The biennial Conference of Ministers of Agriculture will continue until Thursday, 5 October, bringing together ministers from 34 countries, private sector representatives and farmers from various countries in the region, under the slogan, “A Hemispheric Partnership for Food Security and Sustainable Development”.
San Jose, 4 October 2023 (IICA) – The official opening of the Conference of Ministers of Agriculture of the Americas 2023 took place in San Jose, Costa Rica, with the Presidents of Guyana and Panama and other high-level authorities from 32 countries in attendance. They all called for the strengthening of the hemisphere’s role as a guarantor of global food security and environmental sustainability, amidst the ongoing climate and economic crises that are creating an urgent need for a more productive and resilient agriculture sector.
The Presidents of Guyana and of Panama, Mohamed Irfaan Ali and Laurentino Cortizo, were speakers at the opening ceremony, along with the Director General of the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) – the organizer and host of the meeting.
Ali and Cortizo were both recognized by IICA for their commitment to the development of the agriculture sector and the role of farmers in their countries and in the Americas.
Also participating in the ceremony were Chilean rural leader, Alfredo Carrasco; Brazil’s Minister of Agricultural Development and Family Farming, Paulo Teixeira; Costa Rica’s Minister of Agriculture and Livestock, Victor Carvajal; the CEO of the World Food Prize Foundation, Terry Branstad; Costa Rica’s Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Alejandro Solano; and the Representative of the Organization of American States (OAS) in Costa Rica, Milagro Martínez.
Mariam Bint Mohammed Saeed Hareb Almheiri, Minister of the Environment of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), host country of the upcoming COP28 meeting, delivered her message via video.
The biennial conference will continue until Thursday, 5 October, bringing together ministers from 34 countries, private sector representatives and farmers from various countries in the region, under the slogan, “A Hemispheric Partnership for Food Security and Sustainable Development”. The title reflects the consensus that will be essential in driving collective action and providing technical cooperation of the highest quality to strengthen agricultural production, while protecting the natural environment.
Also present at the ceremony were approximately 200 invited guests, among them the ministers of Agriculture of the hemisphere; the 2019 Nobel Prize winner for Economics, Michael Kremer; and the 2020 World Food Prize recipient, Rattan Lal. Kremer and Lal will be keynote speakers in the technical forums of the Conference, and there will also be a meeting of the Inter-American Board of Agriculture (IABA), IICA’s highest governing body, comprised of its 34 Member States.
Guyanese President, Irfaan Ali, stressed that, “The countries of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) have set ourselves an ambitious target to reduce our food imports 25% by 2025. We will only meet this target with sizeable investments and extensive use of technology. We are making headway in achieving a sustainable and resilient production system”.
The head of state thanked IICA for “its outstanding work in resolving problems in the agriculture sector”, pointing out that the Institute’s actions facilitate technology transfer and the integration of the region’s agrifood systems.
“In the last four years, leaders across the world have been speaking increasingly about food security and everything is interconnected today: food production, energy security and climate security. For this reason, Guyana is building an economy to enable us to become world leaders in these three areas by 2030”, said Ali.
On the other hand, President Cortizo reflected that, “When we mention the agriculture sector, we are speaking about passion”.
“As a Panamanian”, he said, “I am honored to be here and to receive this recognition. I would like to thank the IICA Director General, Manuel Otero, and his team for their assistance in developing our national agrifood policy, which was built from the ground up and will endure beyond any changes in government”.
Cortizo also highlighted two key topics: international trade and climate change, maintaining that, “Trade is not fair and we must discuss this with the developed countries. For example, it is not acceptable for them to flood us with subsidized goods during our harvest periods”. In reference to climate change, he warned that, “The developed countries, which are the major greenhouse gas emitters, are the ones who must determine what measures to take with their industries”.
Agriculture, the victim of climate change
Brazil’s Minister of Agricultural Development, Paulo Teixeira, expanded on the country’s programs to guarantee food security and develop family farming. He also emphasized the value of the conference in allowing countries to learn about each other’s successful experiences and to share knowledge.
Teixeira insisted that collective action will be imperative in enabling the countries of the Americas to tackle the impact of climate change, which is reflected in increasingly frequent and extreme climate events.
“In the Amazon region, we are experiencing drought, whereas in the south we have had to contend with droughts and hurricanes. Vulnerable communities bear the brunt of these phenomena, which have further repercussions for agricultural and food production”, he argued.
Alfredo Carrasco, the mastermind behind and leader of FarmHability—an inclusive project that promotes sustainable, integrative agriculture—pointed out that people with disabilities can work in the countryside and produce food for society.
“I come from a rural village and was fortunate to have a father who was a farmer. When I was 17, I sowed my first crops, but in 2017, I suffered an accident that changed my life. I spent two years in rehabilitation and began writing this new chapter”, said Carrasco, who voiced his eagerness to contribute to the creation of a hemispheric program to foster the labor inclusion of people with disabilities in the agriculture sector.
Carrasco was recognized as a Leader of Rurality by IICA, along with dozens of farmers in the hemisphere who contribute to food security and rural retention.
“Food systems and agriculture must be a top priority in the fight against climate change, for the benefit of the millions of farmers around the world and the millions of people suffering from hunger”, said the Minister of Climate Change and Environment of the UAE, Almheiri, who stressed the “urgent need to transition to more inclusive, sustainable and resilient food production methods”.
Farmers: driving forces for innovation
“Farmers are driving forces for innovation and it is our job to empower them”, said Terry Branstad on behalf of the World Food Prize Foundation, an institution committed to driving innovation and improving food quality, quantity and availability worldwide. The foundation’s annual award is considered the Nobel Prize for food and agriculture.
The foundation is headquartered in the U.S. state of Iowa, a powerhouse of agricultural production. “Investment in biotechnology and biofuels has transformed the state of Iowa. We have 42 bioethanol and 43 biodiesel plants. We work to be economically, socially and environmentally sustainable”, explained Branstad.
Minister Carvajal, in turn, described IICA as “an organization that supports our populations and governments, in a region whose countries face varying realities”.
“The world is facing pressing challenges, which we must address as a team rather than individually. We must improve the quality of life of farmers. And resolving poverty in rural areas and preventing migration to urban centers must be a top priority”, he added.
IICA Director General Manuel Otero underscored the fact that the conference is the premier technical and political forum for the sharing of ideas, information and experiences related to the transformation of agriculture and rural life. He added that it allows for building consensus and charting a common course towards addressing the challenges and opportunities of the agrifood sector in the Americas.
“The issue at hand is intensifying the transformation of our agriculture sector, which must become more sustainable, competitive and inclusive. Its improvement will be key to building a better world for everyone”.
Institutional Communication Division.