The government of Puerto Rico will be investing $1.2 million to assist farmers in Lajas and Guánica to begin harvesting long-grain brown rice as part of a pilot project that should produce 6.5 million pounds of the grain by December.
This harvest, which spans about 500 acres of protected southern flatlands, could generate $4.6 million for the economy, Gov. Alejandro García-Padilla said Wednesday during a joint press conference with Agriculture Secretary Myrna Comas.
Puerto Rico has not harvested rice on a broad scale for several decades, with only limited production in Lajas in the 90s, as well as between Arecibo and Barceloneta in the 80s.
But in May, Comas and Secretary of State David Bernier visited the Dominican Republic and came back with a signed agreement to start training local farmers in planting this variety of what is an important staple of the Puerto Rican diet. The governor explained that because it is a different crop that what was planted decades ago, which will be developed where experts have said is good land for rice crops, the harvest should not fail.
The project is “a sign of support from the people of our Caribbean region, because we have the technical collaboration of the Dominican Republic. Through a bilateral agreement, Dominican rice specialists will help train our farmers.”
At present, 85 percent of the products that Puerto Rico residents consume is imported, which he said represents a threat to the island’s food safety.
“We have an ambitious agenda to develop our agriculture mainly emphasizing the protection of agricultural land, the adoption of agricultural innovations, expanding markets, strengthening the agricultural workforce and our people’s awareness about the importance of agriculture to our survival,” said García-Padilla, while in Guánica Wednesday.
The initial phase of the rice harvest will generate 30 direct and up to 40 indirect jobs.
To boost local production, not just in rice, but a variety of agricultural goods, García-Padilla said starting in August, public school lunchroom trays must include at least 50 percent of Puerto Rico-harvested products. By 2016, that ratio should jump to 75 percent he said, which would in turn represent boosting production and agricultural jobs.
Private firm PanAmerican Grain — which imports and sells rice in Puerto Rico — will be responsible for processing and delivering the locally harvested grain to school lunchrooms.
“Puerto Rico needs to produce what it consumes and needs to export what it produces. That’s how our people will have a better quality of life,” the governor said.