San Jose, 27 June 2022 (IICA) – The concurrent global crises that have sent food prices soaring provides an opportunity for Latin America, which must see this situation as a starting point for the transformation of its rural areas.
This is the vision of businessman, agricultural engineer and international consultant Gustavo Grobocopatel, who visited the headquarters of the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) in San Jose, Costa Rica, and participated in a dialogue on the present and future of food production with IICA Director General Manuel Otero.
The conversation was streamed and included the active online participation of renowned agricultural journalists from all over the continent.
“Latin America is extraordinary in many aspects. There is an abundance of water and land, and there is a cultural tradition, because the people know how to work the land. These things do not exist in other parts of the world. This continent has a productive potential five or six times that of its current production”, said Grobocopatel, who considered that the problems generated by the Covid-19 pandemic, the recurrence of extreme climate events and the conflict in Eastern Europe will accelerate changes in agriculture that have already started to appear.
“Globalization problems must be combated with globalization tools. One is regionalization; if we want to have influence in the world, we must do it together. The countries of Latin America and the Caribbean cannot be separate if we are to address the complexity of the coming world. There is a new technological convergence that has to do with robotics, the Internet of Things and nanotechnology, which is going to change the way agriculture is done”, said Grobocopatel, founder of the Argentine Chamber of Biotechnology and Grupo Los Grobo, and consultant to different governments.
This self-proclaimed entrepreneur and promoter of no-till farming, which he considers a tool to care for soil health, is convinced that one of the upcoming transformations is the growth of the bioeconomy, understood as a model of industrialization of biology. “Today we know that photosynthesis not only produces plants that can be used as food but also as energy, clothes and medicine”.
In this regard, he considers that the current crisis of chemical fertilizer availability and prices, the import of which Latin America is highly dependent on, could also help to make positive changes in this sector. “In the quest to be more efficient in the use of nutrients, which means finding the optimal contribution for each type of environment, our agriculture will have more bio-inputs. In five or ten years our production will be based on bio-fertilizers and biological phytosanitary products. That will be a very good thing”.
The need for a hemispheric partnership
During the dialogue, Manuel Otero gave details of his recent participation in the Summit of the Americas, in which he called for the formation of a hemispheric partnership to address growing food insecurity. “Today, food security is at the top of the global agenda and several countries in the hemisphere are launching national plans to contain the crisis, with specific measures to help the most vulnerable. At the Summit we stressed that, in this scenario, there must be funding for farmers and a reinforcement of the public-private dialogue to resolve the fertilizer crisis, bearing in mind that countries like Argentina and Brazil import most of the fertilizers they use”.
In this regard, Grobocopatel highlighted IICA’s role, describing the institute as a “place where one feels at home”.
“IICA plays a very important role and can lead the agendas of regional integration and transformation like no other organization, because of the legitimacy it has in the hemisphere. It must lead the discussion on the future of agriculture and direct public debate”.
As for the urgency raised by the current situation, Grobocopatel said that the fundamental purpose of governments must be to protect the most vulnerable populations. “Faced with increased food prices, the priority must be to help those who don’t know if they will be able to put food on the table. The states must act with subsidies and other compensation mechanisms. This grain shortage is a major crisis. We have had shortage crises related to adverse weather conditions, which are quickly resolved, but in this case, we don’t know when or how it is going to end, although I’m confident it will be resolved faster than we think, if we do not make those mistakes that sometimes delay solutions”.
Grobocopatel also referred to the debate on how to produce more and healthier foods with the lowest possible use of natural resources and warned that agriculture cannot be separated from the environmental question.
“The environment is the body and soul of agriculture. It is not possible to resolve any of the challenges of production if this process does not speak the same language as the environment and if it does not include the social element”, he stressed.
“The environmental and social elements are part of any discussion, and they are what is going to make the process sustainable. Latin America, in environmental terms, has done a lot. For example, it has incorporated land use planning, to know what to do and where to do it. Of course, I am not naïve, and I know that there are problems such as deforestation and the management of chemical waste. And we have a serious problem, which is that many people are excluded from the system. The coming transformation will only be positive if we manage to do it with public policies which include and educate”.
Along the same lines, Otero highlighted the need to enact public policies that seek to attract new generations, so that they see that the new agriculture is a real field of opportunities.
“IICA has science and technology at the center of its agenda, and this is already transforming agriculture. They are the tools that will break the barriers that separate the rural from the urban and attract young people”.
Grobocopatel agreed with the concept when he stated that young people will get involved in agriculture “as agriculture is challenging in labor and human terms and offers a way of life. Technology and digitalization are calling to the new generations to work in agriculture and that is why there has to be a change in leadership in the management of agriculture”.
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