhile, the administrator of Playa de Ponce’s Villa Pesquera (Fishing Village), Eliezer Maldonado Torres, maintained that the zone’s only infrastructure problem is related to sedimentation from Portugués River, which hinders vessels’ entry and exit. Ponce has 16 active fishermen who have expressed concern over vandalism and theft in their work areas.

For his part, Guayanilla Mayor Nelson Torres Yordán said that, although there are 13 active fishermen in the municipality, they don’t have adequate facilities for their operations.

In the case of Lajas, the municipality has 42 active fishermen who have expressed concern over the state of Papayo’s fishing village, which is under jurisdiction of the Housing Department because as a special community. This situation has hindered the municipality ability to offer help, which is why they requested a transfer to repair the installations, Lajas’ Planning director, Carlos López, said.




Watermelon Corp. bets on Puerto Rico

SAN JUAN — Agriculture Secretary Carlos Flores Ortega held a meeting on Tuesday with several representatives from Watermelon Corp., in order to establish strategic planning to create more development opportunities for the local agriculture.

During the meeting, Flores Ortega and the businessmen examined the possibility for Watermelon Corp. to expand its melon harvest on the island and export the produce to the American market of products specialized for athletes by developing its organic beverage, Watermelon Waters.

The proposal is to develop a large-scale melon production in Puerto Rico between December 2017 and April 2018, and then harvest the fruit year-round. In addition, Watermelon Corp. wants its organic beverage to be completely produced in Puerto Rico.

If an agreement is achieved with the company, the project will contribute to developing Puerto Rico’s agricultural industry, and increase job creations, with a $50 million projected to the local economy.

The Agriculture Department is committed to analyzing the 1,000 acres of land that the private corporation requested to begin melon harvests in the island.




State of emergency declared amid heavy rains

SAN JUAN – Puerto Rico has declared a state of emergency and activated the National Guard due to heavy rains that have caused $13 million in crop losses.

Interim Gov. Víctor Suárez said Tuesday that coffee, rice, fruits and vegetables are among the devastated crops.

Officials say the heavy rains that began on Sunday have unleashed widespread flooding, caused several small landslides and damaged infrastructure. Some 14 inches (36 centimeters) of rain have fallen this month, nearly 10 inches (25.4 centimeters) above average.

Following heavy rains in recent days, several landslides have been reported. There are 14 refugees in Loíza. (INS)

Following heavy rains in recent days, several landslides have been reported. There are 14 refugees in Loíza. (INS)




Expert: Straying from Food Security Plan could be dangerous for Puerto Rico

SAN JUAN – If Gov.-elect Ricardo Rosselló’s administration doesn’t continue the local Agriculture Department’s ongoing food security efforts, the executive director of the Innovation Fund for Agricultural Development (FIDA by its Spanish acronym), agronomist Saritza Aulet Padilla, said during the 34th assembly of the Latin American Association of Industrial Millers (ALIM by its Spanish initials) held this week in San Juan that it could be disastrous for the island.

Aulet Padilla says food security cannot be tied to local politics’ ups and downs, and farmers are the ones with the power to keep the local agriculture industry alive.

The agronomist explained that, as an island, Puerto Rico’s situation is precarious in that it exposes residents to a food emergency in the case of any eventuality. Thus, FIDA is working aggressively on a food safety plan for the island.

“We have had a lot of communication with farmers, explaining to them that they have the power, that what we have achieved these years is in their hands. We haven’t done anything that hasn’t been without them present, and the Food Safety Plan is a foundation that, regardless of the administration in office, must continue because we are very vulnerable,” she said.

“We can say there is food in supermarkets, we can say there is food in our refrigerators, but when looking at the definition of food security, we are vulnerable because we don’t produce it; it isn’t in our gardens, it isn’t on our homes,” she added.

The expert explained that food security exists when the population has physical, social and economic access to sufficient innocuous and nutritional foods to satisfy their food needs and preferences at all times, in order to lead an active and healthy lifestyle. And although Puerto Rico hasn’t solidified the plan yet, the island is headed toward that goal, but there is still much to do.

“We are headed toward that and that is what we want to keep fostering. We have to promote production niches of some products, but in other things we have to push for food security. What is it we eat and whether we produce it or not. Our mission is to diminish the gap so we have food security at all times in homes,” she indicated.

“That is why programs such as Mercado Familiar [Family Market] are so important, which has been the only program that has allowed us to have yautía [taro], sweet potato, malanga, because what’s imported from other countries is very high-priced. We have laws to comply with, some minimum payrolls to fulfill and we already have competition, so [the programs] are very important because what they do is strengthen an industrial, family market. It strengthens the farmer and then, in volumes, [he or she] can be competitive,” she explained.

Aulet Padilla warned about risks if Puerto Rico depended entirely on imported products to satisfy its food needs, recalling that merely a year ago an emergency situation occurred with a cargo vessel that sank en route to Puerto Rico while carrying food supplies.

Saritza Aulet

Saritza Aulet Padilla, executive director of the Innovation Fund for Agricultural Development (FIDA by its Spanish acronym)

“As recently as last year, when the cargo ship ‘El Faro’ sank, in Puerto Rico we tried for months for products to arrive gradually to supermarkets. As recently as that, it upset our security. In case of a major emergency, we could have a huge food problem at the local level,” she warned.

The Agriculture Department, she explained, has administrative structures to work with the Food Security Plan.

“We have the Land Authority, which manages farmland owned by the government; the Agriculture Department as a basis with inspections, sanitation and incentives to farmers supported on the production of developing farming companies, which is the phase that provides all the incentives to farmers. A farming insurance corporation, which is very important for the development of this industry, and FIDA, which is the phase where we work with everything that is our farmers’ marketing, recruitment and financing. This is supported by other federal and local agencies,” Aulet Padilla said.

The official also said that the Food Security Plan, which goes alongside the Agriculture Department’s Plan for Puerto Rico was designed to change the general perception that agriculture is archaic labor and out of tune with the technological era.

“Many people still see agriculture as something of the past and we know it isn’t like that, that agriculture has evolved and we want Puerto Ricans to be able to receive our plan from the point of view that there is modernism in agriculture. We are also faced with decreasing production in Puerto Rico, substituted by importation, which we want to diminish. Products arrive from all parts of the world…from all the world, mainly the U.S., from where we receive around 80% of our daily consumption,” she said.

Likewise, the food security plan is focused on attracting youth interested in developing themselves as agricultural workers.

“The average agricultural worker in Puerto Rico is over 55 years old, more or less than in other countries, so we try to incorporate youth into the industry, offering training, comfortable financing and plenty of mentor support,” Aulet Padilla said.




Arctic Farming: Town Turns to Hydroponics for Fresh Greens

In this Oct. 18, 2016 photo taken in Anchorage, Alaska, Dan Perpich talks about his company, Vertical Harvest Hydroponics, which partnered with an Alaska Native corporation to grow produce inside an insulated shipping container in the northwest Alaska town of Kotzebue. The goal is to grow kale, lettuces and other greens year-round, despite the region's unforgiving climate. (AP Photo/Rachel D'Oro)

In this Oct. 18, 2016 photo taken in Anchorage, Alaska, Dan Perpich talks about his company, Vertical Harvest Hydroponics, which partnered with an Alaska Native corporation to grow produce inside an insulated shipping container in the northwest Alaska town of Kotzebue. (AP Photo/Rachel D’Oro)

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — The landscape is virtually treeless around a coastal hub town above Alaska’s Arctic Circle, where even summer temperatures are too cold for northern-growing forests to take root.

Amid these unforgiving conditions, a creative kind of farming is sprouting up in the largely Inupiat community of Kotzebue.

A subsidiary of a local Native corporation is using hydroponics technology to grow produce inside an insulated, 40-foot shipping container equipped with glowing magenta LED lights. Arctic Greens is harvesting kale, various lettuces, basil and other greens weekly from the soil-free system and selling them at the supermarket in the community of nearly 3,300.

“We’re learning,” Will Anderson, president of the Native Kikiktagruk Inupiat Corp., said of the business launched last spring. “We’re not a farming culture.”

The venture is first of its kind north of the Arctic Circle, according to the manufacturer of Kotzebue’s pesticide-free system. The goal is to set up similar systems in partnerships with other rural communities far from Alaska’s minimal road system – where steeply priced vegetables can be more than a week in transit and past their prime by the time they arrive at local stores.

There are other tools for extending the short growing season in a state with cold soil. One increasingly popular method involves high tunnels, tall hoop-shaped structures that cover crops.

But the season can last year-round with indoor hydroponics, which uses water and nutrients to grow vertically stacked plants rooted in a binding material such as rock wool.

Anchorage-based Vertical Harvest Hydroponics, which builds enclosed systems out of transformed shipping containers, partnered with Kikiktagruk. The 2-year-old company also sold the system to a farmer in the rural town of Dillingham.

“Our vision is that this can be a long-term solution to the food shortage problems in the north,” said Ron Perpich, a company founder. “We’re hoping that we can put systems anywhere that there’s people.”

But the operations have challenges, including steep price tags. Startup costs in Kotzebue were around $200,000, including the customized freight container and the price to fly it in a C-130 transport plane from Anchorage, 550 miles to the southeast.

The town also relies heavily on expensive diesel power, so operations could eat into profits.

In addition, moving tender produce from its moist, warm growing enclosure to a frigid environment can be challenging. And farming can be a largely foreign concept to Native communities with deeply imbedded traditions of hunting and gathering.

Still, the potential benefits outweigh the downsides, according to Johanna Herron, state market access and food safety manager.

Grown with the correct nutrient balance, hydroponics produce is considered just as safe as crops grown using other methods.

“It’s not the only solution,” Herron said. “Hydroponics is just a piece of it, but certainly an excellent thing for communities to look into.”

Alaska Commercial Co., which has stores in nearly three dozen remote communities, is carrying Arctic Greens in the Kotzebue store. This week, the Dillingham AC store is beginning to sell produce grown in the local farm’s hydroponics system. The chain will bring the Arctic Greens brand to more locations if expansion plans prove cost-effective, AC general manager Walter Pickett told The Associated Press.

“The produce is fantastic, at least what we’ve been seeing out of Kotzebue,” he said. “The customers love it.”

Lisa Adan is among the Kotzebue residents who regularly buy the produce. She said there are plans to start providing it at the local hospital’s cafeteria, where she is an assistant manager.

Adan said the locally grown greens are superior to the produce that’s transported north.

“It’s so much better,” she said. “It tastes like it just came out of your garden.”

For now, the new business is operating as a prototype, especially as it enters the long, harsh winter season in Kotzebue, 26 miles north of the Arctic Circle.

The town, the regional hub for northwest Alaska villages, is built on a 3-mile-long spit, and many there live a subsistence lifestyle. The community has a chronically high unemployment rate, with the school district, state and local hospital among its major employers.

For now, the biggest selling point of the hydroponics produce is freshness. Prices are parallel with greens brought up from the Lower 48.

But operators are trying to work out kinks and find ways to lower energy costs, possibly through such alternatives as wind power, according to Anderson.

“We want to be a benefit to the community,” he said. “Not only do we want fresher produce, but affordable produce.”

Nearly 400 miles to the northeast, the village corporation in the Inupiat community of Nuiqsut is considering acquiring one of the systems. Joe Nukapigak, president of the Kuukpik Corp., said he plans to travel to Kotzebue after Thanksgiving to see hydroponics in action.

Unlike diesel-powered Kotzebue, Nuiqsut is just miles from the Prudhoe Bay oil field and taps into far less costly natural gas.

Nukapigak envisions the oil industry as a possible customer if hydroponics takes hold in his village. He also likes the thought of same-day freshness as opposed to produce that’s sometimes ruined by the time it arrives.

“If we have a local operation like that, it would not get spoiled as much,” he said. “It would be made locally, and that would help.”




A decade of crop loss from Hurricane Matthew in Haiti

In this Oct. 10, 2016 photo, banana and coconut trees are bent and broken along a southern coast road near the town of Roche-a-Bateau, Haiti, left behind by Hurricane Matthew.(AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

In this Oct. 10, 2016 photo, banana and coconut trees are bent and broken along a southern coast road near the town of Roche-a-Bateau, Haiti, left behind by Hurricane Matthew.(AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

LES CAYES, Haiti — As Hurricane Matthew roared across southwestern Haiti, Joselien Jean-Baptiste huddled with his family while the wind whipped at his little house. When it was finally safe to venture outside at dawn the 60-year-old farmer realized his troubles had only just begun.

The storm knocked down part the house where he lives with his wife and six children outside of Les Cayes, leaving only a small section of corrugated metal still intact. But that was the least of his problems. The field he had worked for 25 years was a scene of violent upheaval. His rice was swamped with river water; the mango and breadfruit trees were split like matchsticks; his corn flattened or torn from the ground by fierce winds.

“It is going to take us a long, long time to get back on our feet,” Jean-Baptiste said.

Haitian and international agricultural officials say it could be a decade or more before the southwestern peninsula recovers economically from Hurricane Matthew, which struck hard at the rugged region of more than 1 million people that is almost completely dependent on farming and fishing.

Residents stand amidst the rubble of destroyed homes as they watch a U.S. military helicopter land to deliver USAID relief supplies in Anse d'Hainault, southwestern Haiti, Friday, Oct. 14, 2016. Two U.S. military helicopters touched down briefly on Friday morning to deliver drinking water and saline to the remote town, which has seen a spike in cholera cases after suffering severe damage from Hurricane Matthew. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

Residents stand amidst the rubble of destroyed homes as they watch a U.S. military helicopter land to deliver USAID relief supplies in Anse d’Hainault, southwestern Haiti, Friday, Oct. 14, 2016. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

The Civil Protection agency said Friday that the death toll from Hurricane Matthew, which made landfall here on Oct. 4, had risen to 546, though it was likely to climb higher as reports continued to trickle in from remote areas. Likewise, the statistics about economic losses are still approximate, but appear to be catastrophic.

In the Grand-Anse region, nearly 100 percent of crops and 50 percent of livestock were destroyed, according to the World Food Program. On the outskirts of Les Cayes, where Jean-Baptiste lives, more than 90 percent of crops were lost and the fishing industry was “paralyzed” as material and equipment washed away, the organization said.

Re-planting vegetable crops can be done relatively quickly and rice fields begin to recover as floodwaters recede, but the loss of mature fruit trees that families nurtured for a generation is a staggering blow. “It will take at least 10 years for nature to do what it needs to do to grow the trees back,” said Elancie Moise, an agronomist and senior agriculture ministry official in the south.

Grapefruit, fig and avocado trees were wiped out along with important root crops such as yams, which were inundated with water or damaged by the whipping wind, Moise said. Vetiver, a grass that is used to produce fragrances and is an important export for Haiti, appears to have sustained some root damage but may be one of the few crops to make it, he added.

There are widespread reports of rising prices in the outdoor markets that line the region’s rural roads and of people struggling to find food. “Already there are some people, if you ask them what they ate for dinner last night, they won’t be able to answer you,” Moise said.

This is a region that only recently began recovering from a drought that had decreased crop production by half. Now, farmers like Jean-Baptiste are wading through the ankle-deep water in their rice fields desperately searching for stalks that may have survived and can still be sold. Many have nothing to salvage. Trees such as bread fruit and coconut palms can’t even be sold for charcoal because the wood isn’t suitable. People are also trying to save what fruit they can, but most wasn’t yet ripe.

“It took a long time for these trees to get strong and now all my coffee has been lost. Our plantains and vegetables, everything is gone,” said Rico Lifete, who works a small plot in the craggy mountains outside the coastal city of Jeremie and managed to save his dozen chickens by keeping them inside his stone-and-stucco shack with his family.

Haiti as a whole is largely deforested, with an estimated 2 percent of its original forest cover left because of decades of misuse of the land and the cutting of trees to make charcoal for cooking. But this western peninsula that juts out along the Caribbean Sea had been comparatively lush. It includes the cloud-shrouded mountains of Pic Macaya National Park, which was declared a biosphere reserve by UNESCO in 2016. Until Hurricane Matthew, the narrow roads along the coast were shaded by soaring rows of palms.

Now, it looks like the whole place has been put through a blender. The palms, those that haven’t crashed through the roofs of houses and churches, look like they were given a bad haircut, crudely hacked away at the top. The breadfruit and mango trees behind the home of Oscar Corentin, in a village west of Les Cayes, were a tangle of fallen limbs and bare branches.

Corentin and his extended family inherited this piece of land from his mother, and the trees were there when he was born. Asked how old he is, the wiry, bare-chested farmer, who looks to be in his 60s, dismissively waves a machete, saying “I’ve lost count.” His younger cousin says she is 64. The fruit sustained dozens of people, including his seven grandchildren and her 12. “I lost everything,” he said. “Please show the world what is going on.”

The effects are being felt not only by the farmers who rely on their marginal farmland to eke out a living, but also in the street markets far from the worst-hit districts. Farmers such as Celeo Marcelin have been combing through their remaining crops trying to find anything to salvage for sale, and not finding much. “There’s nothing left,” he said.

International aid groups say the widespread crop damage will require an influx of seed packs for replanting once the immediate needs of emergency water, food and medicine are met.

“We are aware that it will be more effective to distribute seeds to farmers timed with their next planting season, in early 2017, ideally with fertilizer or compost to help replenish the soil which has been flooded in saltwater,” said Jean-Claude Fignole, a senior Oxfam official in Haiti.

A “flash appeal” for Haiti issued by the U.N. humanitarian agency in Geneva was not getting anywhere near the level of support officials are seeking, with only about 5 percent pledged so far of the $120 million requested. The lack of immediate help has caused frustration, with some people in the village where Jean-Baptiste lives just east of Les Cayes trying to force an aid truck to stop and clashing with peacekeepers on a recent afternoon.

“Everything is gone here,” he said, “people are going to just leave.”




US Farmers Make Foray into Quinoa as Demand for Grain Grows

In this Sept. 13, 2016 photo, farmer Sam McCullough uses his combine to harvest quinoa near Sequim, Wash. Quinoa, a trendy South American grain, barely has a foothold in American agriculture, but a handful of farmers and university researchers are working toward changing that. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

In this Sept. 13, 2016 photo, farmer Sam McCullough uses his combine to harvest quinoa near Sequim, Wash. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

SEQUIM, Wash. — To the south of Nash Huber’s farm fields are the Olympic Mountains, peaking at nearly 8,000 feet. Due north is the end of a channel of Pacific Ocean waters that separate the United States from Canada.

Yet in this corner of the country is where the 75-year-old Huber hopes the South American grain quinoa takes root.

Last month, Huber harvested quinoa commercially for the first time on about 30 acres, making him the latest addition to a small number of U.S. farmers trying to capitalize on American eaters’ growing demand for the Andean grain.

“It’s a beautiful crop,” Huber said as he surveyed his combine grinding the plants and spitting out the seeds. He chose a variety called Redhead, which turned his field lipstick red for a couple of weeks before harvest. “We’re still learning. I kind of stepped off the end of the dock here with a bit of a bite this year.”

Americans consume more than half the global production of quinoa, which totaled 37,000 tons in 2012. Twenty years earlier, production was merely 600 tons, according to the United Nation’s Food and Agricultural Organization.

Yet quinoa fields are so rare in American farming that the total acreage doesn’t show on an agricultural census, said Julianne Kellogg, a Washington State University graduate student monitoring quinoa test plots around the Olympic Mountains, including one next to Huber’s field. A rough estimate puts the country’s quinoa fields at 3,000 to 5,000 acres.

Quinoa’s nutritional punch has pushed the grain beyond health food stores and into general consumption, propped up by celebrities like Oprah Winfrey.

It has all the amino acids humans need, making it a complete protein, Kellogg said. That’s hard to find in grain crops, she said. It’s also gluten-free.

The grain’s future is marked with possibilities, including milk, beer, cereals, hair products, snacks – products well beyond the salad bar.

“I think we’re witnessing the start of a staple,” said Sergio Nuñez de Arco, a Bolivia native whose company, Andean Naturals, has been instrumental in bringing quinoa north, distributing to Costco, Trader Joe’s and others.

The spike in demand from the U.S. and Europe led big farm operations in Peru to enter quinoa farming a few years ago. That resulted in an oversupply, and prices have been falling.

According to a July report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agricultural Service, quinoa prices plummeted about 40 percent between September 2014 and August 2015.

“Farmers are rotating out of quinoa,” Nuñez de Arco said. “They went back to the city to look for work. It was good while it lasted, so it’s back to rural migration.”

Nuñez de Arco has opened a California processing plant for the bitter coating that covers the quinoa grains. It wasn’t welcome news for his Bolivian farmers.

“There needs to be some improvement to practices and they’re gonna get that through some healthy competition,” said Nuñez de Arco, now based in San Francisco. “My push has been to protect the smaller farmer in a top-shelf niche, where they will have the demand.”

In Washington state, Huber’s quinoa will head to Lundberg Family Farms, a California-based company that has been a leader in domestic quinoa production. This year, Lundberg and its network of contracted farmers along the West Coast hope to harvest 2 million pounds of quinoa.

“It’s great to have product available where folks are consuming it,” said Tim Schultz, vice president of research and development at Lundberg. “You have less food miles on it.”

For more quinoa to grow in the United States, farmers and researchers must find the right mix of varieties and environments. The Washington State University plots are testing varieties for heat resistance and late-summer sprouting, among other benchmarks. Next year, they’ll test plots in Maryland and Minnesota.

“From a farmer’s perspective, it’s more options for rotations,” said Kevin Murphy, an assistant professor at the university.

That’s an option that attracted Huber. Quinoa represents his first commodity crop. On a harvest day, he eyeballed a lower yield than he wanted, in part because the elk that roam the nearby woods frolicked in the quinoa fields.

“I hope I break even,” he said with a laugh. “If we break even or make a little bit of money, that’ll be good because I learned quite a few things here.”




Bernier willing to fight interests affecting local production

SAN JUAN—The president of the Popular Democratic Party (PDP) and candidate for governor, David Bernier, announced Wednesday that, if elected, he would implement a project to give preference to local produce, especially agricultural production, and says he would fight the “big interests” who oppose any public policy that seeks to reduce dependence on imports.

bernier-riceIn this manner, he defended the pilot project developed by the Department of Agriculture to plant rice on the island, an initiative that was harshly criticized by the political opposition who labeled it the “world’s most expensive rice.”

“We will implement a project of preference to local products, not only in the public sector, but also the private sector, through decreed incentives, has to establish a protocol of first option for local products. The most effective incentive we can give farmers is to ensure the acquisition of their harvest so they can plan their planting accordingly,” said Bernier during a press conference at the PDP headquarters in San Juan’s Puerta de Tierra sector, the first in which he was accompanied by his wife, TV hostess Alexandra Fuentes.

Offering paella and “arroz con dulce” cooked with Puerto Rican rice, which he called “Bernier rice” as a spin on what political opponents said some days ago, the gubernatorial candidate insisted that such a “tough policy” to support local products will bring about tensions with so-called great interests, saying “they would not like local agricultural production [to increase] because they import similar products.”

“Well, I have no problem in facing them, even though they find political spokesmen [on the other side of the aisle]. They will always find an opponent in yours truly, “he said, after joking with the phrase “arroz que Bernier hay,” a play on a popular Puerto Rican refrain.

The former secretary of state denied that the Puerto Rican rice is the most expensive, and said that, on the contrary, it is the best-selling of its kind in the Econo supermarket chain. Although he said that the price is currently about $1.50 on sale, Secretary of Agriculture Myrna Comas said the recommended price is $2.90.

“Eight bucks a pound, please. How can Econo sell it to a $ 1.48? […] It is not a project of the State Department. It is a project of the Department of Agriculture, and I congratulate the secretary, and if it were mine, I would say it because I have no problems. I believe in this project. [The attack] is a Machiavellian [scheme] to see what damage is done and entertain people. But this country knows more than that,” he said.