In St. Lucia there are seven drones that are used to fumigate rice plantations. Two are on the property of Heitel Lozano, in the San Pablo area, on the side of the Santa Lucia-Palestine highway, in Guayas.
Neighboring farmers are already used to the sound of the devices. From a tablet it is programmed what area will be fumigated, loaded with 10 gallons of water and insecticide against the white leaf virus or sogata.
The drone takes off and at 2 m height it spreads the liquid on the green surface. The machine travels one hectare in seven minutes and can operate for two days a day. While manually a person can take between four and five hours to fumigate one hectare of rice. The manual work is observed in the majority of plantations in Santa Lucia, a canton of 40,000 inhabitants that depends on the cultivation of the grass.
It has 18,000 hectares planted, the second in production in Guayas after Daule, considered the ‘Rice Capital of Ecuador’. But it is estimated that only 5% of its production is technified, which is a similar percentage to what happens at the country level. Lozano, a visionary agronomist, graduated from the Espol, believes that technification is a way to get the sector out of the crisis.
In the early 2000s he began to serve with the first harvesting machines that arrived in the area. Today the entire harvest is technified and for two years has been promoting the use of technology to reduce costs in the 130 days of the production cycle, improve grain quality and compete with other countries.
“The main problem is to change the chip to the farmer.” He explains that 36% of rice farmers are between 46 and 60 years old, 25% between 61 and 75 years old and 20% between 31 and 45 years old. That is why he maintains that the “hope of change” is in the third generation, but needs technical support.
Manual sowing can take up to a day and a half per hectare, with 15 to 20 day laborers. A planter machine can plant three hectares of rice per day. In addition, the floor can be leveled with a machine that uses laser technology instead of a tractor.
“Without technology there is no sowing or homogeneous grains, in the end the yields go down”. That’s what Lozano says. He is also president of the Ecuadorian Rice Corporation, which groups 13 organizations with 17,000 grain producers. But the country has 80,000 rice farmers scattered in 850 groups, which according to former ministers of Agriculture has meant a problem to establish agricultural policies.
Former Minister Rubén Flores said, last May, that in all the places that the rice farmers visited, they agreed “that this sector is experiencing a crisis.” The structure in Ecuador depends on small and medium-sized rice producers that represent 80% of productive units, 50% of the 300,000 hectares planted, according to the Chamber of Agriculture II.
To this is added that the average productivity of the country is 5 metric tons / hectare. Below Uruguay (8.5 tm / ha) and Peru (7.5 tm / ha). Víctor Cortez, from the Galapagos enclosure in Santa Lucía, calculates that producing one hectare costs him USD 1,200, but he earns a profit of 200.
“The price of rice two months ago was at 32 dollars, but now it fell to 24 and 25.” According to Javier Chon Lama, president of the Corporation of Rice Industrialists of Ecuador (Corpcom), since the creation of the support price, in 2008, the crisis in the sector worsened.
The performance was not improved, the market was not technified or controlled through the Storage Unit (UNA). That year, the price started at USD 18, it takes out 200 pounds of paddy rice and is now at a minimum of 32.30 and a maximum of 35.50. “It must disappear or embrace reality.
It has been a political price, which reached 35 in the previous Government, “as the list of Alianza País. In ten years the impact is negative and it sums it up with several figures: 100 000 ha less planted, the export volume fell from 160 000 tm / year to 26 000 (the surplus exceeds 200 000 tm); 40% of the batteries closed. Now there are 540. Both producers and industrialists agree that smuggling from Peru -which invades provinces such as Azuay, Loja, El Oro and Pichincha- has aggravated the crisis. Peruvian rice, a longer and grained grain, even changed the Ecuadorian consumption trend and forced the producer to plant a similar seed.
The industrialists calculate that up to 70,000 tons per year enter the market. Kléber Sigüenza, president of the Chamber of Agriculture Zone II, points out that the marketing policy through the UNA has been a failure. He had to buy 17% of the rice to avoid falling the price and he needs USD 40 million, but he only has capacity for 45,000 tons. Today, a forum of the sector is held with delegates from Peru and Colombia. (I)