Integrated Strategic Plan for Sustainable Agriculture

Final Report for ES97-035

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 1997: $25,740.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2001
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $41,300.00
Region: Southern
State: Puerto Rico
Principal Investigator:
Hipólito O’Farrill-Nieves
University of Puerto Rico Agric. Ext. Service
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Project Information

Abstract:

The College of Agricultural Sciences of the University of Puerto Rico (CCA) is committed to the development of sustainable agriculture in Puerto Rico. With this purpose in mind, a team of researchers, extensionists, and professors developed a strategic plan. The purpose of this plan is to facilitates the dissemination of information and create the mechanisms to make responsible decisions related to sustainable agriculture within the island’s complex social-economic-political-environmental-technical framework. It will help to coordinate relevant agricultural research and development, education, and the disclosure of information for the implementation of sustainable agriculture practices. Also, it will help CCA achieves the acceptance and recognition among farmers, students, government, and society as a whole of the social, environmental, and economic benefits that can be derived from the implementation of sustainable agriculture.

Project Objectives:

1.To establish goals, objectives, standards and guidelines as a basis for developing sustainable agriculture in the College of Agricultural Sciences of the University of Puerto Rico, Mayagüez Campus.

2.To design and develop an initial Integrated Strategic Plan for Sustainable Agriculture (ISPSA).

3.To motivate the integration of the three units of the College of Agricultural Sciences by creating a team to design and develop the ISPSA. This team will include representatives from the teaching, research, and extension groups at the College of Agricultural Sciences.

Introduction:

During the 1950’s, the government of Puerto Rico began a vigorous and successful development of the industrial, tourism, and construction sectors of its economy. The best human and capital resources were employed; and, in only three decades, the economic base of Puerto Rico became industrial rather than agricultural. However, contrary to other industrialized countries, Puerto Rico did not upgrade and modernize its agricultural sector during this time.

Even though during the last 15 years the agricultural sector has improved and updated its technology, and production has slowly but consistently increased in some crop enterprises, its gross income is still far below that of other economic sectors.24 According to the Informe Económico al Gobernador, 1998,18 (The Governor’s Economic Report, 1998), agricultural production represented only 0.75% of the gross internal product. Approximately 70% of the food consumed in Puerto Rico is still imported.

As in the United States, Puerto Rico lives under the constant pressure of urban and industrial development. The reduction of the quantity of land available for agricultural use is a consequence of the continual construction of highways, horizontal low-density housing facilities, and industrial and commercial complexes. The rate of loss of land suitable for agricultural use is disproportionate for such a small, densely populated country.* According to the 1997 soil inventory of the U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), from 1982 to 1992 the United States lost 1.4 million acres per year of both agricultural land and open areas. However, from 1992 to 1997, the loss increased to 3.2 million acres per year, which is more than double what it had previously lost per year. Puerto Rico observed a similar pattern for the same periods. From 1982 to 1992, approximately 12,460 acres per year were lost and, from 1992 to 1997, 30,620 acres per year. Statistics from the National Resources Inventory of the USDA indicate that, from 1982 to 1999, Puerto Rico lost more agricultural land and open areas than Oregon, Montana, Idaho, Colorado, Utah, Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota, Wyoming, North Dakota, Nevada, Delaware, Vermont, Rhode Island, or Hawaii. These states, with the exception of Delaware and Rhode Island, each have a geographic area several times larger than that of Puerto Rico. Except for the valleys of Lajas and Aguada, which were recently reserved through public policy exclusively for agricultural use, cultivable land in Puerto Rico is threatened by constant development pressures from both the private and public sectors.

However, at the present time, Puerto Rico has an excellent opportunity to rescue and develop its agriculture. Fortunately, certain political groups on the island have shown an interest in strengthening its agriculture. Resources for the development of a vigorous agricultural system such as land, water, infrastructure, capital, markets, management capacity, and professional and scientific personnel are available. If they are used efficiently, Puerto Rico could produce a large percentage of the food its residents consume, which would contribute significantly to its gross internal production and elevate its economy. According to the 1998 Agricultural Census of the USDA, there were still 865,478 cuerdas in 19,951 farms at that time. The agricultural work force in Puerto Rico is composed of approximately 41,000 workers, and several thousand other jobs are created indirectly through the manufacturing sector of the economy utilizing agricultural products.

Although the agricultural segment is vital to the development of a healthy economy, the CASCCA is conscious of the difficult task involved in the recovery and development of agriculture in Puerto Rico. To rehabilitate agriculture will require serious and continuous commitment from the public sector, researchers, extensionists, professors, farmers, students, consumers, and society as a whole. This effort cannot simply utilize conventional methods of improving production based on intensive use of fertilizers, pesticides, animal feed, and other imported materials, which reduce the economic viability of agricultural enterprises. The technological packages and financial models developed by the College of Agricultural Sciences show that the direct costs for concentrated fertilizers and synthetic pesticides represent 35% of the production costs. In the cattle and poultry enterprises, the use of imported, concentrated feed surpasses 50% of these costs.

The redevelopment of agriculture must focus on all parameters of sustainability, which are: use nonrenewable and local resources efficiently; integrate biological cycles and controls into farm management practices; encourage and support self-sufficient farm economic viability; and improve the general standard of living of farmers and society as a whole. The agricultural sector should be reorganized into new areas of production that are profitable and highly competitive with imported food products, such as intensively operated small farms; gourmet food production; urban agriculture; organic food production; hydroponics; and the development of intelligent marketing systems and agribusinesses for local commodities. Also, it is necessary to redevelop cooperatives within the agricultural community. The cooperative movement has been and is an efficacious tool for the successful production and marketing of agricultural products. Also, the adoption of sustainable agriculture practices in Puerto Rico is feasible because approximately 40% of the farms are small (20 cuerdas or less). According to the USDA, sustainable agriculture is the only solution for the survival of small farms.16 All of these initiatives must be supported by an efficacious agrarian policy in order to protect agricultural land and keep it productive. It is of vital importance to protect this valuable natural resource in order to develop the agriculture that Puerto Rico needs now and will need in the future.

To utilize available natural resources (climate, land, and water) effectively to increase food production and related jobs and economic benefits, it is imperative to develop a vigorous, sustainable agricultural system for the island. The importation of agricultural products, which amounts to approximately $4 billion per year, can be reduced dramatically, allowing for investments in other sectors of the economy. The development of the agricultural sector will improve the total economy of Puerto Rico since each dollar earned in agricultural production at the farm level has a multiplier effect and will benefit not only the farmers but other segments of the population as well. With a greater agricultural production, there will be fewer imports of raw materials, and a higher percentage of the farmer’s income will remain in Puerto Rico. However, the importance of the development of the agricultural sector is not just the generation of income and creation of jobs. Agriculture is the only sector of the economy that can provide food, which is essential for human life. It is also an intrinsic part of our culture and way of life. The local production and consumption of fresh, nutritious, high-quality food items contribute to the development of high esteem among their producers and a healthy population.

Because of its large population and the great distance that separates this island from the rest of the continent, it is imperative that Puerto Rico has an agricultural sector which can satisfy the food needs of the majority of its people. In the event of a hurricane or any other natural or human made disaster, the population could suffer from hunger. Also, U. S. agricultural production, which supplies Puerto Rico with the majority of its goods, has an uncertain future. It is expected that, by the year 2025, the increase in population (approximately 1.1% annually) and the loss of land suitable for agricultural use (approximately 1 acre per additional inhabitant) will force the U. S. to stop the exportation of agricultural products as they will be needed for local consumption.20 In addition, it is expected that food prices in the U. S. will increase and be 3 to 5 times higher than they are currently.

The College of Agricultural Sciences of the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez (CCA) has the capacity and the resources to contribute significantly to the recovery and sustainability of our agriculture. The CCA is committed to taking an active role in encouraging the development of sustainable agriculture in Puerto Rico. With this purpose in mind, in 1997 the Dean and Director of the CCA organized a committee composed of researchers, extensionists, and professors to develop an effective strategic plan.

Education & Outreach Initiatives

Objective:
Description:

Methods

The University of Puerto Rico’s College of Agricultural Sciences (UPRCAS) initiated the development of its Integrated Strategic Plan for Sustainable Agriculture (ISPSA) in December 1997. The Dean of the College of Agricultural Sciences designed a team of ten faculty members to lead the development of the strategic plan. This team included representatives from the teaching, research, and extension groups at the College. A graduate student specialized in planning was brought into the CSA, a move that was helpful to its strategic planning process. The committee was named the Sustainable Agriculture Committee of the College of Agricultural Sciences (CASCCA).

In 1998, two scientists nationally known for their expertise in areas related to sustainable agriculture participated in our strategic planning process. These were Dr. Aref Abdul-Baki, a plant physiologist from the Agricultural Research Service, USDA, Beltsville, Maryland, and Dr. Charles A. Francis, professor of agronomy and Director of the Center for Sustainable Agricultural Systems at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Dr. Abdul-Baki visited the UPR College of Agriculture on March 16-18, 1998, and presented the seminar “Advances in Sustainable Agriculture: Research and Perspectives.” Dr. Charles A. Francis visited Puerto Rico on April 21-25, 1998, and presented the seminar “Agroecology and Sustainable Agriculture”. Both scientists had the opportunity to interact with the CSA, the faculty of the UPRCAS, county agents, and farmers. Dr. Abdul-Baki and Dr. Francis assisted the CSA in establishing the preliminary goals, objectives and the action plan for the ISPSA.

The goal of the CSA for 1999 was to develop the first draft of the strategic plan in order to use it as a guide to receive the input of farmers, county agents, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), the Puerto Rico Department of Agriculture (PRDA), and other stakeholders of the UPR College of Agricultural Sciences. In the first semester of 1999, the CSA had four meeting sessions with growers, county agents, and undergraduate students to give them the opportunity to participate in the development of the first draft of the strategic plan. On June 24, 1999, the CSA presented the first draft of its strategic plan at the Puerto Rico Sustainable Agriculture Conference, held at the UPR Mayagüez Campus. One hundred and fifty copies of the first draft were distributed among the attendees (growers, county agents, faculty members, students, officials of the NRCS and PRDA, and members of non governmental organizations) for comments. Also, in 1999, four members of the CSA visited the University of California at Santa Cruz and Davis to share ideas about the implementation of extension, research, and teaching programs on sustainable agriculture.

In FY 2000, the CSA had three regional meetings to interact with farmers, county agents, students, faculty members, the NRCS, the PRDA, and growers. The first draft of the ISPSA was presented and discussed with the attendees to these regional meetings. In FY 2000, three members of the CSA visited the “Universidad Autónoma Chapingo” in Texcoco, Mexico, and attended the Alternative Agriculture Expo 2000 in Sioux City, Iowa. These trips brought to CSA members the opportunity to share ideas about the implementation of extension, research, and teaching programs on sustainable agriculture. The comments and information gathered this year helped CSA to validate relevant issues that must be addressed, and the systems approaches, interdisciplinary efforts, and multi-institutional partnerships that are necessary to develop sustainable agriculture in Puerto Rico. A revised version of the plan was made available for comments on the internet web page http://sea.upr.clu.edu/ under Archivos y documentos. Also, it was mailed to some cooperating growers. The plan was revised again taking into account the comments received, and the final Spanish version of the ISPSA was ready in May, 2001. In the summer of 2001 the Spanish version of the plan was translated into English. The Spanish and English versions of the plan are currently available to the agricultural community at the same above web site address.

Outreach and Publications

The English and Spanish versions of the “Integrated Strategic Plan for Sustainable Agriculture of University of Puerto Rico’s College of Agricultural Sciences” are available to the agricultural community on the internet web page http://sea.upr.clu.edu/ under Archivos y documentos.

Outcomes and impacts:

The Integrated Strategic Plan for Sustainable Agriculture of University of Puerto Rico’s College of Agricultural Sciences was developed. This plan will facilitates the dissemination of information and generation of the mechanisms to make responsible decisions related to sustainable agriculture within the island’s complex social-economic-political-environmental-technical framework. It will help to coordinate relevant agricultural research and development, education, and the disclosure of information for the implementation of sustainable agriculture practices. Also, it will help CCA achieves the acceptance and recognition among farmers, students, government, and society as a whole of the social, environmental, and economic benefits that can be derived from the implementation of sustainable agriculture.

The development of this strategic plan was an excellent opportunity for the units of UPR College of Agricultural Sciences to work together in the establishment of mutual goals, objectives, and strategies. There was enthusiasm to unite efforts and work as a team. There was a unanimous decision between growers, agricultural professionals, students, extensionists, and researchers to carry out multidisciplinary, cooperative, and participatory research-extension projects on sustainable agriculture. Also, to participate in educational programs designed to spread knowledge among Puerto Rico’s population about the importance and benefits of sustainability, the conservation of cropland, and the consumption of locally produced food.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.