San José, Costa Rica, October 6, 2023 (IICA). The strengthening of regional cooperation is vital today to address the challenges and opportunities created by the confluence of crises around the world, and to be able to promote sustainable, inclusive and resilient agrifood systems in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC).
The point is emphasized in the latest edition of The Outlook for Agriculture and Rural Development in the Americas: A Perspective on Latin America and the Caribbean 2023-2024, a report prepared by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), and the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA).
The document was presented at the Conference of Ministers of Agriculture of the Americas 2023, which took place from October 3 to 5 in San José, Costa Rica. The contributors underscore the fact that military conflicts such as the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine, the climate crisis, the high cost and limited availability of fertilizers since 2021, and the need to sustainably feed an ever-growing population with fewer natural resources available have tested the resilience of agrifood systems in the region.
The report emphasizes that regional cooperation is of key importance, and collaboration among countries is crucial to tap new opportunities for sustainable and inclusive development, and to enhance the resilience of agrifood systems.
“Given the current challenges and opportunities facing the agrifood systems of the Americas, which are at the top of the global agenda, regional cooperation aimed at building solutions through sustainable agricultural and rural development is essential to position the sector and the Americas on global agendas, and to prioritize rural territories as strategic assets for global food and nutrition security and environmental sustainability. At IICA, we are committed to moving in that direction,” underscored its Director General, Manuel Otero.
“Multi-sector cooperation is essential to tackle poverty and hunger in Latin America and the Caribbean. The region could become a benchmark for regional governance, South-South cooperation and integration, through innovative actions designed to achieve more efficient, inclusive, resilient and sustainable agrifood systems. The FAO, working with IICA and ECLAC, will continue to support national and regional efforts to achieve sustainable and equitable growth in the region,” said Mario Lubetkin, FAO Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative for Latin America and the Caribbean.
The document states that triangular, South-South, and North-South cooperation have played a key role in improving rural conditions in LAC, and in finding collective solutions to foster the sustainability of agrifood systems and help overcome productive, economic, environmental and social gaps.
The publication calls for efforts to improve current integration and institutional mechanisms in the Americas, for which sound governance is necessary, to better guide decisions, coordinate efforts and position regional priorities in global forums, thereby bolstering LAC’s influence within the international community.
According to ECLAC, the FAO and IICA, strengthening regional cooperation calls for sustainable agricultural production in the context of global environmental change, geared towards fostering innovative and sustainable agricultural approaches, practices and technologies, and dealing with issues such as the restoration of production landscapes, integrated land and water management, water erosion, land tenure, and climate action, among others.
“The development of the bioeconomy is vital as a strategy for diversifying production and adding value in agriculture, applying the One Health approach, and achieving social and economic inclusion with gender equality in the agriculture and rural sector; and to enhance LAC agrifood trade as a driver of economic development, food security and regional and global sustainability,” pointed out José Manuel Salazar-Xirinachs, Executive Secretary of ECLAC.
The report also explores actions with the potential to enable or accelerate the transformation of agrifood systems, including the energy transition, aimed at reducing greenhouse gases (GHGs) in various sectors of the economy, one of the cornerstones of which is the decarbonization of the transport sector. In this area, liquid biofuels emerge as key stakeholders in the search for environmentally sustainable and economically viable alternatives, with agriculture as the major provider of raw materials for the sustainable production of biofuels.
Other actions outlined in the publication are those related to digital technologies, a determining factor in the shift towards more sustainable agrifood systems, as they facilitate the informed and precise management of agrifood processes and boost production through the use of inputs and natural resources. They also increase the provision of ecosystem services.
The report also highlights the importance of knowledge platforms in fostering regional cooperation in agrifood systems in various areas, from scientific research and community practices to technological trends and government regulations. These platforms facilitate informed decision-making and a comprehensive understanding of the environmental, economic and social challenges facing such systems.
Regional agriculture: a market stabilizer
The report highlights the current stagnation in the region. Average regional growth of 1.7% is forecast for 2023, while the figure for 2024 is put at 1.5%.
This poor regional growth may be exacerbated by the negative effects of worsening climate shocks if the region fails to make the investments in climate change adaptation and mitigation that are required, especially in agriculture and agrifood systems.
Despite the drop in inflation across the globe, developed countries are likely to continue with their tight monetary policies, which tend to increase the public debt of countries in the region and limit the fiscal policy options available.
The document explains in detail why strengthening regional cooperation is crucial to alleviate the situation, which the food, energy and financial crises are exacerbating. According to the publication, these crises are pushing more people towards extreme poverty and hunger, which have reached levels not seen since 2005, more than 15 years ago.
The data examined in the report suggests that 43.2 million people in LAC, 6.5% of the population, suffer from hunger, and 201 million people (32.1%) are living in poverty. The document also emphasizes the fact that 21.2% of rural dwellers experienced extreme poverty in 2022, compared to 10.9% of the urban population.
The publication highlights the resilience that the sector has shown during recent crises. Notwithstanding the crises, LAC agrifood exports grew 2.6 times more than world exports in 2020, and 1.7 times more in 2022. The report emphasizes that, in recent years, the nominal agrifood trade balance of LAC (17 countries) increased significantly compared to the previous year: the increase was 4.3% in 2020, 16.6% in 2021, and 22.3% in 2022. The trade balance went from USD 155.6 billion in 2019 to USD 231.4 billion in 2022.
The report shows that regional agriculture has undoubtedly played an important role in stabilizing markets; otherwise, the negative impacts of the crises might have been much more serious. This strategic role is partly explained by the fact that the region’s agriculture accounts for roughly 22% of merchandise exports and around 5% of GDP, and employs 15% of the population.
Furthermore, LAC is the world’s major net food exporting region, with the potential to feed millions of people each year.
IICA Institutional Communication Division
ECLAC Public Information Unit
Ricardo Aníbal Rivera Gallardo, Communicator, FAO Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean.