|Living Soils of the Americas is a program that seeks to act as a bridge between science and public policies aimed at the restoration and protection of soils in the Americas, whose degradation threatens the position of Latin America and the Caribbean as guarantors of global food security.|
|San José, 28 March 2022 (IICA) – The progress and achievements of the Living Soils of the Americas initiative were presented at the first meeting of the program’s Steering Committee, which brings together stakeholders from the public and private sectors, universities and international and civil society organizations, in a common effort to fight against land degradation, which threatens to undermine food production.|
This ambitious international initiative is transforming scientific knowledge into concrete action with the leadership of Rattan Lal, Director of the Center for Carbon Management and Sequestration (C-MASC) at Ohio State University and one of the world’s leading authorities on soil sciences, and the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA).
The meeting centered on the actions that have placed the issue of soil health as a priority on the agenda of countries, organizations and companies since the launch of Living Soils of the Americas in December 2020. The preservation of this resource is essential to achieve the sustainable development goals pursued by our societies.
Officials from the various countries participating in the initiative were present at the meeting of the Steering Committee, including Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Chile, El Salvador, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay, along with directors of important private companies linked to the agrifood industry, such as Bayer, Syngenta and PepsiCo.
Also present were representatives of regional technical cooperation and financing mechanisms such as Fontagro, PROCISUR, the Inter-American Commission for Organic Agriculture (CIAO) and the Argentine No-Till Farmers Association (AAPRESID).
Other alliances were reviewed during the meeting, including the one forged with the Coalition of Action for Soil Health (CA4SH) at the United Nations Food Systems Summit.
This Coalition brings together actors from the public and private spheres with the aim of improving soil health. This is achieved through the implementation and monitoring of policies and public and private investment barriers that hinder the adoption by farmers of practices that are beneficial for the soil.
“The world is at a crossroads due to the conjunction of the war in Europe, climate change and the Covid-19 pandemic, from which we are fortunately emerging” said Professor Lal, who is a Goodwill Ambassador for IICA and was recently appointed by the President of the United States, Joe Biden, as a member of the Board for International Food and Agriculture Development (BIFAD).
Lal drew attention to the decline in arable land in many countries, which may have an impact on food availability around the world. “This initiative is based on an essential concept: soil is the source of life. Our priority is to support smallholder farmers in the adoption of sustainable practices and ensure that no one is left behind,” he said.
The sustainability commitments assumed by Bayer and its relationship with producers and consumers were described by the company’s regional manager, Beatriz Arrieta. These commitments include a 30% reduction in greenhouse gases from agricultural production; a 30% decrease in the environmental impact of higher yielding crops; and an improvement in the livelihood of 100 million smallholder farmers by giving them access to sustainable forms of production.
Paula Uribe and Arturo Durán, directors of PepsiCo, explained that the company’s initiatives include regenerative field practices in 7 million acres globally, a reduction in absolute water use and the commitment to reach zero emissions by 2040, accompanied by an increase in the use of renewable energies.
“We are surprised by the progress made, and we are committed to continuing this joint work; this is the right path to take” said Patricia Toledo from Syngenta, who gave details of the company’s initiative in Brazil focused on the restoration of 100,000 hectares of degraded soil.
The Director General of IICA, Manuel Otero, expressed the Institute’s commitment to transforming and strengthening agricultural systems as a fundamental requirement for an increasingly sustainable development of the planet.
“Living Soils of the Americas integrates the public and private sectors to visbilize the soil health agenda. But our work does not end with a mere assessment; it goes on to promote effective actions, embracing the One Health approach,” he added.
Otero considered that agriculture should be considered part of the solution to the challenges facing humanity and valued the progress made by the agrifood sector in the Americas towards sustainability. “We are not saying–he explained–that they are perfect systems; they are perfectible. But we cannot accept them being described as failed systems, or a discussion only in terms of who is guilty and who is innocent”.
Finally, the Director General of IICA called for the agricultural sustainability agenda to be placed at the center of the upcoming United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP 27, in Egypt, and in other international forums.
Fernando Camargo, Secretary of Innovation, Rural Development and Irrigation of the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Food Supply of Brazil revealed that his country has about 90 million hectares with some level of degradation caused by the adoption of productive systems that do not focus on conservation. To address this problem, “Brazil has been a leader in the implementation of strategic policies to promote sustainable land management for more than a decade,” he said.
“The Living Soils of the Americas project is fully aligned with our goals,” said Bob Turnock of Agriculture and Agribusiness Canada. “We believe that science -he added- should be a priority because it is the only thing that will allow us to grow.”
Juan Arias, from the Chilean Renewable Natural Resources Division, said that in recent years his country has supported 150,000 producers, representing 1,750,000 hectares of land, in sustainable soil management. “This program -he pointed out- constitutes an opportunity to improve and build direct action mechanisms”.
Angelo Quintero Palacio, Director of Innovation, Technological Development and Sanitary Protection of Colombia, valued IICA’s role as an ally of his country in all initiatives aimed at closing gaps in rural areas. The official said that Colombia has set the goal of reaching carbon neutrality by 2050, “not as a political campaign promise, but as a real commitment.”
For his part, José Carlos De la Cruz Espinoza, from the Ministry of Agrarian Development and Irrigation of Peru, explained that in the Andean country “a second agrarian reform is being carried out, which gives greater emphasis to the conservation of the soil as a priority to build a sustainable agriculture”.
Magdalena López, from the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock of El Salvador, gave details of the soil conservation, management and restoration policies being carried out in the Central American nation. “El Salvador is very vulnerable to the effects of climate change. With the Agricultural Rescue Master Plan, we are making the transition to low-carbon agriculture,” she explained.
“It is about working together and looking for synergies and complementarities,” said the Director of Natural Resources of Uruguay, Martín Mattos, who considered that “it is essential to convey to the common citizen that economic, social and environmental sustainability are not conflicting concepts”.