Washington, 11 August 2021 (IICA) – Ministers of Agriculture from Latin America and the Caribbean and senior executives from global companies participating in a high-level panel discussion convened by the Council of the Americas and the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) all agreed that achieving sustainable agri-food systems will require the development of a framework to ensure the well-being of farmers and rural communities.
The discussion began with a presentation by award-winning scientist, Rattan Lal, who is considered the world’s leading authority on soil sciences, and also featured the participation of the Minister of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries of Argentina, Luis Basterra; the Minister of Agriculture of Guyana, Zulfikar Mustapha; the CEO of PepsiCo Latin America, Paula Santilli; Head of Sustainability and Business Stewardship at Bayer Crop Science, Klaus Kunz; and Walmart’s Director of Global Government Affairs, Christian Gómez.
Eric Farnsworth, Vice-President of The Americas Society/ Council of the Americas (AS/COA), and Manuel Otero, Director General of IICA, gave the opening and closing remarks of the event. Steve Liston, Senior Director of Council of the Americas was the moderator.
The event was one in a series of roundtable discussions organized to discuss the manner in which food will be produced and consumed in the future and the situation of rural communities in the Americas.
The debates are being organized in preparation for the 2021 United Nations Food Systems Summit. The first two forums focused on the benefits of international trade for rural dwellers and on how the digital revolution can help to improve the standard of living of farmers.
Professor Lal explained that, “Sustainable food systems are those that ensure food and nutrition security for all without endangering the economic, social or environmental welfare of future generations”, explained Professor Lal, who partnered with IICA in 2020 to launch “Living Soils of the Americas”, an initiative aimed at galvanizing public and private efforts in the fight against soil degradation.
The scientist argued that current agri-foods systems have not resolved hunger and malnutrition; have failed to ensure that all people have access to a healthy diet of safe food; and have degraded soils, contaminated water, fueled global warming and reduced biodiversity.
Lal stated that, “There are 3 billion people that cannot afford a healthy diet and 690 million with chronic malnutrition problems, a figure which increased by between 83 and 132 million, due to the pandemic. The system must change”.
The experts, who heads the Carbon Management and Sequestration Center (CMASC) at Ohio State University, provided details on the impact of increasing inequality and poverty.
He explained that agri-food system transformation should be based on identifying and introducing policies, innovations and the necessary institutions to reduce the negative impact of agriculture, while also ensuring resilience to phenomena such as pandemics and extreme climate events.
Lal insisted that the focus should be on producing healthy food, while curtailing greenhouse gas emissions, and also emphasized the need to tax the production of unhealthy food and to introduce labeling systems that encourage positive consumer habits.
Argentina’s Agriculture Minister, Luis Basterra, remarked that in the ongoing global discussion about the future of agri-food systems, “the future of the human race is in question in the context of a world that is experiencing the effects of development. This is not a recent process, but something that began with the industrial era”.
He mentioned that, “A country such as Argentina has decisively embraced the concept of sustainability. There is a commitment by both the private and public sectors to identify the best ways to produce and to preserve ecosystems. We can proudly say that much of our land is cultivated employing the zero till method, which captures part of the carbon that is lost, through practices that would previously have consumed carbon”.
Basterra also discussed the need to consider implementing a payment system for ecosystem services, as a means of promoting environmental conservation. He said that, “The Americas possesses a wealth of biodiversity and of carbon sequestration habitats. There should be a fair and balanced transition to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are essential for the survival of the species”.
The Argentinian minister also emphasized the collaboration between the governments of all the countries of the Americas to arrive at a joint position to present at the Food Systems Summit and thanked IICA for its role in establishing this consensus.
The Guyanese minister, Mustapha, stressed the need to empower small farmers and rural communities, through infrastructure building and technology transfer and by introducing policies that guarantee fair compensation for one’s work.
Mustapha stated that, “We must improve the conditions of those who are the true generators of wealth – the food producers”, while also advocating for the establishment of infrastructure that will facilitate food processing in rural areas, thus enabling value addition that will increase the profitability of these communities.
Mustapha also spoke about the Caribbean countries’ vulnerability to climate change, stating that, “In Guyana, we have suffered severe flooding. This year, there was a volcano eruption in St. Vincent and the Grenadines and all of the countries are bracing for increasingly stronger hurricanes. We are small countries and economies and both our crops and our livestock have been hard hit. Recently, we provided assistance to 52,000 small farmers who have been the most affected.
Paula Santilli of PepsiCo Latin America indicated that agriculture is essential for the sustainability of his company’s operations, and said that, “We are an immense agroindustrial business and we need agriculture. We know that without farmers, we have no business. That is why we have a close relationship with farmers, small and large, and are working to ensure that all our crops—corn, sugar, sweet potato—are 100% sustainable. We need help to achieve this objective. One important thing that we are doing is disseminating new regenerative agricultural practices. It means adding biological components and utilizing technology for soil care”.
For Eric Farnsworth, it is essential that farmers and rural communities participate in the debate about agri-food system transformation, “not only because they are the most affected”, he said, “but because of their knowledge about soil care, resource conservation and climate adaptation, which are all critical to sustainable agricultural production”.
Manuel Otero, who recently attending the Food Systems Pre-Summit in Rome, emphasized the dialogue that took place during the global meeting, despite the presence of varied perspectives.
“Let us defend the fact that agriculture is the life and future of our hemisphere. Although changes are needed, it is in no way a failed system. Without farmers, it is difficult to think about transformation”, he maintained.
The Director General stressed that agriculture and sustainability are inseparable. He also remarked that sustainability has not only an environmental, “but also an economic dimension and a human face”.
In closing, he stated that, “there are 16.5 million family farmers who are not receiving a fair price for their products. The lack of profitability results in poverty and disorganized migration to urban centers. It is imperative that our rural zones become regions of progress and opportunity”.