San Jose, 16 April 2021 (IICA). Countries of the Americas called for strengthening the key, strategic role of agriculture in providing quality food and ecosystem services that protect water resources and biodiversity and contribute to combating climate change.
This was one of the points of consensus at the Third Hemispheric Meeting of Ministers and Secretaries of Agriculture of the Americas, organized by the Ministry of Agricultural Development and Irrigation of Peru, with support from the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) and FAO. The discussions also centered on the significant impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on food and nutritional security in the region.
The participants, which included representatives of all countries in the hemisphere, underscored the technical support provided by IICA and reviewed the actions that each country has adopted to support food production and supply chains during the emergency. They also highlighted the resilience of the region’s agrifood systems despite the dramatic drop in economic activity caused by the pandemic.
The meeting provided an assessment of the status of agrifood systems, with special emphasis on small-scale producers. The participants also voiced their concern and solidarity following the recent volcano eruption in St. Vincent and the Grenadines that had forced nearly 20% of the Caribbean island’s population to evacuate and had affected regions of the country dedicated to farming.
Federico Tenorio, Minister of Agricultural Development and Irrigation of Peru, and host of the virtual meeting, highlighted the role that agrifood systems have played in the region’s economic growth. “The difficult health context has reaffirmed the sector’s importance for overcoming poverty, generating jobs and driving economic recovery in general”, stated Tenorio.
“It is crucial to gather the various perspectives of the States ahead of the Food Systems Summit. Three key points must be taken into account to increase the sustainability of food systems: investments in science and innovation – the best way to develop sustainable practices; the 2030 Agenda, under which no one is left behind and which seeks to end global hunger over the next decade; and international trade based on fair and transparent rules to guarantee food security and reduce poverty”, remarked Tereza Cristina, Minister of Agriculture, Livestock and Supply of Brazil.
“In Brazil, we already produce meat without emitting greenhouse gases. But our efforts will be in vain if we fail to eradicate global hunger over the next ten years”, added the Brazilian minister.
Rodolfo Enrique Zea, Minister of Agriculture of Colombia, indicated that, “We have promoted strategies to strengthen the agriculture sector during the pandemic and continue to provide funding for agriculture. We have also kept the sector and its entire support chain running in order to guarantee food security. We continue to move forward with the process of promoting agricultural exports; in fact, 2020 was the year with the highest exports in Colombia’s history”, he explained.
Latin America and the Caribbean is the largest net exporter of food in the world, accounting for 14% of global trade, so it has tremendous potential to successfully transform agriculture – an irreversible process that is already underway.
The countries that are major exporters of agrifood products are the ones that showed the greatest resilience in the region, where the pandemic generated a critical situation. According to data revealed during the meeting, LAC was the region of the world that took the greatest hit in terms of the fall in the GDP and the increase in food insecurity.
“We will overcome this pandemic together, not individually. Our region, which we all know is not responsible for climate change, is being called upon to play a key role in discussions about food systems. We are certain of the need for an adaptation system funded by those responsible for climate change”, stated Jorge Solmi, Secretary of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries of Argentina.
The Director General of IICA, Manuel Otero, welcomed the opportunity to discuss agrifood systems during the meeting. “The use of the prefix ‘agro’ is key because it acknowledges the fact that, without agricultural production, there would be no raw materials that could be transformed into food; consequently, achieving food security would be beyond reach”, stated Otero, who reiterated his support for the United Nations Food Systems Summit, stressing the need to increase representation of Latin America and the Caribbean and its farmers.
“Agrifood systems are already undergoing irreversible change and must continue to evolve through a synergistic partnership with the environment. We have a valuable opportunity to develop more mature systems, with full respect for the environment and an emphasis on nutritional quality”, he added.
He also called on the participants to “stand in unity with the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Barbados, who are dealing with the impact of volcanic ash. IICA will contribute to alleviating this dramatic situation, to the best of its abilities”.
Victor Villalobos, Secretary of Agriculture and Rural Development of Mexico, stated that “strengthening food systems will require global efforts that can reactivate the economy and generate more opportunities for small-scale producers. Innovations that have been tailored to the agro-ecological conditions of territories must be incorporated. And cooperation is essential to maintain access to food”.
The Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries of Jamaica, Floyd Green, stated that, “I call on the Caribbean to develop a logistical platform to facilitate the exchange of agricultural products in our region, supply the tourism industry and strengthen linkages. IICA can provide us with technical support in this regard”.
During the meeting, FAO Director General Qu Dongyu underscored the role of Latin America and the Caribbean in global food security, as did Regional Representative Julio Berdegué and the Minister of Agriculture and Livestock of Costa Rica, Renato Alvarado, who noted that the pandemic had demonstrated that economic recovery can be achieved through interinstitutional integration between countries. “For instance, in Central America, the ministers have found common ground to drive the resilience of the agriculture sector through soil protection, water resource management, new technologies and the transfer and good agricultural practices, among other measures”, indicated Alvarado.
“The agriculture sector is a priority in the Dominican Republic. More credit opportunities, greater market access for small-scale farmers, better use of natural resources. We need more training and technical assistance to better build our food systems”, stated the country’s Minister of Agriculture, Limber Cruz.
According to Federico Villarreal, IICA’s Director of Technical Cooperation, three main points must be taken into account when addressing the transformation of agrifood systems. The first is that food systems are inextricably linked to farmers; the second is that decisions must be based on scientific knowledge; and the third is that agriculture is key to addressing the serious issues facing humanity and is therefore part of the solution.
Villarreal also referred to the importance of ensuring that the voices of family farmers of the Americas are heard at this year’s Food Systems Summit, convened by the United Nations.
“Family farming”, he explained, “includes more than 60 million people in the hemisphere and is one of the main sources of employment in rural areas, which lay the foundation for national agrifood systems. Producers are the only ones who can contribute to meeting the demand for more and better food, so they must be represented”.