The Figures of the Debate the Colombian Government Lost

By Amy Pekol, CSN Translator
The Figures of the Debate the Colombian Government Lost
Jorge Enrique Robledo, Bogotá, Colombia October 30, 2009
The debate on the Colombian Ministry of Agriculture’s new Secure Agricultural Income Program (Agro Ingreso Seguro or AIS in Spanish), demonstrated that income scarcity and insecurity prevail in the agricultural sector except for a very small group and particularly for the 45 who financed $549 million pesos for President Alvaro Uribe’s campaign and received $33.497 million pesos worth of AIS resources.  The figures and analyses spelled disaster for nearly everyone in the agricultural sector and demonstrated how AIS planned for the few official resources to be distributed among a plutocratic conception and cronies.
65% of thos who reside in the Colombian countryside live in poor conditions and 33% live in extreme poverty.  2.14 million people were dispaced between 2002 and 2008, the period in which agriculture grew slower than the economy as a whole (3.29 vs 4.91% annual average).  The Gini index, which measures the concentration of rural land ownership, has worsened under this administration and reached 0.875, probably the worst in the world.  Nine million hectares of land with agricultural vocation remain under-utilized.  The cultivated area fell from 3.74 to 3.5 million hectars.  66% of those currently employed earn less than minimum wage.  Agricultural exports are stagnant, barely rising from 4.33 to 4.44 million tons, while imports, which totaled 6.33 million tons in 2002, have reached 9.8 million tons.  In addition, the conditions for coffee, rice, sugarcane and dairy are miserable.
Meanwhile, scarce government agricultural support is concentrated in a few very powerful hands.  According to Cega-Uniandes, 1% of the population maintains 71% of the discounted credits and 64% of FINAGRO’s (Financial Fund for the Agricultural Sector) substitute portfolio.  In 2000, 1% of the population was taking 17.7 percent of Rural Capitalization Incentive (Incentivo a la Capitalizacion Rural or ICR in Spanish) resources.  Today this same percentage of the population takes 45% of the Guarantee Fund’s support and 58.7% of all paid guarantees ($630 million on average).  On the other hand, 33% of ICR resources (89.900 million pesos in 2006) go towards the palm industry, where a barrel of automative fuel ethanol costs $142 US dollars and a barrel of gasoline costs $58 dollars.  The government is therefore forcing us to consume very expensive fuel and palm diesel.
Regarding AIS loans, 161 borrowers of more than $1.000 million pesos each absorb 30% of AIS resources while 79,474 loans under $20 million pesos take the same percentage.  In ICR, 1,109 beneficiaries received half of all resources, the same as 75,338, while 17 beneficiaries in 10 departments/regions gatehered 45% of all ICR resources.  They lent $29.587 million pesos to Coltabaco-Philips Morris and to five factories, they gave 5 times as much money to the department of Tolima and twice as much money to the department of Caldas while a factory in Cauca received 40% of what corresponds to that department.  In the Bolivar Department two (factories) took 73% of its allocated resources.  Also, two Corficolombiana companies controlled by banker, Luis Carlos Sarmiento Angulo, received 6.024 million pesos, a third of all resources allocated to the Meta Department.
Press reports about the debate recalled families who were strongly favored with gifts for irrigration and drainage.  One family received $6.895 million pesos, another received $2.973 million pesos and yet another was given $2.429 million pesos.  An additional $8.210 million pesos were divided among five others.  This shameless concentration of resources which coincides with scarce government support of agriculture is also shown in the figures: despite all the fuss about the "large quantities" of AIS money, the truth is that, according to the government, the program hardly supports a little more than a hundred thousand productive projects per year when in Colombia there are almost 2.7 million agricultural producers.  In terms of loans, less than 30 thousand loans are awared per year, which amounts to only 30 loans per municipality.
Agriculture policy must therefore be profoundly modified, beginning with the Secure Agricultural Income (AIS) program whose name, demagogy and political intrigue serving Andrés F. Arias must be eliminated.  The government must seriously protect and support all production–business, rural and indigenous–paying particular attention to the small and medium-sized productions which need the most support and whose progress depends upon the advancement of the Colombian economy as a whole.

Colombia Support Network
P.O. Box 1505
Madison, WI  53701-1505
phone:  (608) 257-8753
fax:  (608) 255-6621

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