The private food sector fully commits to fighting against soil degradation and supports the convergence of the Americas in preparation for the UN Food Systems Summit
San José, 26 May 2021 (IICA) - The leading companies of the food sector expressed their commitment to the fight against soil degradation in the Americas and to the search for consensus, so that the hemisphere can display a convergent position at the Food Systems Summit convened by the United Nations.
At a virtual meeting organized by the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), representatives of the private sector also agreed that the agrifood systems of the region have shown remarkable resilience in the face of the challenges brought about by the pandemic.
The meeting, hosted by the Director General of IICA, Manuel Otero, and Deputy Director General, Lloyd Day, featured the participation of the Minister of Agriculture of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Saboto Caesar, as well as representatives from leading companies and associations including BASF, Bayer AG, BRF, Carrefour, Cargill, Coca-Cola, Conagra, Council of the Americas, Danone, Del Monte, Dos Pinos, Elanco, Grupo Bimbo, Grupo Herdez, International Consumer Beverage Association (ICBA), McCormick, Metos, Nestle, PepsiCo, Reckitt Benckiser, Sigma Alimentos, Smuckers, Syngenta, Walmart and the National Milk Producers Federation of the United States.
The private sector is a crucial part of agricultural and rural development in the Americas, and IICA understands the key role it plays in the ongoing transformation towards a more sustainable agriculture in its three dimensions: economic, social and environmental.
Different companies are currently working alongside governments, international organizations and universities in the “Living Soils of the Americas” program, an initiative launched in December by IICA together with distinguished professor Rattan Lal, from Ohio State University. Its purpose is to articulate public and private efforts in the fight against soil degradation, a phenomenon threatening to undermine the capacity of countries to sustainably meet food demands.
Eduardo Bastos, Head of Sustainability at Bayer CropScience, stated that he takes pride in representing the first private company to become a strategic partner of the initiative. “We must come together and work jointly to build more resilient soils, in order to feed not only the population of this region but also the rest of the world” said Bastos, who then added that “agriculture is part of the solution to climate change; we must never forget this”.
For her part, Paula Uribe, Senior Manager of Global Public Policy and Government Affairs at PepsiCo, stated that “we fully support regenerative agriculture and sustainable practices aligned with IICA’s proposals and with the realities of the region. We are looking forward to working towards ensuring that soils, the environment and biodiversity are protected”.
In the same spirit, Arturo Durán, Agro Senior Director at PepsiCo Latin America, emphasized that farmers in the region attach great importance to the preservation of natural resources. “Many farmers claim that their top priority is not to reach maximum productivity, but rather to ensure that soils last 100 years, so that productivity can be a natural consequence of this”, he explained.
At the meeting, the Special Advisor to the Director General of IICA, Jorge Werthein, underscored the need to involve a larger number of public and private actors in the “Living Soils of the Americas” initiative.
“50 % of the soils of South America are degraded. This percentage is even higher in Mesoamerica, and in the Caribbean the situation is extremely adverse as well. This has a negative impact on the productivity of our agriculture”, admitted Werthein.
The Deputy Director General of IICA, Lloyd Day, explained that the Institute is currently engaging in discussions with all 34 member States to define the message that the Americas will bring to the Food Systems Summit. “This is a great year for agriculture. We believe that the Summit is not a threat but rather an opportunity. However, it is paramount that farmers be represented at the negotiation table, because without agriculture there is no food”, added Mr. Day.
Facundo Etchebehere, Global Vice President of Public Affairs at Danone, emphasized the importance of making the voice of the Americas heard at the 2021 Food Systems Summit. “We are working to express our vision and IICA has greatly supported us in consolidating our position" he said. Etchebehere also considered that it is necessary to acknowledge the concerns of producers and consumers.
For María Nelly Rivas, Cargill's Director of Corporate Affairs in Central America, understanding the needs of consumers is key. "We must think", she said, "about how to approach the issue of value chains to involve the public in the ‘Living Soils of the Americas’ initiative".
Francisco Arias, Manager of Institutional and Livestock Relations at the Dos Pinos Milk Producers Cooperative in Costa Rica, valued the importance of public-private partnerships with the aim of achieving healthier soils. "Costa Rica is no exception", he said, "and we have suffered greatly from the impact of climate change".
Héctor Ibancovichi, Agribusiness Director at Grupo Bimbo, warned that “our farmers are ageing. The new generations are not willing to become involved in agriculture because they associate it with poverty”. He then pointed out that it is crucial to reverse this process and turn the rural sector into an area of opportunity, with a view to ensuring food security.
Finally, Steve Liston, Senior Director of the Council of the Americas, an organization that brings together important US companies, underscored the importance of dialogue and the search for consensus between the public and private sectors to improve conditions and opportunities in rurality. “It is not common for an international body to reach out to the private sector in this way. This is why it holds great value” he pointed out.
The meeting featured the special participation of Saboto Cesar, Minister of Agriculture of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. Since last month, this country has been in a state of emergency because of a series of eruptions of the La Soufrière volcano, which displaced a large part of the rural population that had to be relocated.
The minister described the difficult situation experienced by this Caribbean country, recounted the efforts being made to get the agricultural sector back on its feet, and thanked both IICA and the private sector for their support. “Without them, we would not be able to rebuild our country. This solidarity is truly touching” said Mr. Caesar.
The Director General of IICA, Manuel Otero, praised Mr. Caesar for his efforts to restore food production in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and called on the public and private sectors to collaborate with these efforts. “We must all think about this small country, because this problem could happen to anyone. This is the world we are living in today, exposed to extreme natural events and catastrophes” he cautioned.
Institutional Communication Division