Washington, February 23, 2012 (IICA). “The environment and better public policies for agriculture in Latin America and the Caribbean have provided renewed hope, since they are driving agricultural activities based on the availability of water and soil for cultivation, as well as on greater access to biodiversity and genetic resources”.
These were the words of Victor M. Villalobos, Director General of IICA, as he explained the outlook for agriculture in the region. He was speaking at the Outlook 2012 forum, an annual event organized by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), which explores the perspectives on agriculture for the next few years.
According to the Director General of the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), “Latin America and the Caribbean is faced with the significant challenge of guaranteeing food security for a growing population, within a context of climate change, rationalization in the use of natural resources and market uncertainty”.
Dr Villalobos was invited by the United States Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, to participate in the forum, an occasion that he took advantage of to congratulate the USDA, on behalf of IICA, for having achieved 150 years of existence. The event also brought together nine former U.S. Secretaries of Agriculture.
The Director General of IICA assured the gathering that “IICA considers agriculture in Latin America and the Caribbean to be fundamental to the world, since it has the enormous responsibility of providing food and agricultural raw materials. However, it needs to innovate in areas such as post harvest, irrigation systems, protected agriculture and use of biotechnologies”.
He underscored the privileged position that IICA occupies within the region with respect to assisting countries in defining regulatory frameworks, seeking long-term investments and alliances, improving institutional capacities and incorporating rural development into national policies on agriculture.
According to Villalobos, high food prices over the last couple of years have stimulated agricultural growth (in terms of production and income) in several Latin American and Caribbean countries, but especially in the Southern Cone, which has experienced an upsurge with respect to its participation in world trade.
Nevertheless, there has been an obvious imbalance. While the value added of agriculture to the economy of the countries has been 4.5% in the Southern Cone, in the other countries it was only 2.5%. In other words, there is a co-existence in the region of net exporters of food, especially of cereals, oilseeds, dairy products and meat, with net importers (Caribbean, Central America and the Andean countries) who are fighting against high prices.
The Director General of IICA also drew attention to other challenges facing the region’s agriculture, including diseases that are endangering agricultural health, such as foot-and-mouth disease, a possible increase in energy prices, pressure with respect to land ownership and low levels of investment in research, development and innovation.
Opportunities for growth
During the forum on the outlook for agriculture organized by the USDA, Villalobos pointed out that innovation in agriculture was becoming fundamental to seizing the competitive advantages of biodiversity in Latin America and the Caribbean.
For example, the region possesses nearly 24% of the world’s forests, and sustainable use of this resource will enable the forestry sector to increase its contribution to the economy and attract public and private investment for reforestation.
Additionally, aquaculture can take advantage of the wide variety of fishery resources, especially in South America, which is the world leader in this type of activity.
Small scale cattle-rearing, combined with transformations in the value chain and clear policies for sustainable use of natural resources, is also emerging as an activity that will benefit from the upward trend in production and consumption of meat and dairy products.
The director general of IICA further indicated that “the impact of the economic crisis in 2008 and 2009 on poverty and rural income in Latin America and the Caribbean was much less than expected, since households combined agriculture with other economic activities, which helped them to weather the difficult times”.
He also pointed out that the actions taken by households was reinforced by internal policies in the countries to reduce the vulnerability of producers and consumers, as well as other measures of a social nature that helped to combat poverty.
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