Experts from the Americas, emphasize importance of cereals and oilseeds in sustainable agrifood systems

San Jose, 6 May 2021 (IICA). Cereals, oilseeds and their by-products are essential to global food security and will be for decades to come, due to their central role in the population’s diet, in addition to their energy and protein content, health benefits, role in the socioeconomic development of the Americas and the strength of the production sector, which is moving towards increasingly sustainable production systems.

So stated specialists at a high-level seminar convened by the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) to share current knowledge, technical criteria and proven concepts on the role played by grains and oilseeds in a sustainable food system, and to explore the sector’s future opportunities and challenges.

In attendance at the virtual event were Tom Rosser, Assistant Deputy Minister at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada; Fernando Schwanke, Secretary of Family Farming and Cooperativism of Brazil’s Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Food Supply; Manuel Otero, Director General of IICA, and over a dozen subject matter experts from the public, agroindustry, production and research sectors in Argentina, Brazil, Canada, the United States and Uruguay, leading countries in terms of cereal and oilseed production and export.

The initiative is part of the dialogue and consultation process carried out by IICA in preparation for the United Nations Food Systems Summit, through which it aims to ensure an adequate representation of the Americas, its governments, institutions and farmers at the global forum.

The topics discussed during the virtual seminar included the Western Hemisphere’s contribution to global food security, the health and nutritional benefits of cereals and oilseeds, the sustainability of the productive activity, the importance of adopting new technology and innovation, these products’ role in socioeconomic development and the importance of international trade for food systems and global food security.

“Cereal production is key to overcoming world hunger. Today, Brazil sustainably produces almost 300 million tons of cereals and we believe our hemisphere needs to show the world its importance to global food security. We will continue to develop a sustainable sector to guarantee food security”, stated Schwanke.

During the webinar, it was affirmed that the Americas produce 26% of all cereals grown worldwide and 35% of the global oilseed production. Corn accounts for 74% of all cereals produced in the region, while wheat represents 15%. In terms of oilseeds, soybean accounts for 79% of the region’s production, with oil palm and rapeseed each representing 6%.

“The grain and oilseed sector is very strong – in Canada, it represents 45% of all exports. The region’s development is always inherently tied to the development of this sector and we see it as essential to our post-pandemic recovery, to our country’s long-term growth and progress and to global food security”, added Rosser.

During the meeting, Jim Sutter, CEO of the U.S. Soybean Export Council (USSEC), stated that “in 2020 alone, Western Hemisphere countries produced 400 million tons of grains for global consumers”.

“That figure represented 60% of global cereal exports. I’m talking about cereal like corn, soybean and rice”, he added.

Sutter stated further that global demand for soybean alone has grown by 101.2% over the past 20 years, while imports during that same period increased at an annual rate of 5.8%. China has led purchases of the grain since the 2002-03 season and today holds a 60% share.

As for the health and nutrition benefits of cereals and oilseeds, it was stated that legumes, such as lentils, peas, chickpeas and fava beans are accessible products and key to a healthy, balanced diet.

“These products are part of any healthy diet, as they lower cholesterol, provide plenty of fiber, improve digestive health, produce lower postprandial glucose levels and are important in managing appetite and weight”, stated Gordon Bacon, CEO of the Canadian Special Crops Association.

More science, technology and trade without barriers

During the dialogue, the experts agreed that while Latin America and the Caribbean are gradually and continually moving towards more sustainable, environmentally friendly systems, the cereal and oilseed sector should better leverage science, technology and innovation to produce more with less, using natural resources more efficiently to satisfy the demands of a growing population.

They referred to the use of biotechnology to obtain seed varieties that are more resistant to herbicides, pests and disease, using genetic modification; precision agriculture for a more efficient use of inputs and natural resources, like soil and water, as well as the application of good agricultural practices, like direct seeding, crop rotation, cover crops and no-till farming, etc.

“Advances in this area, specifically in the field of biotechnology, data science and information and communication technologies, in addition to agricultural best practices, will allow for substantially greater and more sustainable production in the future, which is essential, given the challenges of climate change mitigation and adaptation”, stated Manuel Otero, Director General of IICA.

Moreover, the specialists emphasized the importance of dynamic, transparent trade, based on multilateral rules, to enable the sector to fulfil its role as a fundamental contributor to global food security.

“International trade is key for global food security, as a significant part of food consumption depends on imports. Placing non-tariff barriers on trade is a serious mistake in terms of global food security”, concluded Marcelo Regúnaga of the Group of Producing Countries from the Southern Cone (GPS) and former Secretary of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries of Argentina.

The views shared during the virtual seminar will be complied into an IICA publication, which will be used as reference for the technical and policy discussions that will establish the position of its Member States, the ministries of Agriculture and the private sector in preparation for the Food Systems Summit 2021.

The event, presentations and more information on the webinar are available here.

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