Food Systems Summit: an opportunity for Latin America and the Caribbean to show the world the sustainability of its agriculture

Buenos Aires, June 1st, 2021 (IICA) – Latin America and the Caribbean must seize the 2021 Food Systems Summit as an opportunity to show the world the relevance of its progress in terms of agricultural sustainability and productivity, which have the capacity to position the region as a global guarantor of food and nutritional security.

Government officials, academics and representatives from international organizations and agrifood businesses agreed on this principle during the 8th Symposium “From the South to the World”, held virtually and organized in Argentina by the School of Agronomy of the Universidad de Buenos Aires (FAUBA), the Center for Federal Development Studies Foundation (CEDEF) and the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA).

The discussion also involved public and private institutions linked to agricultural production, and constituted an opportunity to share different points of view regarding which should be the regional strategy at the global meeting convened by UN’s Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, in order to establish global commitments geared towards improving food systems.

Other topics that were addressed from different perspectives included the effects that other major international events scheduled for this year, such as the Climate Change Conference to be held in Glasgow, and the Conference on Biodiversity in China, may have on the modes of production in the region.

The Symposium featured more than 15 panel discussions, in which topics such as the importance of bioeconomy and its role in the region’s development were addressed, together with the strategies to eradicate malnutrition in vulnerable sectors and the new trends of global consumers, which have been accelerated by the impact of the pandemic.

In reference to the Food Systems Summit and other relevant events of this year, the Minister of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries of Argentina, Luis Basterra, considered that “these meetings will bring about changes and will reshape the post-pandemic world. It is not the medium- and long-terms that we are talking about, but rather the here and now. Our production systems are part of the solution and not of the problem. It is increasingly important and strategic to continue to defend this reality”.

In this spirit, Basterra praised the work carried out by IICA, which is working with its 34 Member States –all countries in the Western Hemisphere- to agree on convergent positions in preparation for the Summit.

For his part, Gustavo Béliz, Secretary of Strategic Affairs of the President’s Office of Argentina, pointed out that agrifood issues are essential for the economic development of the country, and in this regard mentioned that “there is no longer such a thing as a division between primary, industrial and service economy”.

 “Our region has much to contribute to the global debate on food security; Argentina in particular has taken major steps forward with no-till farming, biotechnology and genetics, among other advances, which address the sustainability of our systems. The Summit must promote these and other tools as well” affirmed Jorge Neme, Secretary of International Economic Relations of the Argentina Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Furthermore, Fernando Vilella, Director of the Bioeconomy Program of the School of Agronomy of the Universidad de Buenos Aires (UBA) spoke about the risks posed by the Summit for Latin American and Caribbean countries.

 “The risk –stated Vilella- is to buy into concepts that are not our own. A large part of the foreign currency generated by our countries derives from food exports, and our goal is for this to grow and to increase value added. This is why we are concerned about the fact that national and regional productive systems could be affected by ideas or concepts that may be foreign to us”.

Gabriel Delgado, IICA’s Representative in Brazil, expressed his belief that the Summit will be an opportunity to show sustainable forms of production that are already applied in the region, and which could serve as an example for similar endeavors geared towards increasing agricultural sustainability and productivity in the rest of the world.

 “We must consider the fact that, for example, agriculture is one of the few activities capable of sequestering carbon. This provides it with an advantage over any other industry, and it is of great interest for our region”, stated Delgado, who also called for efforts to be made so that the urban population understands the contribution of rural sectors to development.

 “More than 60% of the revenue generated by Argentine exports comes from the rural sector. This is why urban dwellers must understand its importance. A number of relevant issues will be defined this year, because even the other two major global conferences –Biodiversity and Climate Change- will include components related to food systems” he explained. The Symposium also featured the participation of Caio Rocha, a Brazilian agricultural engineer and IICA’s Representative in Argentina.

IICA is part of the Summit Champions Network –comprised of a group of individuals and organizations committed to fulfilling its objectives- representing the agricultural and rural sectors of North America, Latin America and the Caribbean.

According to its Director General, Manuel Otero, the Institute applauds the systemic approach of the initiative, which brings together issues such as production, distribution, consumption and food waste into one single discussion.

 “However –stated Otero- we do not support the vision that food systems are unsuccessful and that practically everything must be changed. On the contrary, agrifood systems have raised the productivity levels of agriculture and have been the driver of economic growth, employment and foreign currency generation”.  

Otero mentioned the severe health, social and economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in Latin America and the Caribbean. Within this context, however, he underscored the importance of the role played by agrifood systems in the region.

 “The impact of the pandemic on the region has been very strong. Latin America and the Caribbean have 8% of the world’s population and 30% of the deaths attributed to COVID. Additionally, the region has suffered an unprecedented socio-economic crisis. The decline in our economies is evident, which have fallen by around 8%, when the drop in world GDP has been less than 4%. By June 2020, according to the IDB, 40% of the poorest households in the region had experienced hunger. In the midst of such a decline, agriculture maintained its share in international markets. Food exports from Latin America and the Caribbean increased by 3% in 2020, while total exports fell by almost 10%. The region is the world’s largest net food exporter, accounting for 14.3% of international trade” he explained.

Also participating in the symposium was María del Carmen Squeff, Permanent Representative of Argentina to the UN and Representative of the Americas in the Advisory Committee to the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy, Agnes Kalibata, who is overseeing the organization of the Summit.

Mrs. Squeff cautioned that Latin American countries should work together so that the decisions made at the Summit are not focused on “taking measures to limit agricultural development. It should be clear that there is no one-size-fits-all development model that can be applied to all the countries of the world”.

 “Solutions are not about producing less food, but rather about producing more and better” added Ambassador Squeff, who also stated that industrialized countries “should be more generous in providing the adequate tools to ensure the sustainability of production in developing countries. We should be creditors, not debtors”.

In turn, Carlos Bernardo Cherniak, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of the Argentine Republic to the United Nations organizations based in Rome, affirmed that “many productive systems have developed significant improvements in keeping with sustainability principles. We must make our voice heard and explain that it is necessary to contextualize”.

Mr. Cherniak rejected what he considered “a trend towards a certain hegemonic discourse that claims there is only one sustainable production system, which does not address social or economic issues. It is a dispute over what kind of narrative is installed. Some European countries are making efforts to align the entire global agenda based on environmental issues”.

Finally, Federico Villareal, Director of Technical Cooperation of IICA also pointed out that the UN Food Systems Summit constitutes an opportunity for the region.

 “What happens at the Summit will define much of what will occur in the future. This will not be an isolated event, and cannot be taken lightly. No one disagrees that it is necessary to improve, but we know that food systems in Latin America and the Caribbean have been successful in many aspects. The Summit is a great opportunity to reach consensus on the transformations that must undoubtedly be put into practice, and the role that each stakeholder must play” he stated.

Video: From the South to the World Symposium

Video: Agrifood systems under discussion, international scenarios defining the strategic agenda

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