Despite the fact that agriculture contributes around 4% of GDP to the country’s economy, it is a fact that the agricultural agenda did not have a prominent place in the government programs of the different candidates in the last presidential election. The very program of the government of the President-elect, Gabriel Boric, recognizes that “rural spaces have been practically absent from the priorities of the majority of the candidates and from the public debate. However, despite being invisible for so long, our purpose is to recover them, through proposals with an innovative perspective on agriculture, fishing and rural development ”.
During the last decades, with the State exercising an eminently subsidiary role within the economy, the process of internationalization of the agricultural sector and the generation of value in the last thirty years has been supported by means of policies aimed at solving certain gaps in the productive areas , investment, knowledge and participation, particularly on the part of peasant family farming. These supports have been implemented through a battery of instruments oriented towards demand and with emphasis on efficient resource allocation. Examples of this are laws aimed at investing in water resources and promoting forestry; as well as the implementation of competitive funds in innovation, sector research, and export promotion.
Another group of sectoral agricultural policies have been focused from the perspective of compensation to sectors that, as a result of the modernization and opening of markets, have been less benefited. An example of this corresponds to the resources of the Degraded Soil Recovery Program (SIRSD), or the significant investment in family farming, and the provision of special credits.
Finally, a third group of policies has focused on maintaining and certifying the sanitary conditions of food production, especially that destined for export, in order to ensure and increase access to external markets. In this work, policies have also been generated to maintain the low level of pests and diseases of plants and animals in the country, as instruments for the competitiveness of the sector.
In this context, it is appropriate to review the two versions of the agricultural program that the President-elect, Gabriel Boric, offered to the citizens, which allows us, on the one hand, to identify those programmatic commitments that the incoming government considers a priority for promote during the next four years in office, but, at the same time, it also gives us insight into other no less relevant issues that surprisingly do not appear in the government program, in any of its versions, despite being part of what we could denominate “the historical agenda” and also “the future agenda” of the Ministry of Agriculture. Finally, it is equally disheartening that a couple of important commitments, which appeared in the first version of the government program, have disappeared in the final version, a setback that is worrying for the reasons that we will explain. Let’s see.
Among the most relevant agricultural commitments of the new government program, is the participatory reformulation of the institutional framework for Agriculture and Fisheries, a commitment that has already been part of the agendas of previous governments and that to date has experienced zero progress, not only because of the scale and complexity of an institutional change that would imply transferring the “fishing institutions” from the scope of the Ministry of Economy to the eaves of the Ministry of Agriculture, but because of the fierce opposition that interest groups have manifested during the legislative process. Faced with this reality, we believe that rather than embarking on an institutional change of high complexity and uncertain destiny, which could end up consuming the political energies of the sectoral authorities of the next government, It is of greater urgency to resolve the serious deficiencies of the institutions of dependent organizations, such as the Agricultural and Livestock Service, whose capacity and control will have deteriorated over time.
Also part of the programmatic agenda of the incoming government is the proposal of a law for the protection of ancestral seeds and genetic heritage, issues regarding which it has been tried unsuccessfully to legislate since the 90s, until now our genetic resources have been completely defenseless, since the different governments have not only been incapable of adopting internal legislation that protects our genetic heritage, rather, they have not had the will to ratify the international instruments on the matter (Nagoya Protocol and Cartagena Protocol).
Another relevant commitment refers to the reformulation of the current Rural Development Policy, a policy recently approved during 2020 after a participatory work of more than a decade and promoted by governments of different political orientations. For this reason, it seems appropriate, before starting to reformulate a recently approved and poorly applied policy, put it into practice to be able to identify during the operation process, what are its strengths, gaps and weaknesses.
In the forestry field, the government program proposes Modifications to Law 20,283 on recovery of the native forest and the repeal of Decree Law 701, on forest development. Beyond the necessary review of these two legal bodies, it is necessary for the incoming government to give the utmost importance to the forestry sector, starting with the deployment in all its aspects of the Forest Policy 2015-2035, and committing itself to a massive plan reforestation in order to restore our battered native forest.
What is worrying, however, are the setbacks observed between the original version of the government program and the final version, since three highly relevant and long-overdue commitments disappear. Indeed, the original version contemplated the commitment related to the improvement of working conditions for agricultural workers, a long-standing issue on the national agricultural agenda, to the point that since 2011 a bill (Bulletin 7976-13) has been in the legislative process that seeks to regulate an issue of special relevance in times of acute lack of labor in the agricultural field. Likewise, the commitment to Promote and strengthen legislation that reduces and oversees the subdivision and real estate and industrial advancement of rural sectors, considering the well-being of ecosystems. It seems to us that this is a major setback and with serious consequences, since the growing speculative phenomenon of rural land parcels for real estate purposes, under the protection and through the fraudulent use of Decree Law 3,516, of 1980, once again demonstrates the limited capacity control of the State authorities, and therefore the impossibility of dealing with this negotiation that is destroying important areas of agricultural land in the country. Therefore, it is urgent to promote the amendment of Decree Law 3,516, with a parliamentary motion currently being processed in the Senate Agriculture Committee (Bulletin 12,757-01).
In addition, the programmatic offer of the incoming government disappears that referring to the creation of a public National Forest Service, which would replace the current National Forestry Corporation. Since its inception, CONAF has been a legal and institutional anomaly that has caused controversy in the field of State Administration, as it is a private law corporation to which the exercise of public powers in the field of forest resources. Hence, over the years there have been several legislative attempts to transform this private law corporation into a public service created by law, for which reason the reasons for excluding it from the definitive program are not seen. Although it is not an easy issue to tackle given the official resistance, it is necessary to persevere in the institutional adaptation of CONAF.
And, finally, a reference to programmatic absences. There is not a single mention in the government program of the need to have a general soil protection law. Annual losses of soil to the sea reach millions of tons due to erosion. Agricultural expansion on sloping areas, mainly in the south-central zone, has increased soil erosion. In eight cities in central Chile, a total of 32,486 hectares have been sealed under cement. These factors, among others, lead to the “extinction of the soil”, a critical component of ecosystems, which is not renewed on a human scale. Legislation is urgently required to regulate human activities that affect soils, in order to maintain their ecosystem functions.
Nor is it contemplated, in a country that intends to play in the major leagues of the agri-food powers, the creation as a public service of the Chilean Food Safety Agency (ACHIPIA) as the entity responsible for managing food safety policies, including risk assessment of the most relevant matters, an entity that since 2005 has been functioning as a mere advisory commission. For the countries that are the destination markets for our agricultural export products, the political-administrative status held by the body in charge of overseeing the safety of agricultural production is relevant.
There is another set of essential subjects, also absent in the program or insufficiently developed, that will be decisive for the development of agriculture in the future and with respect to which the incoming government will have to consider in an eventual update of its agricultural agenda, such as challenges posed by climate change and its impact on agricultural activity that is severely affecting our country; the water crisis and the structural drought that affects our territory; the challenges of technological innovations and precision agriculture; labor management and qualification of the workforce, protection of biodiversity and ecosystems, and so on.
Government programs are a mere road map. They are not written in stone nor are they immutable, for which the Government of the President-elect has the legitimate right to make the adjustments that the circumstances and political, economic and social situations advise it at each stage of its mandate. What is clear is that, if the next government wants to leave any mark in this area, it will have to choose which battles it wants to fight, taking into account the absurdly short presidential term and the new and fragmented parliamentary map that is inaugurated next March .