El Salvador’s Family Agriculture Plan

The Family Agriculture Plan (PAF) is a new act that was implemented in 2011 by the Ministry of Agriculture that aims to reduce rural poverty and increase agricultural production in order to revitalize the economy in the countryside. With four main components to the plan, the government hopes to improve the livelihoods of about 2 million people in rural areas. Historically, the process for distributing subsidies to farmers has been disorganized and lacking in transparency, which has, obviously, meant funds were not reaching all of those who needed them. This new plan, by contrast, is based on meeting market demand and looking for economic viability in order to create a broad-based and sustainable agricultural enterprise. (Which does make one wonder about the goals of previous plans, if they were even stated at all.) This time, the government is stating that they are not just giving out welfare, but rather responding to market demand in order to support rural agricultural entrepreneurship. Creating many small agricultural entrepreneurs throughout the country will lift many thousands of families from poverty as well as improve national food security, thereby reducing the need for food imports.

Wet vs. Dry – dealing with the extreme seasons in El Salvador is a challenge for every farmer here.

The first of the four programs within the plan deals with food security and nutrition for families living as subsistence farmers. The program would provide them with free agricultural inputs, technical assistance, and help them gain access to credit to allow them to expand their agricultural operations from subsistence-scale to commercial-scale. Within this program, a National Provisions Office will be created, and they are in charge of distributing basic grains to small vendors around the country. The second program deals with the production chain; this is designed for farmers already connected to the market and selling their goods. This program would help them strengthen their market ties through technical assistance, increased access to credit, and crop insurance. They are emphasizing and supporting the development of ten specific product supply chains: basic grains, honey, aquaculture, fruits, livestock, vegetables, coffee, cocoa, handicrafts and rural community tourism.

The third program is designed to develop a liaison between local commercial vendors and international businesses. If large enterprises work with small and medium-sized farmer organizations, new export markets could potentially be developed. (Exactly how they are planning to do this is unclear.) The fourth and final program in the Family Agriculture Plan is to create an agricultural innovation program that would focus on developing value-added products, new agricultural technologies, bio-energy, and developing strategic alliances with international organizations and banks in order to help provide credit and insurance, as well as technical assistance. (This goal of creating international ties has been one of the most critiqued part of the plan, as many feel it is amplifying the country’s dependence on outside organizations instead of promoting and developing in-country support programs.)

Other critics say that this new plan is really the same as the plans from the previous government, who mainly focused on delivering “packets” that contained seeds and fertilizers to small farmers around the country. They say the supply chain program doesn’t include a way for the government to be involved in supporting economic activity, which leaves large private enterprises in charge – not allowing small farmers to influence or penetrate into the market. Another concern is the plan to develop a market for biofuels, which many believe will take foods out of the mouths of already hungry people and use it instead to make fuel for vehicles. One of the biggest opponents to the new plan – FUNPROCOOP (basically a foundation that promotes agricultural cooperatives) – has even stated that they believe this plan just supports the monopolies of agricultural inputs on one side, and monopolies of commercial grain importers on the other.

This month, however, a small modification to the plan was made to include the installation of irrigation systems. Every program will have critics, but it’s hard to argue against the fact that several months of dry weather takes a toll on small and subsistence farmers. Installing irrigation systems – and making sure they continue to run – will extend the growing season, which will in turn improve both food security and market sales. The irrigation program will not just install (or repair) irrigation lines, but also ensure that proper drainage canals are in place in order to reduce the effects of the torrents during the wet season. With proper implementation, this program could potential bring about some positive benefits to small-scale agricultural producer here in El Salvador.

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