U.S. Secretary of Agriculture participates in a meeting with the Mercosur countries and Chile and Bolivia, prior to the UN Food Systems Summit
San Jose, 23 July 2021 (IICA). With the UN Food Systems Pre-Summit Summit just days away, United States Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, participated as a guest at the XLIII Regular Meeting of the Southern Agricultural Council – a forum for consultation and coordination of regional actions, comprised of the ministers of the Mercosur countries (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay), Chile and Bolivia.
The participants emphasized that the Pre-Summit on 26 – 28 July, in Rome, and subsequently the Food Systems Summit, should recognize the critical role of agriculture as an activity that will help to resolve the challenges that humanity faces, in looking to the future.
They also stressed that the Summit events should consider different modes of production of countries and regions, rather than imposing one-size-fits-all models, and should establish the foundation for international regulatory frameworks based on scientific evidence. Moreover, the meeting discussed the importance of the agriculture and rural sectors of North America, Latin America and the Caribbean presenting a unified message at this year’s international forums.
The position of the Hemisphere is expressed in the document “On the road to the UN Food Systems Summit: Key messages from the perspective of agriculture in the Americas”, which was developed by the Member States, under the coordination of the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), which is a member of the Summit Champions Network, one of the forum’s support structures.
Argentina’s Minister of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries, Luis Basterra; Minister of Agriculture, Livestock and Food Supply of Brazil, Tereza Cristina Correa da Costa; Minister of Agriculture of Chile, María Emilia Undurraga; Minister of Agriculture and Livestock of Paraguay, Santiago Bertoni; Minister of Livestock, Agriculture and Fisheries of Uruguay, Fernando Mattos; and the Director General of Planning in Bolivia’s Ministry of Rural Development and Lands, Ramiro Villalpando, participated in the virtual meeting, along with the Director General of the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), Manuel Otero, and Secretary Vilsack.
During the meeting, in response to a request by the ministers of the Southern Agricultural Council (CAS), the IICA Director General submitted a technical report on beef cattle as a “strategic asset” of the region.
Secretary Vilsack maintained that, “We must optimize three dimensions of food system sustainability: the social, the economic and the environmental. Agriculture stimulates economic growth and is essential for tackling poverty and feeding the world. However, we must produce more with less land, water, inputs and resources to reduce its environmental impact”.
“Science and knowledge, including biotechnology can expand our producers’ toolbox, as well as increase resilience and competitiveness. There is no one solution for all countries and regions. Technology will help us to create precision agriculture and to acknowledge the role of agriculture in ensuring the adequate nutrition of our people”, he added.
The South American ministers pointed out that the stance of the Government of the United States was in sync with their own and highlighted the importance of demonstrating the region’s sustainable production systems to the world.
Brazil’s minister, Tereza Cristina, stated that, “We hope that the United States can serve as a spokesperson for the positions that we all share, such as the importance of science and technology in decision-making and the central role of international trade as a source of food security”.
She also questioned the fact that agricultural activity has been pinpointed as the main reason for global warming, saying that, “We must emphasize that this sector is a major part of the solutions. I have decided to go to Rome, personally, because I want to speak about the significant contribution of the region to global food security and emphasize the importance of animal protein for the proper nutrition of our people”.
The minister maintained that the global events should not propose “one single solution to guarantee food system sustainability, as this could lead to greater hunger and food shortages”.
Basterra commented that, during the Pre-Summit and Summit, “we will strive to ensure that the narrative emphasizes the need for development, guaranteeing that no-one is left behind, thereby enabling all countries to advance towards equitable development”.
“We have much to show in terms of how to produce without whittling away our natural capital”, said Basterra, and stressed “IICA’s brilliant work in positioning the role of livestock production in preserving habitats. It has been critical in countering some of the groundless arguments that blame this sector for climate change”.
Uruguayan minister, Fernando Mattos, remarked that, “Livestock production in our region has clearly demonstrated itself to be a sustainable process that is respectful of the basic rules of the environment. We must reject any positions that attempt to associate us with the effects of climate change”.
Moreover, he insisted that the region must conduct independent and scientifically-based assessments to measure the balance between carbon emission and the capture of greenhouse gases, which will allow the research systems of the southern countries to provide transparency in keeping with the reality of the diverse production systems.
Mattos expressed his unease about “proposals regarding environmental taxes. This is a concern for our countries, where agriculture fights poverty and generates foreign exchange. We are alarmed that these taxes may prove a barrier to trade. We applaud the fact that more countries are rallying behind this common position to tackle these opinion trends that could greatly affect us”.
Minister Bertoni also acknowledged that, “All of us are feeling somewhat uncertain about the Pre-Summit and Summit, their results and the possible impact on the sector. Recommendations may arise that may be used as a pretext to penalize food production and food, without any scientific basis.
Paraguay’s minister, who is also Chair of IICA’s Executive Committee, which approved the document that the Hemisphere will present at the global forums, stressed “the work that the Institute has done to arrive at and reflect the common position of the countries. The sixteen messages have awakened global interest. We are all aligned. This is the first time that the region will come to an international meeting in this way”.
On the other hand, Minister Undurraga underscored the need for the hemisphere to proactively declare that agriculture is part of the solution. He commented that, “The challenge is to feed the world in a healthy way and we are in a position to do that, even while understanding that we will have to tailor our actions in keeping with climate change, without accepting the blame for a complex issue that transcends our sector”.
Like his colleagues, Undurraga stated that the agriculture sector in the countries of the southern region should prioritize the adaptation of food production to climate change.
Ramiro Villalpando, representing Bolivia, referred to the severe impact of the pandemic on his country’s and the region’s production systems and the need “to respond to our producers’ demands, not solely with dialogue, but also with medium- to long-term policies. He spoke of the possibilities for technology transfer between countries, training, as well as discussion forums and meetings that must yield results for our production systems”.
The IICA Director General, on the other hand, insisted that beef cattle production systems are central to the sustainable economic, social and environmental development of our countries, in addition to generating foreign exchange and employment, bolstering development processes, providing ecosystem services and playing an essential role in the proper nutrition of the country, particularly for children and the most vulnerable communities.
Otero stressed that, “Livestock systems are being criticized by interest groups due to their supposedly negative implications for the environment, human health and zoonotic diseases or for ethical considerations surrounding the animals. These are weak arguments. That is why IICA is insisting that beef cattle production in CAS countries should be shown to be part of the solution and not the problem. This will be critical to ensuring the sustainability of agri-food systems”.
He warned that, “Negative perceptions about the consumption of animal products raised by certain interest groups could increase the production costs of animal proteins in the main producing countries, which would make it more difficult for vulnerable communities to access these products, thereby further aggravating food insecurity problems”.
Institutional Communication Division.