The extraordinary technological development of agriculture has made it possible to significantly increase production yields in recent years, in harmony with the environment. Thanks to this today there are possibilities to feed all humanity. However, food still does not reach the most vulnerable populations in sufficient quantities and those who live and produce in rural areas do not reach, in many cases, a life of well-being.Thus, the great current challenges facing global agriculture – and which in times of Pandemic have become more urgent – consist of how to get food in adequate volumes to all the people who need it and how to ensure that those who produce it have access to it.
A prosperous life in the countryside
This was the main topic of debate in the 12th Meeting of the Advisory Council for Food Security of the Americas of the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), held virtually, in which the Institute’s Goodwill Ambassadors also participated.
The Advisory Council was formed by IICA as an area for reflection and the generation of ideas for future scenarios, based on two fundamental questions: where is agriculture going in the world and in the Americas and what are the implications of these new trends in the Institute’s technical cooperation agenda, also seeking to provide analysis and knowledge to the member states in a context of high uncertainty.
The Council is made up of personalities from ten countries with a history of great contributions to the agri-food sector, both from the political and academic spheres. The IICA Goodwill Ambassadors, meanwhile, share concerns and commitments to achieve sustainable and equitable development, joining causes that seek to increase public awareness while working for development through projects related to the food security, the bioeconomy, gender and youth relations, and responsible production, all key issues on the Institute’s agenda.
The Argentine psychiatrist and businessman Hugo Sigman – precisely one of the IICA Goodwill Ambassadors – was the guest speaker at the meeting and not only referred to the impact of the Pandemic on food security, but also to the health crisis and its consequences.
Sigman praised the advances made in agricultural activity, which, based on innovations such as improvements in seeds and the introduction of direct sowing, has significantly increased its yields, with a respect for the processes of nature that did not exist before.
“These advances need to be consolidated and extended to livestock activity, which still does not have the same efficiency as agriculture,” Sigman said. The businessman added that “it is an ignominy that there are still people who are starving or undernourished, but if we continue on the right path we can look to the future with optimism.”
In his capacity as founder and shareholder of INSUD, a business conglomerate dedicated to the pharmaceutical, agroforestry, cultural and nature, and design industries, Sigman also referred to the health perspectives, since he is in charge of the laboratory that will produce the active principle of the vaccine against COVID-19 developed by the University of Oxford and the firm AstraZeneca for all of Latin America, except Brazil.
“Our region is going to start mass vaccinations at the end of March or the beginning of April of next year and it is to be expected that by the middle of next year there will already be a large number of people vaccinated and that life will go back to the way it was before this terrible Pandemic. We need to shake hands and hug each other again”, said Sigman, who highlighted the extraordinary cooperation that has taken place within the global scientific sector to face the crisis.
In that sense, Sigman recalled that “the agreement between the University of Oxford and the AstraZeneca company established that, while the Pandemic lasts, the company will sell the vaccine without obtaining any profit. Inmy’s experience of more than 40 years in the pharmaceutical industry never saw a similar situation. It is a unique and historic decision”.
Thus, “this vaccine is going to be sold around the world for between 3 and 4 dollars, depending on the costs in each country. If one compares it with the rest of the vaccines, the price difference is enormous. And it is even bigger if one considers that next year between 7,000 and 10,000 million vaccines will be applied in the world”, summarized the businessman.
Correct Public Policies
Sigman also considered that in an emergency situation such as the one experienced in the region and in the world, public policies are necessary that favor a balance between the necessary profitability of those who produce food and the prices that consumers can pay.
“I do not believe – he affirmed – that complete freedom of trade in food is possible in extreme situations. The great demand from China for agricultural products and meat has driven up prices in the last year, so it is essential for governments to intervene to ensure something as essential as production and access to food”.
Transfer of knowledge and technologies to small producers
Professor Lal, who a few days ago launched the “Living Soils of the Americas” initiative together with IICA, drew attention to the fact that the Pandemic made visible the need to strengthen local agri-food production systems due to the difficulties faced by commercialization. and food supply.
In this sense, he also emphasized that it is time to focus on the transfer of knowledge and technologies to small producers in the Americas – who are more than 80% of the farmers of our continent-, with the priority that their food be increasingly nutritious and contain the proteins and minerals necessary for a healthy life.
The enormous technological transformations that are taking place in rural areas were a central issue in the debate. The current scenario generates the need for policies that facilitate the inclusion in the digitalization of family farmers and cooperative companies, which compete in the same markets as the rest of the agri-food companies.
Silvia Sarapura, academic in agri-food systems at the University of Guelph (Canada) asked about the present and future role of family farmers and local innovation spaces, in the midst of the great technological changes that are taking place in agricultural activity.
Sigman responded that, based on his experience, changes should be made progressively. “New technologies must be combined with the productive and cultural traditions developed over many generations in each rural area. You have to go little by little; changes cannot be imposed abruptly”.
For Álvaro Ramos, former Minister of Livestock, Agriculture and Fisheries of Uruguay, the greater coverage and connectivity that exists today in rural territories of Latin America and the Caribbean opens up an interesting perspective.
“It is an issue that we have been discussing for 30 years in the region, but now have the greatest opportunity for technology transfer today, since the digitization can reach small producers more efficiently and cheaper than ever before,” he said. The cultural changes that come hand in hand with the introduction of new information and communication technologies were also discussed.
Dennis McClung warned about the need for both the public and private sectors to support local leaders who are taking the initiative in different countries, as they are the most credible and reliable allies that exist to convey the need for modernization in agricultural practices. Family farmers are the fundamental actors in agri-food production in the Americas and who must be empowered.
“They should be helped to resolve the difficulties they face by facilitating land tenure and access to technology and credit, but they should not be treated as if they did not know how to produce, because they know it very well. We are convinced that family farmers are part of the solution and not part of the problem”, concluded the Director-General of IICA, Manuel Otero.