Washington, 9 April 2021 (IICA) – The well-being, productivity, profitability and sustainability of farmers should be given top priority in any strategy to address the future of agrifood systems, which are undergoing a profound transformation due to scientific and technological changes.
This was one of the conclusions reached by a panel of experts at the seminar organized by the Council of the Americas and the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), entitled, “Agriculture, Rural Communities and Food Systems of the Americas: Towards an Integrated Approach”.
The discussion, which incorporated both public and private sector perspectives, addressed the future of agriculture activity in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as the essential involvement of the sector in tackling climate change and strengthening global food security, in which the Americas plays a vital role.
In opening the event, Susan Segal, President and Executive Director of the Americas Society/ Council of the Americas (AS/COA), stressed the importance of reflection and the sharing of ideas and knowledge about the future of food systems in a hemisphere which contains one quarter of the world’s agricultural land.
Speaking at the seminar were Saboto Caesar, Minister of Agriculture of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines; Krysta Harden, Executive Director and President of the U.S. Dairy Export Council; Manuel Bravo, President and Executive Director of Bayer Mexico; Michael Kremer, University of Chicago professor and winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics; and Manuel Otero, Director General of IICA. Steven Liston, Senior Director at the Washington D.C. office of AS/COA, served as the moderator.
Rattan Lal, the 2020 World Food Prize laureate and Professor at Ohio State University, who is considered to be the leading global authority on soil sciences, was also among those in attendance.
During his presentation, Otero emphasized that Latin America and the Caribbean commands the greatest share of the global food market, accounting for 14% of total exports. “In the midst of a crisis of such profound proportions, I want to point out that we continue to supply food to the one billion people living in the Americas. Consider that overall regional exports fell 9% during 2020 versus a 2% increase in agrifood exports. This is what we mean by resilience. The agriculture sector of the Americas has demonstrated that it is resilient”, he said, calling for farmers to be placed at the forefront of discussions about the future of agrifood systems, while also stressing that science should serve as the main input for public policies on the sector.
The IICA Director General reflected that nothing will be the same after the pandemic and maintained that the hemisphere could be a leading player in a new Agriculture 4.0 sector, which would need to produce healthy food, using climate-smart practices that are also socially responsible and mindful of the demands of international markets.
“Productivity must be increased”, he insisted, “but also quality. We can no longer accept extractive agriculture. We must exist in harmony with the environment”.
Saboto Caesar remarked that agriculture in Latin America and the Caribbean could increase its competitiveness in international markets if it resolved problems in accessing capital and successfully lowered its production costs, through the use of scientific and technological tools.
Similarly, the Minister of Agriculture of St. Vincent and the Grenadines pointed out the need for closer policy integration among countries in the region and an enhanced institutional structure, stating that, “Until we create these conditions, we will not be able to attract greater investment in the sector, which is what will allow us to increase productivity and the quality of food”.
Saboto Caesar recalled that Latin American and Caribbean countries share a “colonial past” in which they served as “suppliers of raw materials”. He called on the region to work together to achieve greater competitiveness. “Integration must also result in the development of joint policies for climate change adaptation”, added the Caribbean minister.
“If small-scale producers are successful, we will all be successful”, stated Manuel Bravo. According to the President of Bayer in Mexico and Director of the company’s Agricultural Science Division for Northern Latin America, “it will be crucial for family farmers to improve their quality of life and that of their communities” in the post-pandemic agriculture sector. In this regard, he referred to the close relationship between the way in which agricultural activities are carried out and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
“We must make changes involving everything from access to better funding and marketing tools, to efficient water use and improvements in crop protection and crop yields. Our company is working to be climate neutral”, he remarked.
“The goal behind all of these changes, which will enable us to feed the world’s growing population, is to generate greater value for farmers, using science and technology. We will only succeed in this regard through collaboration and partnerships involving both the public and the private sector. We need everyone’s input and assistance”, he added.
Along the same lines, Krysta Harden underscored the value of science and technology for the future of agriculture, as well as the importance of ensuring that “farmers’ voices are heard”. The representative of U.S. dairy exporters noted that the industry sector must prioritize the well-being of rural dwellers.
“We must contribute to ensuring that farmers have the opportunity to feed their families and remain profitable, so that they can stay in the countryside. Only they can guarantee the production of nutritious food”, she emphasized.
“Farmers want access to the latest technologies and are eager to use them to transform their work. In the dairy industry, we’ve seen even the smallest of producers using drones in their daily work. There are concepts like gene editing with which we must all start to get familiar. But above all, what farmers want is transparency and accountability from all stakeholders involved in the food industry and in food marketing. This is key to retaining youth in rural areas and preventing migration”, explained the President and CEO of the U.S. Dairy Export Council.
Michael Kremer, who is also an IICA Goodwill Ambassador, discussed the importance of small-scale farmers having access to new information and communication technologies to improve the economic and social situation of rural areas.
Kremer stated that digital tools offer opportunities for innovation, which are key to improving productivity. “An accurate weather forecast via a smartphone can prove crucial in terms of enabling a farmer to make an adequate decision regarding when to plant. Greater mobile phone penetration would allow for significantly improving capabilities”.
“It is crucial not only to bring technology to rural areas, but also to work to increase the digital skills of farmers so that they adopt practices that improve yields and are sustainable. Together with IICA, we are already assisting farmers in Brazil and Colombia through digital technology solutions that will enable them to increase their productivity and improve their living conditions”, stated the recipient of the 2019 Nobel Prize in Economics.
The Americas Society is the premier forum dedicated to dialogue regarding the contemporary political, social and economic issues facing the region. The Council of the Americas is an important U.S. business forum that brings together investors, senior officials and academics, and is considered a platform for the defense of democracy, free trade and open markets in the Americas, as engines of development.About IICA
IICA is the specialized agency for agriculture in the Inter-American system, with a mission to encourage, promote and support its 34 Member States in their efforts to achieve agricultural development and rural well-being through international technical cooperation of excellence. More information:
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