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The beans of Petrocaribe did not "cook well"

This year there are no beans for deliver to Venezuela, which only received 2,500 tons

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The beans of Petrocaribe did not cook well
SAN JUAN DE LA MAGUANA. The reasons which motivated the failure of the barter program of black beans for oil, created as part of the Petrocaribe agreement between the governments of the Dominican Republic and Venezuela, vary according to who is telling the story.

For the Venezuelan ambassador in Santo Domingo, Alfredo Murgas, the fact that the Dominican Republic could only deliver, in two years, half of the 10,000 tons of black beans that were required, was due to a lack of planning. From the Government there comes the idea that there was a lack of interest from the South American country, due to a question of price, since the Dominican beans were sold at a price of US$1,250 the metric ton (CIF), a special price that was given by the country and which is higher than other international market prices.

Presidents Hugo Chavez and Leonel Fernandez signed the Petrocaribe agreement on 29 June 2005, and it sets up compensation for part of the debt for the delivery of fuel can be paid in local products. As of last year, the debt for fuels owed by the Dominican Republic to Venezuela was in the order of US$2.02 billion, of which this year US$74.1 million have to be paid.

According to what the Minister of Hacienda reported last January, this year compensation with local products such as pastas and liquid sugar totaling UDS$69.8 million has been forecast. The beans were not taken into consideration because, according to Hacienda, Venezuela does not want to continue accepting the product at the previous price, but moreover, for the fact that the low production which was obtained in the fields, made the crop deficient for payment of the debt.

There was US$3,243,750 worth of beans exported, for a total debt in 2011 of US$48,428,137, which was due to Petrocaribe, according to information from the Office of Petrocaribe Negotiations, at the Ministry of Hacienda.

For the producers, the causes of the failure are very clear and they are due, above all, to the "self-interests" of the government in its actions. They assure reporters that from the Ministry of Hacienda, which handled the program, the officials in charge constituted just some new intermediaries, who only looked to take advantage of their role as simple coordinators.

Victor Matos, one of the leaders of the Unitary Farming Committee (CAU), said that the fact that these officials demanded of the farmers the delivery of between 8% and 12% for the cleaning and packing of the beans, when, it was his understanding, that the farmers themselves should have been allowed to carry out these jobs in order for their harvest to be more profitable. He questions the fact that in the profitable jobs, there was not sufficient planning done with the people in the fields.

"When the program started, the government asked for black beans, but at no time did the authorities take into account for this plan the San Juan producers. They did it according to their ideas and there is the result: it lasted one harvest and failed, because the reality is that the producers did not know the crop," commented Matos.

Planned or not, Matos recalls how in 2009, when they planted the first beans with the idea of exporting, there were 100 producers from San Juan taking part. They received financing of RD$2000 per tarea. He said that at that time the project sought to plant the entire valley, but they barely managed to sow about 15,000 tareas, which he attributed to the little clarity that existed in the handling of the project.

"We were stumbling along, because there was nothing defined, not the price, nothing. It was a hurried attempt. And besides, the norms for delivers were not convenient, since it was totally unfair to sell to them, because the persons who received the beans were not the government, but a private enterprise." They mention "Granos Nacionales" which carried out the work of cleaning and packing the beans in exchange for the percentages referred to above, and they purchased the beans at RD$1.900 a hundredweight (quintal or qq). Nonetheless, at the Petrocaribe Office in Hacienda, they recall the fact that the support5 of the program consisted in offering the participants an advantageous financing of their harvests, with an 8% APR, supplies at reduced prices; they were given "professional supervision through an agreement with the Ministry of Agriculture, a guaranteed purchase price and quick payment.'

But the despondent manner with which Matos as well as other farmers in the area express themselves, did not provide motivation last November, the month for sowing beans that will be collected in February, to return and get into the sowing of black beans, whose estimated production will not even reach 15% of previous years, and none for export.

"The mood here is cool, since right now there are not 40 producers with black beans planted. There are very few," commented Hilario Arnaud Santana, a technical advisor for CAU. He said that this year they will have problems with several international organizations that buy this type of bean in San Juan, since they cannot cover even 5% of the demand. He cited among these organizations the FAO, IICA, and GTZ from Germany, who always come to buy through tenders, between 15,000 and 20,000 tons of black bean seeds for their assistance projects, mostly in Haiti.

The advisor stressed moreover the issue of imports as one of the problems with the program with Venezuela.

"Venezuela has not withdrawn because our products are more costly. No. We have the quality which is what they are interested in our national product. Venezuela withdrew because of our inconsistency to supply a demand in a continuous manner. We should have delivers initially 10,000 tons of black beans, but we barely delivered 110,000 qqs, which is more than 5,000 tons, of which they only bought 30,000qqs in the country, which means that the other 80,000 qqs were bought by the state someplace else for delivery to Venezuela."

260,000 tareas

For this year, the planting program for beans is in the hands of the Ministry of Agriculture which according to their information has identified 260,000 tareas for the harvest.

Imported beans could affect Petrocaribe

Questioned regarding the issue of imports, the Venezuelan ambassador to the country, Alfredo Murgas, insisted in the need that the product be Dominican, just as the agreement establishes, because if it is not, the agreement could be affected.

"The problem is that agreement works, or in your philosophy, they pretend it works to the benefit of both parties, and for this to be, we are obliged to see that they are beans produced by the Dominican farmer and this really is one of our requirements." Which is to say, that this could alter the contract? He is asked, and the ambassador answered: "Of course, but we do not have evidence that this has happened."

The Dominican Republic has made four shipments of black beans.

The first one was done in October 2010, with 800 metric tons (TM and equal to about 22 qqs). The second was another 800 TM, and left in January 2011; the third was for 497 tons in July 2011 and the last one was 498 tons that were sent in September of last year, for a total of 2.595 TM.

According to Hacienda, of the amount, 1,923.46 metric tons were purchased directly from local producers and the rest was purchased from local intermediaries, so they say that "in every case the beans were of national production and certified for export."

For Murgas, the lack of planning was the cause of the barter program not being able to be maintained. Nonetheless, the diplomat referred to the little efficiency in the form and the time in which his country made the request and he discarded out of hand the statements that some sectors made about a lack of interest in the local product.

The ambassador admits, nonetheless, that if they were not able to solidify the amount of beans requested, it was to in part to the fact that Venezuela imported the product from other countries, among them Nicaragua, which whom they also have a Petrocaribe agreement, and from Brazil.

"We continue with the same interest, just that now, we need for the benefit of the two countries, to improve the exchange mechanisms and the programming, both on our part, with the requests, as well as what we can get in the Dominican Republic," he said.

He indicated that for this purpose, the Deputy Minister of Food from Venezuela would visit the DR to evaluate the installed capacities of the country, as well as which other crops might interest him, such as milk and milk derivatives.