Born into a farming family in Guayaquil, Xavier Lazo (’99, Ecuador) has long possessed a deep appreciation for agriculture. After graduating from EARTH University in 1999 with a desire to boost the production of sustainable and fair-trade goods back home in Ecuador, he recognized how his “great, rewarding effort” at EARTH had taught him perseverance against all odds — a value that has proven fundamental throughout his life since.
“I remember how [the year 1999] was very difficult for my family. I had to seek support from EARTH to secure a loan to be able to finish my studies,” Xavier said. “When I returned to Ecuador, labor conditions were grim. It was a traumatic time for the national economy, and the agricultural sector wasn’t immune. Opportunities were very scarce.”
That situation brought Xavier back to Costa Rica, where he committed himself to educating and training others in agricultural skills and sustainability topics. EARTH had hired him for six months to work in its strategic training program, thereby starting his career in technical consulting.
For approximately five years, he served as a consultant for growers of bananas, coffee and tropical root vegetables in Costa Rica. He also spent two years pursuing his master’s degree at Universidad de Costa Rica — ultimately having to withdraw prematurely from lack of economic resources. After a brief stint working with organic bananas in the Dominican Republic and growing as a biotech entrepreneur, he returned to Ecuador in 2007 to chase his dream of reclaiming land and cultivating organic bananas there.
Fast forward to 2018 — Xavier was named Ecuador’s Minister of Agriculture and made an official state visit to EARTH. In his new role, he focuses on issue correction within the agricultural sector. “Ecuador needs a period of great order and an agricultural census to generate public policy. We need to experience such order before we can visualize Ecuador’s agricultural future. It’s necessary for aligning our exportable supply with market demands as well as sending our country into a trend of productivity and sustainability,” he said.
An education calling him to serve
While making the decision to accept a public office, Xavier reflected on his EARTH education. He recognizes the influence EARTH has had on his vision as minister, highlighting two aspects in particular: focus on entrepreneurship and closeness with farmers.
“A great percent of the agricultural workforce are small farmers in rural areas. Two of the hallmarks of my education were contact with small producers and entrepreneurship. With respect to that and more, EARTH really left its mark,” Xavier said. “This push to serve farmers has been something far-reaching in my life and my decisions. There are two other ways in which the University has greatly contributed to my role as minister: knowing how to face challenges head-on as well as how to form and lead teams.”
Among the most rewarding aspects of his years at EARTH were the friendships Xavier formed with his classmates and professors. “Such relationships enable you to understand different cultures, expand horizons, and broaden perspectives on diverse subjects and problems. After leaving the University, you continue being nourished by those classmates and friends,” he said.
Facing the challenges ahead
Xavier believes EARTH graduates — himself included — are charged with the mission of broadcasting hope, as well as seeking ways to bring richness back to the agricultural sector. He remains convinced that entrepreneurship and innovation can facilitate economic development that promotes sustainability and fair trade.
“EARTH’s great contribution to society is its rural development. It is critical to form leaders who are capable of generating real change at a time when rural poverty has increased. We need leaders with an entrepreneurial vision who devote their work, talents and leadership to the socioeconomic development of rural communities,” he added.