Speaking on Brazilian TV, the Director of Chile’s INIA said that the pandemic demonstrated to the world the importance of agriculture to people’s lives
Brasilia, 2 June 2021 (IICA) – The difficulties generated by the pandemic have highlighted the importance of agriculture for the lives of the people. While the majority of economic activities were put on hold, agriculture kept going to ensure food was available to the global population.
The pandemic also revealed that agriculture is not the largest producer of greenhouse gas emissions, which are responsible for climate change, and that it is possible to build more sustainable production systems, as is underway across Latin America and the Caribbean.
These were statements made by Pedro Bustos, an agricultural engineer, Director of Chile’s National Institute of Agricultural Research (INIA, in Spanish), and president of FONTAGRO, during an , a program transmitted on AgroMais TV in Brazil.
“In such terrible circumstances, we have realized that agriculture has not been valued as it should. Soccer players are paid millions of dollars for an activity we can live without, when the reality is that we cannot live without food and yet agriculture has always been seen as a secondary activity. Now we see its true importance”, he said.
INIA is Chile’s state-run rural development and agricultural research institution. It was founded in 1964 and is a division of the Ministry of Agriculture. FONTAGRO, in turn, is a funding mechanism to promote science, technology and innovation in the field of agriculture and food systems in Latin America, the Caribbean, and Spain.
Bustos explained that FONTAGRO is a financing fund created in 1998 by 15 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as Spain, and today has a portfolio of approximately 100 million dollars. It operates on the interest earned on its capital and so is not dependent on annual contributions by the countries.
“FONTAGRO promotes and coordinates the activities of the different countries’ research institutes that are facing common or different problems. It can study an emerging idea or invest in already agreed projects. FONTAGRO is an ally of research on the continent, especially during the pandemic when resources are scarce. We have been able to collaborate with our usual call for applications and have even increased funds. We’re a great tool for Latin America”.
FONTAGRO is tasked with coordinating, facilitating, and leveraging additional resources. “If FONTAGRO provides one million dollars, it needs to leverage two or three more. We do this every year and we’re going to continue collaborating in this value-added chain”, said Bustos.
Bustos expressed his desire for Brazil to join FONTAGRO: “It would be great if it would join, then we’d have practically the entire continent. It’s important for all the countries to join, because many problems are similar and what we’re doing is incorporating the scientific and research base to provide global solutions. The more members we have, the more international cooperation there’ll be”.
Bustos underscored the mutual collaboration efforts between FONTAGRO and the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA). “IICA plays a very important role because of its presence in all of the countries in the hemisphere, which facilitates the work. It plays the role of liaison for the functions of FONTAGRO. We’re allies and complement each other”.
As for INIA, Bustos explained that the institution was created 57 years ago. “We cover the country from north to south. Chile is in the shape of a tie—very long and thin—with distinct problems. We have the world’s driest desert in the north and extend to Patagonia in the south, so we encompass an expansive area. We also have a region with a Mediterranean-like climate, which allows for a wide range of crops. That is why Chile is so important for food exports, especially fruit”.
Bustos clarified that while INIA is a research institute, its function is different to that of a university: “We have one foot in research and the other in technological extension and expertise, working amidst the reality of rural areas, right beside the producers. That is what sets us apart from a university, which is involved in basic science. For us, it’s important to be out in the field, so that the solutions reach small farmers easily. We also promote the formation of associations and cooperatives to magnify our contacts and reach a larger number of farmers. Moreover, we fulfil an important role in training the trainers”.
Bustos also shared some details about rice production in Chile: “The varieties that are grown were developed by INIA. Our country is the southernmost rice producer – producing in temperate, even relatively cold climates. We produce sustainable rice using technologies we’ve imported and adapted to the conditions in Chile. It’s a crop with fewer greenhouse gas emissions and less water consumption, which is important in terms of climate change, especially in Chile, where we’ve had almost ten consecutive years of drought. In any event, rice isn’t an essential crop for Chile—fruit and livestock are much more important”.
The INIA director and President of FONTAGRO finished with a reflection on where food production is headed: “All institutions face the challenge of sustainability. Today, we’re striving for solutions along that line, since the population will continue to grow and we must produce more with less – less soil, less pesticides, less herbicides. We must also incorporate a social aspect into productivity to reduce the gap that exists between the urban and rural populations. The Ministry of Agriculture shouldn’t be the only ministry involved in rural development policies. The countryside must offer opportunities to help families prosper and avoid the migration of farmers into the cities”.
Institutional Communication Division