Born to Grow

Genetic Technology Dominican Republic

With agriculture representing such a large part of the economy, the government is constantly looking at new ways to make it more efficient and productive.

In 2015, the agricultural sector represented 21.23% of all exports, totaling more than USD2 billion. As a percentage of purely domestic exports, that number rises to 50.42%. With such a critical contribution to the economy, the government is stepping up its efforts to ensure the continued success of the sector. The Ministry of Agriculture is now placing its bets on genetic technology to transform the businesses of hundreds of thousands of local farmers across the Dominican Republic.

With a new focus on genetic technology, the Ministry of Agriculture intends to improve efficiency, productivity, and increase resistance to disease. The ministry runs several laboratories all around the country that focus on developing these naturally superior products. It has an in-vitro laboratory called BIOVEGA where it focuses on improving breeds of important commodities like bananas and plantains. In another of its labs called Vitrogan, it intends to transfer 36,000 embryos of livestock to local farmers to increase milk production.

The second is especially important, given the trouble the Dominican milk industry has recently run into. The Dominican market drinks 1.3 million liters of milk per day, only 60% of which is supplied by local producers. The rest comes from other countries, namely the US. The main gripe that local producers have is that they cannot compete with US producers, who are bolstered by large government subsidies and can produce milk at well below their own cost. In fact, Aproleche, the Dominican Association of Milk Producers, has even formally asked the Dominican government to sit down and revise CAFTA-DR with the US to ensure that local producers get a fair deal. The US gives USD4.5 billion to its farmers, who produce over 100 billion liters of milk a year. Pedro Brache, Executive President of Grupo Rica, points out the that the fundamental problem in the milk industry comes down to the fact that it costs Dominican farmers USD0.52 per liter and American farmers USD0.42 per liter to produce milk.

However, negotiations over old trade deals are rarely the quickest solution. That is why these new efforts by the Ministry of Agriculture in genetic technology are vital to keeping the Dominican agricultural sector competitive. Minister Ángel Estévez says optimistically, “Currently, our average milk production in terms of daily liters per cow is around five. We can improve that by more than 100% if our livestock production comes from breeds adapted to the tropics.” With better genetic technology in the hands of Dominican farmers, they will be able to start producing milk for cheaper and start to even the playing field a little more.

Another important effort is the Bioarroz center in Bonao, which has three production sites working to develop several different strains of rice with higher genetic quality. It has one of the top-five rice geneticists in the world working for it and is close to developing two new hybrid strains, according the ministry. The goal is to have 100% of rice production in the Dominican Republic come from these high-quality genetics seeds by 2020.

These projects by the Dominican government mark an effort to support one of its most essential industries. The impressive export numbers are not the only reason why. Notably, the Dominican Republic is one of the few countries in the world that produces more than 80% of its domestic food demand. Therefore, in the long run, these genetic technology initiatives are an investment in keeping up with that ever-growing demand. This is a risk that only seems will become more relevant as time goes on and populations grow exponentially—and the Dominican Republic is no different with its substantial young population. Fortunately, with production levels of all the major staple products looking to increase over the next few years, the country is on the right track. The country has taken perhaps the oldest domestic industry and fast-tracked it into the future.

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