Ir Arriba

In the lead-up to COP28, Chilean Government and IICA strengthen partnership and call for improving soil health to guarantee food security and overcome the climate crisis


Professor Rattan Lal, considered the world’s leading authority on soil science, and Esteban Valenzuela, Minister of Agriculture of Chile, were the main speakers at the seminar.


Santiago, 23 November 2023 (IICA) - Soil is a living organism, and caring for its health is crucial to guarantee food sustainability and support the fight against climate change, warned renowned specialists and senior officials at an international seminar on public policies and agricultural sustainability. Held in Chile, the activity was organized by the Chilean government and the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA).

Esteban Valenzuela, Minister of Agriculture of Chile, and professor Rattan Lal, considered the world’s leading authority on soil science, were the main speakers at the seminar.

 Opening remarks were delivered by José Guardado Reyes, Director of Chile’s Agriculture and Livestock Service (SAG); Gabino Reginato, Dean of the Faculty of Agricultural Sciences of the University of Chile; and Hernán Chiriboga, IICA Representative in the country. Also in attendance were Marion Le Pommellec, Specialist in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Development of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), and Francisco Mello, Manager of IICA’s Center for Knowledge Management and Horizontal Cooperation Services.

 The speakers called for more in-depth measures to care for soil health, not only to guarantee food security but also to make a significant contribution to global climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts.

 The meeting also provided an opportunity to review the achievements and coordinate future actions of the Living Soils of the Americas initiative, which acts as a bridge between science, public policies, the private sector and efforts to restore soils in the hemisphere, whose degradation threatens the position of Latin America and the Caribbean as a guarantor of global food security. 

The initiative is co-led by IICA and Rattan Lal, Director of The Ohio State University Carbon Management and Sequestration Center (CMASC).

 Chile was one of the first countries to take part in the Living Soils of the Americas initiative. Several of its main public agricultural and academic institutions are involved, including SAG, the National Institute for Agricultural Development (INDAP), the National Institute for Agricultural Research (INIA) and the University of Chile.

 According to the speakers at the international seminar, the current environmental crisis underscores the importance of soil as a key element in carbon sequestration and in guaranteeing food security for a growing world population.

Minister Valenzuela pointed out that 69% of soils in Chile are degraded to some extent, and outlined the main policies and actions being implemented to reverse this process. Among other achievements, he highlighted the country’s success in halting the replacement of native forests with forests planted with exotic species.  He also referred to the fact that mining companies are required to contribute money to a fund that facilitates restoration once the mining activity concludes.

“As part of our strategy to restore native forests, we have signed important agreements with IICA for the benefit of different regions of the country. Additionally, the new irrigation law rewards farmers who apply nature-based solutions”, he explained.

“Another piece of good news for Chile”, he added, “is that, after 15 years of fruitless debate, the draft framework law on soil care will be submitted to Parliament on the first week of December”.


The impact of climate change

“From the Amazon to the Andes and the depths of Patagonia, climate change is causing extreme droughts, storms and deforestation, and melting glaciers in Latin America”, said Rattan Lal, who is also an IICA Goodwill Ambassador.

The award-winning scientist emphasized the fact that there are 15 million family production units in the region, spanning 400 million hectares, of which some 10 million are subsistence farms.

“Family farmers are among the poorest in Latin America and the Caribbean due to a lack of access to land, technologies, financial services and markets. Investing in them is an effective way to drive sustainable and inclusive growth”, he remarked.

In this regard, he considered that small-scale farmers are destined to play a decisive role in agrifood systems transformation and in soil recovery, which are part of the solution to the climate and food challenges facing humankind.

Professor Lal pointed out that one of the primary ways to improve soil care is providing family farmers with payment for ecosystem services. He also noted the importance of regenerative agriculture, which includes several practices, such as eliminating the use of fossil fuels, the circular economy, cover crops and zero tillage.

“Soil has rights, just like any other living organism. It must be cared for and managed properly”, concluded the scientist, who received the World Food Prize in 2020.

Le Pomellec presented the IDB’s strategy to foster soil sustainability, within the framework of the agriculture sector in Latin America and the Caribbean.

“Soils in the region are degraded due to inappropriate agricultural practices such as tillage, lack of cover and excessive pesticide use, which affects production and the provision of ecosystem services. The challenge involves keeping soils alive, recovering degraded soils and restoring their health. We are working to ensure that agriculture is not part of the problem, but rather part of the solution with respect to soil health”, he maintained.

In turn, Mello reviewed the achievements of the Living Soils of the Americas program since it was launched in December 2020. He explained that, in its consolidation phase, it has secured the backing of political decision-makers in the hemisphere, academic institutions, and public and private stakeholders, including several of the main companies in the agrifood sector, such as Syngenta, Bayer and PepsiCo.“Living Soils of the Americas”, he said, “prioritizes agriculture as a driving force for transformation in the environmental agenda, due to its role in carbon sequestration through good production practices. Agriculture has a positive impact on climate change mitigation and adaptation and the fight against desertification and land degradation”.