Alumnus named to top agriculture post in Costa Rica

May 15, 2014
By Bill Krueger

A native of Costa Rica, Luis Felipe Arauz earned his doctorate in plant pathology from NC State in 1990. Until last week, he was a professor of plant pathology and agroecology at the University of Costa Rica and dean of its College of Agricultural and Food Sciences. Today, he is the Minister of Agriculture and Livestock of Costa Rica after being appointed by the country’s new president, Luis Guillermo Solís. Here, he talks about his new responsibilities and how he has remained connected with the university over the past 20 years, both personally and professionally.

farauz1What led to your appointment as minister of livestock and agriculture? We just had an election in which Luis Guillermo Solís was elected the new president of Costa Rica. During the campaign and before, I was in charge of coordinating the committee that wrote the agriculture program for Mr. Solís’ eventual administration. After he won the election, he asked me if I wanted to be in charge of implementing the program as the Minister of Agriculture and Livestock.

What will your main responsibilities be? To implement a program that will bring well-being to agricultural producers, especially small and poor farmers. To provide food safety and sovereignty to the country and to produce a healthy environment. To create opportunities for the rural youth, and to foster a vigorous agro-exporting sector.

What are the particular challenges that you would like to address? How to combine the above. People say there is a conflict between social, environmental and economic issues in agriculture. I do not see it as a conflict but as complementarities that, if well managed, can result in a truly sustainable agriculture.

Describe some of your recent research. I have been in administration for the past 10 years, but I still kept a foot on research and teaching. I have been collaborating on research related to the epidemiology and biocontrol of plant diseases, such as the American leaf spot of coffee and downy mildew of cucurbits. The latter is in collaboration with Dr. Peter Ojiambo from NCSU’s plant pathology department and Dr. Ojiambo’s Ph.D student, Katie Neufeld.

How did your education at NC State prepare you for the position you have now? First, it provided me with a solid scientific foundation that helps in the way I analyze problems and look for a solution. Second, it fostered critical thinking. Third, it helped me develop a holistic approach to problems. I believe holistic approaches are embedded in the way plant pathology works. It is a very holistic discipline, and this approach can be translated to many aspects of life.

How have you managed to stay connected with the university over the years? There have been several factors. I maintain a personal friendship with my former adviser, Dr. Turner Sutton. My wife, Melanie Hord Arauz, is also an NC State graduate, and her family lives in North Carolina so I have remained connected with the state as a whole. Also, several Costa Ricans throughout the years have obtained advanced degrees at NC State, which in turn resulted in a good group of potential collaborators for student exchange. Dr. Jean Ristaino took the initiative of bringing NCSU students to Costa Rica, and as a result she found ways to reciprocate and we were able to bring a group of students from UCR to NCSU as well. I also did a six-month internship in 2009 with Dr. Ojiambo in the Plant Pathology Department.

–Diana Smith

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