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Cablegate: Sfrc Staffdel Meacham-Whitesel Research Food Security

VZCZCXYZ0001
PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHSJ #0999/01 3582210
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 232210Z DEC 08
FM AMEMBASSY SAN JOSE
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 0374
INFO RUEHRC/USDA FAS WASHDC 2063
RUEHZA/WHA CENTRAL AMERICAN COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS SAN JOSE 000999

SIPDIS

STATE FOR H, WHA/CEN AND RM/F/DFS/FO/AA/CAA
USDA FAS FOR OFSO/WHO, H. MAGINNIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: EAGR CR OREP PREL PGOV ENRG AFIN
SUBJECT: SFRC STAFFDEL MEACHAM-WHITESEL RESEARCH FOOD SECURITY
ISSUES IN COSTA RICA

RE: STATE 123682

-------
SUMMARY
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1. SFRC staffers Carl Meacham and Aaron Whitesel visited Costa Rica
December 7-9 and Guatemala December 9-13 to conduct research on food
security issues. They compared and contrasted the experiences of
two countries with far different food security issues. The findings
will help inform and shape SFRC action on food security policy.
Unlike other countries in Central America, relatively better-off
Costa Rica has not yet faced serious food security problems.
Nevertheless, the GOCR is working to improve the country's food
production and food supplies.

2. In Costa Rica, the Staffdel met with the Ambassador, members of
the country team, the Minister of Agriculture; officials from the
Institute for InterAmerican Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA); the
Vice Minister of the Economy and key legislators. The Staffdel also
traveled to EARTH University in Guapiles to tour the campus, meet
with faculty and staff, and review agricultural development programs
with future food security applications. The STAFFDEL's
interlocutors described Costa Rica's plans to increase local rice
and bean production to improve food security, noted the negative
impact of the world financial crisis on farm credit and stressed the
importance of training and infrastructure, as well as credit access,
to help Costa Rica ensure its own food security. The site visits
showed how Costa Rica-based regional and international entities are
helping other countries better address food security issues. END
SUMMARY.

3. BACKGROUND: Senator Lugar directed minority staff of the Senate
Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) to undertake a study of global
food security. The study will, in part, support a bill introduced
by Senators Richard Lugar (R-IN) and Robert Casey (D-PA) titled the
"Lugar-Casey Global Food Security Act". The purpose of the bill is
to improve the U.S. emergency response to food crises, to establish
a Global Food Security Strategy overseen by a Special Coordinator
for Global Food Security, to increase resources for long-term rural
development programs, and to enhance human capacity through higher
education for agriculture and extension.

4. MEETINGS WITH THE U.S. EMBASSY: With the Ambassador and DCM
Peter Brennan, the STAFFDEL asked about overall security issues in
the region and CAFTA-DR implementation. The STAFFDEL learned that
despite relatively low security threats in Costa Rica compared with
neighboring states, the security situation is deteriorating, with
narcotic trafficking and violent crime on the rise. Although the
final steps are somewhat complicated, the Ambassador and DCM told
the STAFFDEL that CAFTA-DR is expected to enter into force for Costa
Rica on January 1, 2009. DCM chaired a follow-on meeting for the
STAFFDEL with members of Embassy San Jose's country team, which
provided the staffers a broad overview of bilateral and regional
issues.

5. MEETING WITH MINISTRY OF AGRICULTURE: Staffers met with
Minister Javier Flores and Vice Minister Roman Solera to discuss
Costa Rica's approach to food security. Flores expressed strong
support for imports into Costa Rica to meet its food security needs.
However, the minister stated that he planned to promote efforts to
increase local production of rice and beans in order to improve food
security. Costa Rica depends on the United States for virtually all
of its rice imports. Minister Flores also stated that the credit
crunch is affecting farmers because they cannot obtain small loans.
The minister's personally supports biotechnology; however, he
acknowledges that many in the GOCR oppose the application of
biotechnology to agricultural production.

6. MEETING WITH IICA: Dr. Chelston Brathwaite, IICA Director
General, led the delegation from IICA. To promote food security,
IICA proposed increased efforts to train farmers, provide credit and
improve agricultural infrastructure to help them produce and ensure
food security. As a response to the recent spike in food prices,
IICA expects to see an increase in support subsidies for poor
farmers. However, the aim of the subsidies would change from
shielding domestic production from competition to focusing on
building infrastructure and capacity.

7. MEETING WITH COSTA RICAN GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS: Over lunch, the
staffers met with Vice Minister of Economy Eduardo Sibaja and
legislators Evita Arguedes (IND), Andrea Morales (IND), Jose Manuel
Echandi (IND) and Guyyon Massey (PRN). The legislators represented
key committees and the national legislature's leadership. All but
Morales were pro-CAFTA, but she broke with her party to not oppose
CAFTA following the 2007 national referendum on the issue.

8. In frank and wide-ranging discussions, the STAFFDEL heard about

the need for additional U.S. aid for Costa Rica, optimistic
expectations for the Obama administration, plans to address food
security, Costa Rica's goal to carve out niche export markets with
the EU and China (once CAFTA is completed), the growing importance
of the international service sector to Costa Rica ("back office"
operations by multinationals and call centers), and Costa Rica's
planned accession to Petrocaribe - Venezuela's oil program. The
legislators agreed with Meacham's assessment that renegotiation of
CAFTA (as called for by the leading opposition party) was highly
unlikely in the next administration. They also candidly described
the structural, legal and political impediments that made Costa Rica
difficult to govern effectively or efficiently. On Petrocaribe,
Sibaja reiterated that the GOCR was acting out of economic
pragmatism; there were no plans to move closer to Venezuela
politically. He and the legislators also noted Costa Rica's
interest in greater involvement in bio-fuel initiatives.

9. EARTH UNIVERSITY VISIT: Staffers traveled east of San Jos to
Guapiles, Costa Rica, where they toured EARTH University.
Originally founded with a generous grant from USAID, EARTH was
inaugurated in 1990 as an international, private, not-for-profit
university dedicated to education, extension, research and the
generation of value through production, transformation and
commercialization activities. The academic program, leading to a
"licenciatura" degree, emphasizes the agricultural sciences and the
rational management of natural resources. EARTH programs focus on
sustainable development, with its 400 students drawn from
under-developed and developing countries in Latin America and the
Caribbean, Asia, and Africa.

10. Accompanied by Provost Dr. Daniel Sherrard, the STAFFDEL viewed
student projects in Costa Rica; learned about EARTH-supported
education and extension projects in Africa and Asia; and visited
EARTH's on-site livestock operation, banana paper mills, and banana
plantations. EARTH University has approximately 10,000 hectares of
bananas in Cost Rica; the majority of production is sold to Whole
Foods.

11. STAFFDEL Meachan-Whitsel did not clear this cable in advance.

CIANCHETTE

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