| Dominican Republic | Feb 04, 2015
The Dominican Republic is in fact the second-largest producer of sugarcane in the Caribbean behind Cuba. Some of the country’s other main agricultural products such as coffee, tobacco, and cocoa […]
The Dominican Republic is in fact the second-largest producer of sugarcane in the Caribbean behind Cuba. Some of the country’s other main agricultural products such as coffee, tobacco, and cocoa are also cash crops destined for export. In the case of cocoa, exports in 2013 were worth $214 million to the country with 69,000 metric tons being sent to markets overseas. In fact, according to the Ministry of Agriculture, some 40% of the nation’s cocoa production is categorized internationally as either ‘fine’ or ‘aromatic,’ putting it in the top echelon of producing nations.
ECONOMIES OF SCALE
So how is the Dominican Republic’s agricultural sector faring against this backdrop of food insecurity at home and heavy reliance on cash crops for much needed export revenue? It has been argued by a number of commentators that improving the agricultural sector to support domestic consumption needs is still playing second fiddle to both exporting, and to the tourism industry. The government has invested heavily in tourism and associated infrastructure projects. This is understandable when you consider that tourism is the country’s single biggest earner at over $4.5 billion per annum, with the Dominican Republic being the leading tourist destination in the Caribbean.
But there have also been other complicating factors that the agricultural sector has had to battle with in order to move forward, including droughts, hurricanes, and price fluctuations on the world market. The World Bank estimates that in particular, Hurricane George, which hit the Dominican Republic in 1998, caused economic losses equivalent to 16.1% of the country’s GDP. And Tropical Storm Federico in 1979 resulted in a loss of 18.4% of GDP. These natural disasters hit small-scale farmers the hardest according to the World Bank, and in the Dominican Republic smallholder producers, working less than 3.13 hectares of land, make up 72% of the country’s total number of farmers and account for 28% of agricultural land. This is where insurance becomes key to protecting the agricultural industry. However, according to the World Bank, “with the exception of the banana industry in the eastern Caribbean and a public insurance company in the Dominican Republic, agricultural insurance against natural disasters is non-existent in the region.” And for the Dominican Republic’s many small-scale farmers, natural disaster insurance is simply unaffordable in any case. In response to this problem, the World Bank has set a goal of increasing productivity and reducing the vulnerability of some 2,300 small-scale farmers in the poorest areas of the country. The plan also includes incentives to encourage the purchasing and use of new technology by these farmers.
And yet it is not all doom and gloom for the industry. In October 2013, the then Minister of Agriculture, Luis Ramon Rodriguez, noted during his speech at World Food Day that in recent years, the country has managed to increase the production of major agricultural commodities, which has strengthened the food security of the population. The Poultry Site reported the Minister’s comments that the “country’s rice, banana and egg production rose 100%, beans rose 76%, and beef, chicken, and pork production rose by 98%, 96% and 88% respectively.” Further Mr. Rodriguez noted that “through the timely agricultural public policies implemented by President Danilo Medina, the country will, in the near future, reach a level of excellence in food.”
IN GLASS HOUSES
One segment of the agricultural industry that has seen substantial growth during 2014 is greenhouse vegetables. In November Dominican Today reported that the country had exported $111.6 million in vegetables during the year to date, some $15 million more than in 2013. This amounted to 63.5 million kilograms of produce being grown under protected environments, compared to the 55.4 million kilograms grown in greenhouses during 2013. The Ministry of Agriculture attributed this jump in part to 933.6 million sqm of new nurseries and market gardening coming into production particularly in the south and greater Santo Domingo area, as well as in the north-west of the country. This broadening of the country’s agricultural base will ensure Dominicans are less reliant on expensive imports in the future. The agriculture sector will have more control of its crops and commodities and will, in turn, be able to recruit more Dominicans into farming.
In December 2014 Ministry of Agriculture, European Union, and Export and Investment Center (CEI-RD) officials met with fruit and vegetable producers from the Central Cibao region to confirm the industry’s willingness to adopt new pesticide standards. In particular, the industry has come on board with the Ministry and CEI-RD’s proposals regarding safe pesticides for fruits and vegetables destined for export markets. These exports represent a vital and growing market for some 5,000 farmers and 45 agricultural companies, and are worth over $75 million annually. The goal for the industry is to produce uniform and healthy crops with negligible levels of chemicals as soon as possible in the hope of capitalizing on an already important source of income. This policy sits comfortably alongside green initiatives in the country’s energy sector, and forms part of an over-arching priority at central government level for environmentally friendly policies.