Minister Uriarte: “Productivity and exports of Uruguayan agriculture stress preservation of the environment and natural resources”
Brasilia, 7 June 2021 (IICA). Uruguay, a major food exporter, has resolved to increase agricultural production while caring for natural resources and the productive capacity of the soil. Additionally, it reinforces its commitment to environmental conservation to tackle the impacts of climate change, which were harshly felt in 2020 with three droughts that affected production.
These statements were made by Carlos María Uriarte, Uruguay’s Minister of Livestock, Agriculture and Fisheries, during an interview with Agro America, a program broadcast on Brazil’s AgroMais TV.
Uriarte maintains, “The challenge is producing more while caring for the environment, because the world of the future is going to need more food. Uruguay has a population of three million and we produce for 30 million people, but we can double that amount. We know that we’re going to have to put pressure on our natural resources to produce more, but we also know that we have to do it without harming the productive capacity of the soil”.
Uriarte related that, during the pandemic, Uruguay declared three agricultural emergencies due to the droughts: “It’s unusual in our history, but is becoming more and more frequent, probably due to the effects of climate change. The last agricultural emergency included 80% of Uruguay’s productive areas. We survived, but the harshest effect was on soybean production last year—our second largest agricultural export after rice. In terms of meat, the negative effects will only be felt in coming years due to the impact on calf production”.
During the interview, the minister underscored the support provided by the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) to the countries of the hemisphere to strengthen their position in the world.
“One day, if not already, South America is going to be the most important region in the world for safe food production. That’s why it’s essential to make ourselves heard, to make our mark on the world, for the world to know who we are, what we do, and how we do it. Often, stronger voices feel entitled to define us and to make statements about our production without being in the know. That’s why IICA offers us the possibility to unify our criteria, to plan strategies and organize as a region, for a world that is going to need us. Far from being responsible for certain situations, like we’re often charged in international contexts, we’re part of the solution to the problems facing humanity, without a shadow of a doubt,” said Minister Uriarte.
The minister gave details about agricultural production in Uruguay that spotlight its proven commitment to environmental sustainability.
“60% of our ranching is done on natural fields, which is a clear contribution to the conservation of biodiversity and animal welfare. The vast majority of animals live in the open and we have a mandatory traceability system that ensures the safety of the meat produced in Uruguay”, he explained.
Uriarte also explained that a law is in place that requires producers to submit plans for soil use and management, including proper crop rotation, and be accepted by the Ministry. He also mentioned that the country’s power grid is practically based in its entirety on renewable energy sources, such as water and wind. “It’s an effort Uruguay made recently and that today we can proudly show off”, he said.
“80% of our income is from agriculture,” continued Uriarte upon highlighting the importance of the sector for Uruguay. “Of the countries of Latin America, we have the highest share of exports tied to the sector and we can be described as the largest cattle breeding country in the world, with four cows per capita, placing us within the top ten meat exporters despite our size”.
The minister also discussed the production of rice in Uruguay—which is irrigated and has one of the highest yields per hectare in the world—and soybean. “We do it all with a focus on quality and differentiation, because we cannot compete in terms of volume”.
Dairy production is another important industry for the country’s economy. “The industry is very important socially”, explained the minister, “as it involves a deeper commitment by the families to the rural environment. While we have the largest milking parlor in Latin America that milks 10,000 cows a day, the vast majority of dairy farmers are small and medium producers working under the pastoral system. 90% of production is by a cooperative—Conaprole—which we are very proud of”.
One subsector of agriculture that has grown tremendously over the last 20 years in Uruguay is forestry. Uriarte explained that the growth is due primarily to the installation of two wood pulp factories, with a third under construction in what will be the largest investment in the history of Uruguay.
“There is plenty of room to grow in terms of quality wood production and forestry associated with livestock production, which can make a significant contribution as to shade and tree cover for animals. It is also a tool to support the carbon balance, which is one of Uruguay’s commitments with regard to climate change. Given that livestock is our primary sector, to which greenhouse gas emissions are inherently tied, we hope to balance it with forestry and natural fields”, he maintained.
The minister said that the challenge facing Uruguay is how to continue increasing exports. Along those lines, he mentioned pork, poultry, and aquaculture production.
“Pork production is practically nonexistent. We import 60 to 70% of what we consume and there’s enormous potential. In terms of poultry production, we’re more advanced. Today, we produce more than what Uruguayans can consume and we’re working to access the Chinese market. Aquaculture is also nonexistent in Uruguay today, but considering that over 50% of the fish humans consume comes from the activity and not from fishing, it’s important to install these production systems”.
The minister also referred to the disadvantages the countries in the region face when competing in international markets. “China represents 60% of the country’s beef exports, but to access the country we have to pay an average of 18% in tariffs; whereas competing countries, like New Zealand, pay nothing due to trade agreements signed years ago. Cow meat pays $2 billion a year alone. We feel Mercosur should be more flexible in reaching agreements to enable better access than we have today. For Uruguay, it’s a matter of life or death”.
Agro America is a program broadcast by the Brazilian network AgroMais TV (Grupo Bandeirantes) and the result of an alliance with the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA). The broadcast presents the reality of the agricultural sector and rural areas in IICA Member States for the purpose of promoting an exchange of experiences and a discussion on the challenges and opportunities for Latin America and the Caribbean in terms of agricultural and rural development.
IICA Institutional Communication Division.