"Under the current government, there has been an unfortunate misrepresentation of the agrochemical industry, and they have tried to prohibit agrochemical products without a proper scientific basis."
Could you update us on UMFFAAC's activities in the past year?
The association has worked intensely in 2023 to support the country's crop protection and pesticide industries and to communicate to the public and the authorities their relevance to national food production. Under the current government, there has been an unfortunate misrepresentation of the agrochemical industry, and they have tried to prohibit agrochemical products without a proper scientific basis. UMFFAAC is dedicated to consistent dialogue and communication with the authorities, Congress, Senators, and environmental regulators to promote our industry as healthy, safe, and indispensable to the country's food production. Without the crop protection industry, food would become more challenging to grow, scarcer, and therefore more expensive, affecting the lives of every person in the country. In terms of events, in addition to these information campaigns organized in defense of the industry, we have also conducted training programs for the safe and proper utilization of pesticides to farmers and regional bodies that form the core of our calendar every year.
Could you comment on UMFFAAC's safety programs?
In 2023, UMFFAAC delivered training sessions to over 25,000 farmers on the safe and proper handling of agrochemical products. This kind of educational work is essential to us, and we stress the importance of the agricultural land and farmers health when using these products. In addition, we distribute first aid kits for people harmed by agrochemicals and work closely on our program Attention to InTOXications (ATOX). ATOX provides the general public with a free telephone line attended by specialized medical personnel of the Universidad Autónoma de Nuevo León, including doctors, offering information on how to recognize the symptoms of agrochemical poisonings and provide care. This program its free of charge and offered 365 days a year, 24 hours a day.
What are UMFFAAC's priorities in dialogue with the authorities?
Our relationship with the government has been strained recently. In the past, we had fruitful interactions with regulators, health bodies, and state governments. These interactions have ceased, and the government has made consequential decisions for the agrochemical and agricultural industries at large without adequately consulting the industry or even farmers. Nevertheless, we remain committed to open dialogue and will always keep channels of communication open. Our priority is to communicate to the authorities that there needs to be a reasonable transition instead of outright prohibition so that the industry can develop suitable alternatives and replace products they wish to outlaw, avoiding negative impacts on agricultural and food production.
What are some significant challenges facing Mexican agriculture today?
The proliferation of illegal fertilizer and agrochemical products in the market is a serious problem that impacts farmers, the environment, and consumers. The responsible authorities have been ignoring this problem, and we see that lack of prioritization, as there is no proper application and enforcement of existing laws. It is only possible to have effective laws if they are enforced. Thankfully, agricultural exporters are more vigilant about the agrochemicals they consume and have high standards for exporting to international markets. For domestic consumption, there is a major issue with the use of illegal products, and it is negatively affecting our consumers' health and safety.
Meanwhile, approval waiting times for new products have grown considerably. In the past, you would wait an average of 18 months, and we now face 36-month long periods and, in some cases, indefinite waiting times. The authorities often give absurd excuses for these time delays, including reasons without legal basis.
What are the core strengths of the Mexican agricultural industry?
Mexico is very gifted in its geography, as we have climates for diverse crops. There are conditions to grow all types of berries in this country. Our production of berries, avocados, and vegetables is a core strength for the agricultural industry, and these are the crops with the most export success at the present moment. There is still untapped potential. About 60% of our agriculture is small and subsistence farming, so there is much potential for this segment to be better trained and equipped, introduced to technological farming methods, and to diversify the crops in cultivation.
How are sustainable practices being implemented in the industry?
Consumers are conscious of the food they consume, and our industry is continuously looking for the sustainable alternatives. We understand this is a global trend, and consumers demand responsible food production. There is a growth in the registration of new organic and biological products. It is now part of the fabric of the companies we represent.
There are promising advances in the technological applications of pesticides. New regulations intend to prohibit aerial fumigation methods within 4000 meters of a populated area, which will limit the use of this method in most of the country. Instead, we have seen the development of drone fumigation methods as alternatives to traditional aerial fumigation, which is more precise and concentrated, though still in development. There are also new fertilizers in development that will improve the health of farming soil, reducing environmental impacts and water usage, improving yields, and generally improving the health of the soil.
What is the association's priority for the coming year?
Our priorities are consistent with what we have done in the past year. We will keep communication channels with the authorities and society open and continue stressing the importance of our industry, arguing against unsubstantiated prohibitions of products, which will have wide-ranging repercussions for our farmers and food production. Our industry is vital for society, and crop protection is crucial for the economy, as it keeps people fed.