Soil health preservation is one of the most pressing challenges facing humanity, signaled experts from the Americas at event organized by IICA

San Jose, 8 December 2021 (IICA). To ensure the well-being of future generations, farmers from the Americas, representatives of academia, ministers of agriculture, officers of international agencies, and directors of important agri-food companies raised their voices together in signaling that preserving soil health is one of the most pressing tasks facing humanity.
 
Convened by the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), stakeholders from the public and private sectors commemorated World Soil Day, held on 5 December each year, with the aim to emphasize the critical importance of sustaining all life forms on the planet.
 
The event provided a space to summarize the achievements to date of the “Living Soils of the Americas” program, launched in December of 2020 by IICA and Ohio State University’s Center for Carbon Management and Sequestration, and directed by prize-winning scientist Rattan Lal.
 
The initiative has made concrete progress in fighting soil degradation—which threatens the countries’ capacities to sustainably satisfy the demand for food—at the hands of different governments in the hemisphere and with the participation of private companies that have incorporated policies aimed at restoring soils in their productive activities.
 
Participants at the event included Professor Lal, 2007 Nobel Peace Prize co-laureate, IICA Goodwill Ambassador, and the world’s top soil scientist; Tereza Cristina, Minister of Agriculture, Livestock and Food Supply of Brazil; María Emilia Undurraga, Minister of Agriculture of Chile; Renato Alvarado, Minister of Agriculture and Livestock of Costa Rica; Arnulfo Gutiérrez, Chair of the Board of Directors of FONTAGRO; José Bonica, Chair of the Steering Committee of the Cooperative Program for Agrifood and Agroindustrial Technological Development in the Southern Cone-PROCISUR; Rommel Betancourt, President of the Inter-American Commission for Organic Agriculture (ICOA); Arturo Durán, Agro Sr. Director for Latin America at Pepsico; Natasha Santos, Vice President and Head of Global Stakeholders Strategy and Affairs at Bayer; Juan Pablo Llobet, Regional Director of Syngenta in Latin America; and Manuel Otero, Director General of IICA.
 
The event afforded the opportunity to share the success achieved in O’Higgins Region, Chile, within the framework of the Living Soils of the Americas program, where due to erosion, farmers had long abandoned agriculture and only practiced small-scale livestock production.
 
Information was also shared on the case of improved yields in coffee and vegetable plantations in Costa Rica as a result of practices that improve soil health in the context of AGRO-INNOVA, a program implemented by IICA and the European Union.
 
Professor Lal explained that restoring soil health is essential to eradicating poverty, making progress in the strive for social equity, strengthening biodiversity, improving water quality, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, which are responsible for climate change.
 
The scientist applauded the recent creation of the Coalition of Action 4 Soil Health (CA4SH), on occasion of the United Nations Food Systems Summit.
 
The Coalition connects multiple stakeholders from the public and private sectors to work for improving soil health through implementing and monitoring policies and obstacles to public and private investment that hinder farmers in adopting beneficial soil practices.
 
“Soil is life. Not only does it sustain agricultural production, but it is the driver of rural development”, commented Minister María Emilia Undurraga from Chile, who informed that 79% of the land in her country presents some level of degradation and that half has suffered from erosion.
 
Undurraga explained that the Chilean Senate’s Agriculture Commission just approved a draft bill to promote sustainable soil management.
 
“We have distressed the soil with large exploitations, aggressive plowing, and excessive use of agrochemicals. Today we understand that to continue growing food for the next generations, we need to re-carbonize the soil”, explained Renato Alvarado, Minister from Costa Rica.
 
Brazil has a long history of implementing soil conservation practices and, in 2020, had over 52 million hectares of low-carbon emission model farms, explained Minister Tereza Cristina, who added that the goal is 72 million hectares by 2030.
 
“Collaboration is the word of the moment. We want to share our experiences, because sustainability will only work if it is universal in scope”, she added.
 
Arnulfo Gutiérrez, on behalf of the countries comprising FONTAGRO, a cooperation mechanism promoting science and innovation in the region’s agriculture, explained that today, the continent’s soils suffer from salination, erosion, and contamination due to extractivism. “It is possible to restore their ecological function and biodiversity by modifying practices”, he affirmed.
 
José Bonica, from PROCISUR, praised the expansion of direct seeding across the continent, which has helped to improve soil conservation. “Our farmers received the land from their elders and they want to leave it to their grandchildren”, he said.
 
Rommel Betancourt stated that ICOA joined the Living Soils of the Americas program because it believes in the need to generate public policies that provide farmers on the continent with tools for a more sustainable agriculture.
 
Moreover, three important companies explained during the event why they decided to join Living Soils of the Americas:
 
“For many years, we’ve neglected our soils and now we have the opportunity to offset it through the joint work of governments, industry, institutions, education, NGOs, and, of course, farmers”, stated Arturo Durán with Pepsico.
 
Juan Pablo Llobet at Syngenta stressed the “unprecedented challenges facing humanity due to climate change and that we are obliged to promote the coexistence of agricultural production and environmental production”.
 
From Bayer, Natasha Santos cautioned that demands mustn’t be placed on farmers by those who are not close to them: “Systemic changes are needed in production, which are the responsibility of us all”.
 
“Soils are essential to our lives”, affirmed Manuel Otero, Director General of IICA, who explained that Living Soils of the Americas seeks to promote the transformation of agri-food systems by adopting the One Health approach.
 
Otero further stated that Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Grenada, Mexico, and Uruguay have already joined the Living Soils of the Americas program, along with farmers, organizations, and companies.
 
“We invite public and private sector entities, NGOs, and international agencies to join us in promoting the conservation and health of our soils, which are a unique asset in which we live and grow our food” he concluded.

Featured Image – Tereza Cristina, Minister of Agriculture, Livestock and Food Supply of Brazil; María Emilia Undurraga, Minister of Agriculture of Chile; Renato Alvarado, Minister of Agriculture and Livestock of Costa Rica; Rattan Lal, the world’s leading soil scientist; Manuel Otero, Director General of IICA;  Rommel Betancourt, President of ICOA; José Bonica, Chair of the Board of Directors of PROCISUR; Arnulfo Gutiérrez, Chair of the Steering Committee of FONTAGRO; Natasha Santos, Head of Global Stakeholders Strategy and Affairs at Bayer; Juan Pablo Llobet, Regional Director for Latin America at Syngenta; and Arturo Durán, Director of Agro for Latin America at Pepsico.

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