IICA Director General launches appeal at ECLAC conference: countries of the Americas must adopt urgent and joint measures to ensure more effective and inclusive water management
Santiago, 2 February 2023 (IICA). Manuel Otero, Director General of the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), appealed to the countries of the Americas to take joint action as a matter of urgency, to ensure effective, innovative, inclusive and sustainable water management, recognizing the fundamental role of this resource in the world’s agriculture and food security.
Given the tremendous diversity of agrifood systems in the region and the varying ways in which these systems use water, Otero urged the countries to bridge the gaps in water management, in particular in the area of technology, institutional structures and regulatory frameworks.
“Water plays a fundamental role, more so in this era, which has clearly demonstrated that we cannot continue to ignore the fact that this is a limited resource and that there will be ever increasing conflicts surrounding its use in the future, because of population growth, as well as the impact of extreme climate change-related events”, said Otero.
He warned that, “This situation highlights the importance of water availability for agriculture and agrifood systems and the need to develop and implement innovative systems to ensure more efficient and effective use. If was do not take action immediately, some projections suggest that food production could fall by more than 25% by 2050”.
The IICA Director General proposed this course of action at the inaugural session of the Regional Water Dialogues in Latin America and the Caribbean – a high-level ministerial event organized in Santiago de Chile by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC). The dialogues are in preparation for the 2023 Water Conference of the United Nations (UN), slated to take place in March in New York.
Other participants included the Chilean Minister of the Environment, Maisa Rojas; the Secretary General of ECLAC, José Manuel Salazar-Xirinachs; the FAO Regional Representative for Latin America and the Caribbean, Mario Lubetkin; and economist and University College London professor, Mariana Mazzucato.
Also present were the Vice President of El Salvador, Félix Ulloa, in addition to ministers and high-level officials from Latin America and the Caribbean.
Otero maintained that, “I would like to stress the urgency of taking joint hemispheric action, aiming to ensure more effective water use, recognizing that there are no magical or universal formulas. Instead, our region must recognize that we possess a great diversity of production systems. The Chilean agricultural model is different to agriculture in the Pampas and is also unlike the agriculture commonly practiced in Central America. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. We must devise innovative models that work and that are in keeping with these production and cultural realities and our ecosystems”.
Addressing the matter of technology, he stressed the importance of bridging the existing gap between regions and countries to capitalize on the opportunities afforded by developments in biology, data sciences and digital technologies, in designing new production models with smart water distribution systems and using varieties tolerant to drought or to changes in water availability patterns, due to climate change.
In terms of institutional structures and regulatory frameworks, the Director General of IICA felt that water management should be intersectoral, given that agriculture, industry, construction, tourism and many other activities must compete for its use.
He said that, “The institutions are compartmentalized and in many cases lack resources. Something similar happens with regulatory frameworks, which are often ancient or partial”.
Marissa Rojas, the Chilean Minister of the Environment, recalled that her country had been experiencing a decade of severe and prolonged drought, due in part to climate change, making the urgency of strengthening water governance even more clear.
Rojas remarked that, “For us, this means establishing three things that we do not have today: a water security policy with clear and long-term guidelines; a national water authority that enforces this policy; and thirdly, the institutionalization of governance agencies at the watershed level”.
Mariana Mazzucato commented that in order to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 6, which seeks to guarantee that water and sanitation services are available for the entire population, and to ensure its sustainable management, we must rethink the role of state services involved in this area.
“We can rely on the State to provide direction and a portfolio of projects, to provide guarantees and to promote innovation, but without dictating how this is done and without micromanaging, while involving companies from diverse industries, including medium-scale and small businesses”, said the University College London researcher.
The FAO Regional Representative for Latin America and the Caribbean insisted that sustainable water management for food production is also a social value, in view of the need to guarantee food and nutritional security for communities.
Lubetktin said that, “By 2050, global food production will have increased by 50% in comparison to 2012. In order to satisfy the growing food demand, if conditions remain the same, we will need 35% more fresh water”.
The Executive Secretary of ECLAC, José Manuel Salazar-Xirinachs, pointed out that decisions taken in the regional dialogues—that will continue in Santiago until 3 February—will inform the development of a regional action agenda for water that will be presented at the UN conference in March.
“There are very few areas in which Latin America and the Caribbean speaks as one voice, although we have just heard about a few, which is excellent and cause for celebration”, pointed out Salazar. He was referring to the consensus presented at the Food Systems Summit 2021 and the Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP27) in 2022, in which IICA facilitated and guided the efforts of the countries of the Americas to arrive at a common position.
A strategic region
During the inauguration of the dialogues, in addition to pointing out these consensus positions, the IICA Director General stressed that Latin America and the Caribbean is a region that is central to and strategic for global food security, as it represents 13% of agricultural production on the planet and is the largest net exporter of agricultural products and food.
LAC is one of the regions in the best position to increase its market share, both because of its wealth of natural resources, as well as because of the existing productivity gaps for many of its main products. This will depend on the rational use and integrated management of water”, said Otero.
He added that, “Given this, it is also critical that we create net zero economies to maintain biodiversity and protect the water and oxygen cycle of the planet”.
“Without water there can be no agriculture and without agriculture no food security”, proclaimed Otero, while informing the meeting that, as a first step to assist countries most affected by drought in the Americas, IICA is designing a hemispheric cooperation program for comprehensive management of agricultural water resources”.
He explained that the program would undertake projects to modernize water-related institutional frameworks; improve availability and access to information; implement new management models; promote high-tech irrigation systems and stimulate pre-investment and investment processes that can respond to new climate change-related challenges in agriculture and to population growth.
Institutional Communication Division.