Latin America is one of the few regions of the world where agriculture production can expand since it holds 42% of that potential globally, said Victor M. Villalobos Director General of the Inter American Institute for the Cooperation on Agriculture, IICA.
In an interview because of the 70th anniversary of IICA, Villalobos underlined that Latin America is a net exporter of food and plays an important role when addressing the challenge of increasing world food production so as to guarantee food security in the future.
“In spite of the regrettable abandonment of agriculture and the camp suffered during several decades not so long ago”, the sector is bound to adopt a vanguard role given the global need to face the economic, food and environment challenges”, underlined Villalobos.
Improving productivity is a problem for the region because during the last fifty years, “there was a great lag in the increase of yields”, but there was also “a great dependence on the derivates from oil”, said Villalobos.
He added that in recent years growth has focused in a few crops, mainly soybeans and corn in the south linked to changes in production techniques such as direct sowing, he added.
But to improve yields there must be investment in science, technology and innovation and in Latin America with a few exceptions such as Brazil and Uruguay, “not much is being invested in technology”.
“The whole of Latin America invests less in science and technology that what Spain and Korea individually, and we must revert this tendency to produce with greater restrictions in soil and water looking to the future”.
In advance of the OAS meeting in Bolivia, IICA was asked to elaborate a report on “Food Security in the Americas” which would serve as input for discussions by the OAS Ambassadors precisely on the issue of “Food security with sovereignty in the Americas”.
Another area where IICA is wording is investments in mitigating and adapting agriculture to the effects of climate change because “we can’t wait to see the yields drop as a consequence of global heating, warned the head of IICA.
Nevertheless he admitted that reaching conciliation between the profit interests of farmers and environment commitments is ‘not easy’ as can be seen by the expansion of the area dedicated to soy beans because of the good prices and strong demand from China.
Currently according to Villalobos, agriculture in the 34 members of the region has a variable weight with an average 10% of GDP, but if agro-business is included the percentage soars to a third of GDP in countries such as Brazil.
He added that the good performance of the economies in Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay “rests on the effectiveness of farm production and agro-business exports”, and agriculture remains the main means of living for the great rural population of the region.
Therefore one of the challenges faced by agriculture in the region is to make benefits help combat rural poverty, which still represents tens of millions in the region.
Villalobos pointed out that at the end of 2010 the rural population in the world holds 52% of total poverty and in the countries where it has most dropped are those linked to the agriculture ‘boom’ with production linked to foreign markets such is the case of Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Panama and Dominican Republic.