The Agriculture Department launched Tuesday a $1 million institutional multimedia advertising campaign that aims to lift the consumption of local products from its current 20 percent level by inviting consumers to “buy local.”
The initiative also comprises a program to help certify farmers as well as the quality of their products, to elevate their value and increase sales, Agriculture Secretary Javier Rivera-Aquino said Tuesday during a standing-room-only presentation at the Puerto Rico Convention Center.
“This novel initiative is primarily aimed at promoting the consumption and demand for our agricultural products. At the same time we recognize the quality and freshness of local produce and support the efforts and dedication of our farmers, who day by day work our land with dedication,” Rivera-Aquino said.
As part of the program, the agency created two labels, “Cosecha de Puerto Rico” (Harvested in Puerto Rico,) to identify fruits and vegetables, and “Crianza de Puerto Rico” (Raised in Puerto Rico), to identify meats, eggs and milk, among other things. The labeling system will help supermarkets and consumers recognize home-grown products, he said.
The campaign features Celebrity Chef Giovanna Huyke, beloved baseball player Iván Rodríguez, and acclaimed jazz performer Giovanni Hidalgo as its central figures.
Important consumer affirmation
The use of such quality-affirming labels is an important consideration for consumers, according to the findings of an agency-commissioned market research study conducted prior to launching the new effort.
About 79 percent of the 800 people polled by Research & Research — who are in charge of shopping for food for their household — affirmed the need for a label that guarantees the freshness of local products.
On average, a local family spends about $260 on food a month, of which at least $75 covers fresh items, excluding eggs, milk and coffee, according to the findings of the study that also concluded that consumers are willing to pay between .15 cents and .40 cents more for local products, as long as they can be certain of their quality.
“Having a certification program elevates the value of local products and contributes to increase their sales, as it gives consumers an assurance that what they’re buying is 100 percent produced in Puerto Rico and meets quality and freshness standards established by the Agriculture Department,” said Miguel Santiago, executive director of the Integral Agricultural Development Fund, or FIDA, which is currently working with other agencies to lead farmers through an education track to improve their productivity. So far, more than 1,000 farmers have graduated from the program
Moving agriculture forward
“This is one of several initiatives the Agriculture Department is taking to take advantage of the opportunities that the market is offering us right now,” he said. “We’ve been conducting efforts that include starting an adequate generational transition among farmers so that our younger people take an interest in agriculture, as well as working with nonprofits and the University of Puerto Rico to give students a chance to work at farming operations so they can eventually conceive the idea of having their own farming business.”
He also said the agency has been working with the UPR to develop innovative farming practices to address the sector’s current challenges. Farmers are also getting hands-on training on how to run their businesses, from finances to marketing, so they can be more competitive.
“This is all coupled with the incentives the agency provides so that we can ultimately deliver the message that this is an economic development option just as many others that we typically know on the island,” the agronomist said. “By launching these types of marketing initiatives we’re not only asking consumers to buy local, but we’re also proposing agriculture as a way of life for those who may be considering it.”
So far, some 10 agribusinesses have joined the certification program, which should enlist at least 100 farmers in coming months to increase the variety and availability of home-grown products on supermarket shelves, Rivera-Aquino said.