High-level agricultural authorities in the Americas commit to taking specific actions to guarantee food and nutritional security in response to the pandemic

Ministers of the sector met virtually for the second time this year, in a meeting hosted by the Secretariat of Agriculture and Rural Development of Mexico and jointly organized by IICA and FAO

The Ministers and Secretaries of Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries, Food and Rural Development of the Americas reaffirmed their willingness to implement measures at the national, regional and hemispheric levels to guarantee food and nutritional security in the hemisphere, which has been put at risk by the Covid-19 pandemic and the economic crisis that is expected to follow.

On Monday, the region’s high-level agricultural authorities participated in a virtual meeting hosted by the Secretary of Agriculture and Rural Development of Mexico, Víctor Villalobos, with support from the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

Following the meeting, the ministers issued a document that describes the individual and joint efforts they will undertake to guarantee food and nutritional security, including:

·         Strengthening the production of food and agricultural, forestry and aquaculture products in countries of the Americas, recognizing the strategic role that the agrifood sector will play in economic reactivation.

·         Strengthening sanitary measures and protocols that protect human health as well as agricultural health without hindering the adequate flow of food, through prior consultation mechanisms.

·         Maintaining proper functioning of national and international markets, as well as local supply chains, through the timely exchange of information on food availability, demand and prices.

·         Continuing to support the participation of small and medium-scale agriculture in agrifood chains, particularly during the pandemic and the subsequent period of economic recovery, through public policies, public and private investment, as well as the allocation of funding under preferential conditions.

·         Reaffirming their trust in international technical cooperation provided by specialized agencies such as IICA and FAO, which can complement efforts to bolster innovation, inclusion and sustainability in the agriculture and rural sectors.

The agricultural authorities highlighted the joint work undertaken by countries, international organizations and cooperation agencies.

“Lately, we have been meeting more regularly than usual, which is very good. We must maintain the exchange of information and products, adopt agricultural health measures, guarantee the continuity of markets and provide SMEs with the necessary support, with the clear intention of generating the necessary conditions for economic reactivation in the aftermath of the pandemic, but also within the medium and long term ”, stated Víctor Villalobos.

Sonny Perdue, Secretary of Agriculture of the United States, noted, “the rest of the world should admire the relationship between countries in the Americas, which serves as an example that cooperation benefits everyone”. He added that his country is committed to maintaining cooperation with all of its trade partners and called for avoiding the adoption of measures that restrict the exchange of products without any scientific justification.

“Agricultural trade is critical for all citizens; it creates jobs, increases income and provides safe, high-quality food. It is also crucial to keep borders open to foreign workers and protect their safety, because they are essential and deserve to be treated that way”, remarked Marie Claude Bibeau, Minister of Agriculture of Canada.

Tereza Cristina, Minister of Agriculture, Livestock and Supply of Brazil, stated that the agriculture sector is under a great deal of pressure to maintain food supply, but continues to show resilience. “We will rely on the agriculture sector for recovery, but we must improve conditions in the countryside, where the world’s poverty is concentrated. We cannot return to the situation we had before the pandemic; instead, we will need to transition towards a fairer system that does not reward inefficiency”.

Saboto Caesar, Minister of Agriculture, Forestry, Fisheries and Rural Transformation of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, underscored the need for Caribbean countries to receive more technical cooperation to transform their economic base, which relies on tourism and has been hard hit by the pandemic. “We must develop new ways to cooperate, both at the multilateral and bilateral levels”.

Antonio Walker, Minister of Agriculture of Chile, stated, “If it weren’t for international cooperation, many inhabitants in our region would be unable to feed themselves. We have adopted many measures in all of our countries. In Chile, we have achieved progress with respect to the electronic certification, as well as created a committee for safe food supply, which includes a wide range of participants, from small-scale farmers to final consumers. The committee includes farmers, transporters, wholesale and retail markets, as well as supermarkets and traders”.

Spirit of regional cooperation

Also in attendance at the virtual meeting of ministers were the Director General of IICA, Manuel Otero, and the Regional Representative for Latin America and the Caribbean of FAO, Julio Berdegué, who agreed that the agrifood sector can be a driving force for post-pandemic economic recovery, which will be a necessity.

According to Otero, joint work at the regional level must be bolstered through concrete measures aimed at materializing the position adopted by the ministers. “We must always, and particularly amidst these dramatic circumstances, prioritize family farmers as much as health professionals and public safety officials. We require a digital agricultural revolution in family farming, and we have the capacity to succeed in this regard, because today’s technology is available at a low cost and yields high returns. Agriculture is the most relevant sector for food security”.

Julio Berdegué, in turn, noted that it is necessary to reduce inequalities in Latin America and the Caribbean, which have been exacerbated by COVID-19. “In 2019, hunger affected 47.7 million people, and this figure is expected to increase to almost 67 million people by 2030, without even taking into account the impact of the pandemic. Additionally, having a healthy diet is most expensive in our region, costing almost USD 4 per person per day. We are an incredibly productive region, but a healthy diet is beyond the reach of nearly 104 million individuals”.

The virtual meeting on 13 July was the second hemispheric meeting of ministers jointly organized by IICA and FAO. The first meeting, which was held on 22 April, was hosted by the Minister of Agriculture of Chile, Antonio Walker.

The next hemispheric meeting will likely be held in October.