“For Mexico’s agrochemicals industry, the biggest challenge is regulation: well-defined laws and guidelines that allow us to access new molecules internationally and offer farmers more sustainable alternatives and more economically viable products.”
What are the most prominent trends UMFFAAC has noticed in the agrochemicals industry in 2021?
The newest plant protection products are constantly evolving. In 2021 we have seen the emergence of companies focused on green branding, reduced toxicity, environmental and ecologic issues, and I think these are trends that will last many years. I believe the pandemic brought this up more intensely; people are looking for healthier food and this encourages us to look for healthier crop protection.
What would you say are the biggest challenges currently facing Mexico’s agrichemicals industry?
For Mexico’s agrochemicals industry, the biggest challenge is regulation: well defined laws and guidelines that allow us to access new molecules internationally and offer farmers more sustainable alternatives and more economically viable products. The federal government has limited the budget, but this would not be a problem if private industry had the access to the tools for pest and disease control verified, certified, and regulated faster and with clearer norms.
Safety in the field is also very important. Hundreds of agrochemical transport trucks get stolen in Mexico’s roads every year. There are some areas of the country where the presence of organized crime is quite strong, which inhibits the formal agrochemical market.
Finally, better education is needed regarding where food comes from, with real, scientific basis. Society must be made aware of the importance of food production and protection. The pandemic made it clear that the food industry is far more important than any other. For instance, oil will eventually lose importance and run out, but people will never stop eating.
Which less developed regions of Mexico do you think have the best prospects for agricultural growth?
Veracruz, Tabasco, and Campeche have very good potential for citruses like limes: these regions have learned to handle this crop and are growing as exporters. Another area of growth is berries, which has extended beyond the north of the country, in regions such as Bajio, Jalisco and Michoacan. Nowadays, mezcal production from Oaxaca is growing a lot thanks to the drink gaining wider global recognition, and a wide range of producers: producers have 20 or 30 hectares and create a mezcal name brand with quality and prestige. In the south, we are seeing growth in Yucatan, Campeche and Quintana Roo with habanero peppers, with producers dedicating more to exports.
Can you elaborate on the illegal pesticides that are used in Mexico and their impact on the industry?
The damage illegal agrochemicals are causing in Mexico is serious. Authorities are not taking it as the national security issue it is because their priorities are Covid and other political issues. Regarding the vigilance and prosecution of the illegality of plant protection products – they have done nothing. We have seen, to our despair, these products appear everywhere, while authorities are not enforcing the law.
Mexico is an exporting country in agriculture; even during the pandemic our exports kept growing. There are certain safety standards to trace limits of pesticides and to remain competitive, the industry must eradicate the use of illegal products. We have seen in Costa Rica, when they had this problem with cantaloupe melons, the borders were closed for that product for several years. In Mexico, considering the importance of this sector, this issue must be taken more seriously.
How is the agrochemical industry evolving to lower its environmental impact?
A big advantage for the agrochemicals industry is that it uses very little water, and in most cases it does not even use water. We are also changing oil-derived products like xylene to other formulation agents that are not derived from petroleum or oil-free solvents. These have great advantages: they are less corrosive, abrasive, irritant and explosive, or not at all. All petroleum derivates stay in the soil for too long, and formulation agents for pesticides used to be practically all petroleum. Today, we use other derivates with great results. To avoid using solvents and their chemical load, companies are now looking towards water dispersible granules (WDGs).
Lastly, the industry is also making a switch to organic and biological products. Not only fungi and bacteria to control pests, but also organic chemicals, and plant extracts, which are also chemical processes. The sector is veering in that direction to avoid pollution and reduce its carbon footprint.
Do you have a final message regarding UMFFAAC’s vision for the coming years?
UMFFAAC is dedicated to crop protection, which is imperative to produce food. Because of crop protection, the world has been able to increase production to feed a rapidly growing population. I believe true ecology is finding an environment that allows you to keep growing, not going back to the past. We do not have another planet, we need to take better advantage of this earth, get more and better food, and the agrochemical industry is there to help.
Thanks to GMO corn and soy, production is growing, and the same with many more grains. Changes in the world come from real scientific studies, not from false ecologic expectations. This must be celebrated and promoted, as we need to provide confidence to traders and consumers.