The digitalization of agriculture, sustainability and trade: key topics during the debate by the Ministers of Agriculture of the Americas

San Jose, 31 October 2019 (IICA). – Digital inclusion in rural territories, a new balance between productivity and sustainability, and the role of health in agricultural trade were the main topics discussed by the Ministers of Agriculture of the Americas during a two-day meeting in Costa Rica.

The 2019 Conference of Ministers of Agriculture of the Americas, organized by the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), brought together 34 ministers and secretaries from countries across the hemisphere. It also provided government representatives, international agencies, civil society organizations, official research entities, scientists and academics with an opportunity to share opinions and proposals.

The Director General of IICA, Manuel Otero, highlighted this diversity and indicated that “agriculture requires a great deal of inter-sectoral coordination. Now is the time to build bridges between the ministers of the Environment, Social Development and Telecommunications. Inter-sectoral coordination is very important. We must strive to develop regional innovation systems because countries cannot overcome these challenges on their own”.

Osmar Benítez, Minister of Agriculture of the Dominican Republic, emphasized the need to “develop public policies that would enable farmers to access technology in order to effectively overcome climatic, social and economic challenges”. He also urged his counterparts to strengthen IICA’s health and food safety program, in order to “provide technical cooperation to assist developing countries in participating successfully in international markets”.

On the other hand, Víctor Villalobos, Secretary of Agriculture and Rural Development of Mexico, announced that the Mexican government would share its “successful experiences with the use of information technologies in the agriculture sector” with the member countries of IICA. As examples, he cited the Sanitary Intelligence and Geo-Spatial Intelligence systems, which enable the development of policies, the generation of information and response to disasters.

“We are aware of our great responsibility to build tomorrow’s agriculture, by capitalizing on available knowledge, utilizing technology, and fostering innovation to improve productivity in a sustainable manner”, remarked Villalobos, who is also a Director General Emeritus of IICA.

Villalobos highlighted Mexico’s efforts to foster broader Internet access and improve the real-time gathering of information, in order to access more demanding markets. He was one of the speakers during the forum “Opportunities for rural inclusion in the digital age”, along with Minister Benítez; José Miguel Rodríguez, Head of the International Affairs Department of the Agrarian Studies and Policies Office (ODEPA) of the Ministry of Agriculture of Chile; and Anayda Frisneda, Public Sector General Manager for Microsoft Latin America.

As part of the 2019 Conference of Ministers of Agriculture of the Americas, the senior Microsoft executive co-presided over the opening of the Interpretive Center for Tomorrow’s Agriculture (CIMAG) along with the Director General of IICA, Manuel Otero. This virtual and interactive experimental center harnesses the power of artificial intelligence to provide an educational perspective on agriculture. At the opening, Frisneda expressed the commitment of her organization “to making technology available to everyone in Latin America and the Caribbean”.

During a discussion on the balance between productivity and sustainability, Fréderic Seppey, Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Agri-food Canada, referred to the situation in his country, where “scientists and farmers work together to study trends and best practices to develop the countryside”.

Other speakers during this panel discussion were Roberto Rodrigues, former Minister of Agriculture of Brazil and Coordinator of the Agribusiness Center of the Getulio Vargas Foundation, and Flavio Bettarello, Deputy Secretary for Trade and International Relations of Brazil’s Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Supply, who provided details on the legislation and preservation efforts of his country.

Rodrigues indicated that “Ensuring the compatibility between sustainability and productivity is the most significant challenge facing agriculture during this century. Sugar cane and soy account for 12% and 17%, respectively, of Brazil’s energy matrix, and the bioethanol byproduct of sugar cane is 90% less polluting than traditional fuels”. For his decades-long contribution to modern and sustainable agriculture, Rodrigues, was presented with an IICA Chair award by Otero.

One of the many private sector representatives attending the 2019 Conference of Ministers of Agriculture of the Americas was Jesús Madrazo, Head of Agricultural Affairs and Sustainability for Bayer’s Crop Science division, who, speaking in the forum on “Health, Safety and Quality for the Future of Trade” explained that “our business model is based on improving the productivity of farmers”.

“To this end”, he added, “tailor-made solutions are key to sustainably managing resources and improving productivity to feed a mushrooming world population”.

In the same forum, Ted McKinney, Under Secretary for Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs of the United States Department of Agriculture, stressed the need to “increase the development and application of science-based rules, to enable food production to meet market demands and needs”.

On the other hand, Indar Weir, Minister of Agriculture of Barbados, called for “Latin American countries to join forces to address the needs of farmers, in the context of the health and trade conditions of the 21st Century”, whereas Guillermo Bernaudo, Secretary of Agriculture of Argentina, focused on the advances his country had made in the production of meat and soy and the joint public-private sector efforts to “modernize the rules of trade and food production, as well as to capitalize on trade opportunities at the regional and international levels”.

About IICA

IICA is the specialized agency for agriculture in the Inter-American system, with a mission to encourage, promote and support its 34 Member States in their efforts to achieve agricultural development and rural well-being through international technical cooperation of excellence.

More information:
Institutional Communication Division, IICA

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