José Guajardo, newly appointed director of Chile’s Agricultural and Livestock Service (SAG) shared his strategic vision and main challenges with ChileCarne. With a vast experience in the sector, he aims to solve current health challenges and strengthen collaboration with the private sector. As the world moves towards sustainability, protecting the environment is another key pillar of his leadership. Guajardo also wants to focus on biosecurity and food security without forgetting the threat posed by diseases such as Avian influenza. This interview focuses on his main proposals, vision, and the commitment he wants to build between SAG, the industry, and Chile’s wellbeing.
– Given your experience in the agricultural and livestock sector, what will be the main goals of your tenure?
Essentially, to solve some of the existing issues in the health production system. My experience in both the public and private forestry and agricultural sector allows me to move some pieces to complete some processes. I’m thinking about the challenges created by Avian influenza and eradicating bovine brucellosis in the poultry and bovine sectors, respectively. I think my experience can help making a difference.
I also want to build a teamwork atmosphere for SAG’s professional, technical, and administrative staff. We are more than 5,000 people, which means that we can get the job done, we can put all the necessary pieces together to fulfill the task that was given us. I think I can help meet our goals together with the entire team.
– How would you like to work with the private livestock sector and in what areas?
The private sector is key. I’ve already had various meetings with them and we will continue this week and next, because they are the ones who know their production process better.
We watch over plant and animal health protection, which is key for those processes. Chile has a competitive advantage over the rest of Latin America and the world, and we need to protect it. The private sector makes use of these virtues but also works collaboratively to prevent us from losing our health status.
In terms of production, the private sector works with us by highlighting the specific issues we need to focus on. The truth is, I have no issues working with the private sector and I think they feel the same way. We’ve known each other for many years, since my time as ministerial secretary (seremi) for the O’Higgins Region, and we have proven that joint work helps us fulfil each other’s goals.
– Biosecurity and food security are key factors for pork, chicken, and turkey production and exports; how will you address them?
I worked on food security during my time as Undersecretary of Agriculture, and it is indeed key. President Gabriel Boric and minister Esteban Valenzuela have said so as well. We are focusing on food security and food sovereignty; on safeguarding our heritage, what we have, our production, our values, and also our people, who do their job very well.
Food security is a priority for this administration, which is why we need to do real work in this area. If we don’t comply with biosecurity, we will have no security. This is why we recently enacted the decision that creates a biosecurity system for livestock farms. It is quite an achievement, a step forward that helps us make concrete progress in plant and animal health protection. I think this work helps us move the needle. Doing things is what creates change.
Now, you were asking about white meat. We recently began work on poultry production regulations, which is something the private sector was expecting. As mentioned before, the private sector is the one that says “let’s raise the standards, let’s improve our regulations” to prevent diseases and pests from spreading. With Avian influenza, biosecurity makes all the difference.
The public sector, and SAG in particular, has worked tirelessly in collecting and burying the migratory birds and mammals that have died. We have invested significant resources. The funding was requested from the Treasury and the president allocated 14 billion CLP (around 16.2 million USD) to hire the necessary equipment, vehicles, and people to control and handle this disease with wildlife biosecurity measures.
The Agricultural Development Institute (INDAP) and the regional governments have also contributed in the measures taken for backyard birds, but the private sector is the one working hard on securing their facilities. This is where joint work pays off.
– What strategies will you implement to balance the demands from agricultural and livestock production and the need to protect the environment and the climate change agenda?
The global trend today is caring for the environment, respecting our world and our heritage. Continuing with a production model that further stresses environmental systems is no longer acceptable, no matter how productive it might be. The world not only demands for high quality and affordable products, but it prefers to pay a little more for products that can certify that they have been made taking environmental conditions into consideration.
SAG has promoted changes within its structure and one of my challenges will be to include climate change components. The Natural Resources Department is already working on a Climate Change Unit that can respond to the needs and challenges posed by a new production system that respects the environment.
– Can you tell us more about the strategies and measures being taken to prevent Avian influenza in the poultry industry and the plans for next year?
We already have some experience in this. What happened last year didn’t take us by surprise. I was Undersecretary when we got SAG’s report on the impact Avian influenza was having in the Northern Hemisphere and how its high pathogenicity was aggravating the situation. We had time to get ready since mid-year to December, when we saw the first case in Chile, and from then on we have continued gathering lots of information and learning.
A week ago, we had an in-house workshop with representatives from each region of the country, to recap and evaluate the work done during the nine months in direct contact with the virus. From there, we started thinking about the future, to keep strengthening our preparedness. We know that migratory birds will come back next summer and we have enough data on the virus behavior and what it will do next season.
We are in touch with the WOAH, the FAO, and the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture to monitor how the problem is impacting other countries and be better prepared for its potential return, although this year we were ready. Compared to other countries, we had time to prepare and I think we did a good job, our teams worked really hard, fully committed to their duty.
– How are you working with other Chilean and international organizations to get the industry ready for the potential threat of Avian influenza or African swine fever?
We have a strong International Division and are extremely fortunate to have first-class professionals who are in direct communication with the Permanent Veterinary Committee. The head of the division, Carlos Orellana, is well respected internationally and takes part of all discussions on this topic. Luckily, we have direct access and are constantly exchanging information. And the industry can also count on me. The fact that I am a veterinarian with wide experience in poultry allows me to understand quickly and be very mindful of the situation. I think that during my tenure we’ll be able to move forward quickly and effectively to control this complex disease.
The main take away is understanding that we are working as a team, together. What impacts the private sector impacts the public sector too, and vice versa. We will offer our support to work frankly, clearly, and fairly, always considering the country’s wellbeing. If the industry does well, SAG will do well, our entire country will, its workers and our environment will do well. We are committed to work honestly with every sector.