Food Systems Summit: the Americas make progress in defining unified messages that highlight the role of agriculture

San Jose, 7 June 2021 (IICA) – The countries of the Americas are making progress in defining unified messages in preparation for the United Nations (UN) Food Systems Summit. These messages will give priority to agriculture and farmers and will strive to show the world the production transformations taking place in the hemisphere in favor of sustainability.

Over 70 government experts attended the Second Virtual Dialogue in Support of the Summit, promoted by the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA).

These dialogues are a series of discussions between the representatives of the Institute’s 34 Member States to share information about their own national dialogues and to exchange points of view on topics related to the Summit. The end goal is to reach a consensus that will allow the Americas to present a unified stance at the global event.

The goal, as stated by Lloyd Day, Deputy Director of IICA, at the launch, is to “decide on a message so that the world hears us”. Day added that “we want to make use of this Summit to say that while food systems can be better, we mustn’t forget that the Americas produces food for the whole world”.

IICA is a member of the Food Systems Champions Network—a group of individuals and organizations committed to its objectives—in representation of the agricultural and rural sectors of North and Latin America and the Caribbean.

“We agree with IICA’s perspective that agriculture is part of the solution and not part of the problem”, said Maximiliano Moreno, Director of International Relations at Argentina’s Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries.

Moreno was emphatic in stating that Argentina and other countries in Latin America and the Caribbean have made progress in recent years toward sustainable practices, such as the use of direct planting and cover crops to protect the soil.

In terms of the impact of agriculture in the region on the greenhouse gas emissions responsible for climate change, he stated that: “We all must contribute to mitigation, but it is also true that historic, and even current responsibilities are not equal in terms of climate change. Therefore, in defining the contributions each country must make, we must consider the individual starting points to ensure a fair transition and respect for local diversity”.

Flávio Bettarello, Deputy Secretary for Trade and International Relations at Brazil’s Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Food Supply, expressed that “at the Food Systems Summit, we, as a hemisphere, must make it clear that there isn’t a single solution to the complex challenges we are facing and so the tools must be adapted to each country’s reality. We cannot prioritize one problem over another and we must consider a large number of options that can be adapted to the conditions and nature of each region and country. I trust that at the Third Dialogue we can reach a consensus on a series of messages that express the situation and needs of our hemisphere, to share them with the rest of the world”.

A third Virtual Dialogue in Support of the Summit is scheduled for Tuesday, June 15th. The information collected will form the basis of a report and a “Declaration of Messages” that will be submitted for the consideration and approval of the Executive Committee of IICA in late June.

Lisa Myers Morgan, Principal Research Director with Jamaica’s Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, made reference to the vulnerability of the island states in the Caribbean to extreme climate events and stated that “hurricanes and cyclones have affected our capacity to maintain sustainable food systems”.

For his part, Reynaldo Dardón, an officer with El Salvador’s Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock, referenced the challenges faced by Central American nations. “We find ourselves in a delicate situation because we import 80% of what we eat. We’re working on being able to produce our own food, but we need to make it clear that sovereignty and food security depend on what we, as countries, do to bring into view and improve the situation of our farmers”.

The dialogue was divided into four work groups that discussed different aspects of the positions the region will take at the UN global meeting, which proposes to establish commitments and global measures to transform food systems, not only to eradicate hunger, but also to reduce the incidence of foodborne diseases and promote greater conservation of natural resources.

One of the work groups discussed possible principles for transforming food systems. The consensus was that while the countries in the hemisphere have been resilient, they must redouble their transformation efforts to ensure greater sustainability and take into consideration economic, social, and environmental aspects. It was also agreed that the transition must respect the models of each country and avoid universal formulas.

The group also proposed considering payment for ecosystem services, a topic that is critical for Latin America and the Caribbean—home to a huge reserve of natural resources.

César Baranda, from Paraguay’s Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock, emphasized the importance of international technical cooperation. “We must seek mechanisms that allow us to share experiences, knowledge, and technologies to generate positive synergies”, he said.

The group that discussed consumer demands and good nutrition mentioned that people need to have access to complete information about food to be able to maintain a healthy diet.

Along those lines, emphasis was placed on the fact that healthy foods should not be more expensive than their ultra-processed counterparts and that labelling standards should be put in place so that consumers know what they’re eating. They also discussed the importance of education about the benefits of a healthy diet, starting from early childhood.

The work group on production strategies and environmental matters pointed out the essential nature of water resources and soil and suggested agroecology as an alternative to move toward production that benefits nature and protects biodiversity. It was also stressed that science and technology must be accessible to small farmers. Cristina Jiménez, Advisor to Colombia’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, called attention to the possible contributions that could be made by revisiting traditional food systems “as a strategy to reduce the vulnerabilities to climate change”.

Christian Kandler, an officer with the Foreign Policy Office of Costa Rica’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, highlighted the importance of mentioning that food systems should be compatible with the conservation of biodiversity. In turn, Omar Aguilar, Director for Agricultural Policy at Nicaragua’s Ministry of Agriculture, advised of the need to strengthen the legal frameworks that regulate agroecological production in the countries.

A fourth work group discussed the role of the Americas in global food systems and highlighted the heterogeneity of the hemisphere, as well as its extraordinary importance for food security and the provision of ecosystem services. Furthermore, the group considered the need to strengthen social protection. Shem Lindsay, representing the Government of Grenada, stated that “the Caribbean requires international cooperation and financing”, especially to improve its level of investment in infrastructure, transport, and connectivity in rural areas. 

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