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OAS Hosts Policy Roundtable on "Water to Feed the Land of the Americas"

  November 12, 2013

The Organization of American States (OAS) today hosted its 55th OAS Policy Roundtable on the day of the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation in Agriculture (IICA), which this year is dedicated to the theme "Water to Feed the Land of the Americas."

The event, held at OAS headquarters in Washington, DC, was inaugurated by the Chief of Staff of the Secretary General of the OAS, Hugo De Zela, who explained that the event "refers fundamentally to the efforts of the Institute and the OAS to support our member states in the establishment and consolidation of a hemispheric agenda for the efficient and sustainable use of water resources."

"The Americas has been and continues to be an area of ​​the world where agriculture plays a central role in societies and has seen a major expansion," said Ambassador De Zela. "But there are costs," he said, including "predatory soil practices, a rapid process of urbanization in our societies, and a decrease in the amount of land available for agriculture."

"In the last 50 years, the OAS has worked with member states to address these and other challenges. We worked on risk management and the management of water resources in the areas of energy, promotion of sustainable cities and rural development programs," said Chief of Staff De Zela. "In short, we have supported the promotion of an integrated watershed management through our work in more than a dozen trans-border basins," said the senior OAS authority, who concluded by emphasizing the commitment of the Organization "to progress in optimizing the management of land and water and to continue working with the IICA to better coordinate our actions in order to make our contribution to solving these problems."

The keynote speaker, Daniel Hillel, Senior Research Scientist at the Goddard Institute for Space Studies at Columbia University, found that "the major task of our time is to apply the benefits of science to alleviate the plight of poverty stricken societies in semi-arid regions, particularly in the drought prone areas of sub Saharan Africa and places such as Southeast Asia, Central Asia, and parts of South America."

“The sustainable utilization of soil and water resources is an essential aspect of the task facing us,” said Hillel. “It is not an easy task. There’s no one system that fits all, there are principles which need to be adapted,” emphasized Professor Hillel, recipient of the 2012 World Food Prize, who noted that more important than the promotion of specific products is the “adaptation not necessarily of expensive equipment but an adaptation tailored to the low capital circumstances of developing countries.”

The first panel discussion of the Roundtable focused on the theme "Water for Agriculture: Perspectives on the Challenges of a Changing Panorama," and was moderated by Margaret Zeigler, Executive Director of the Global Harvest Initiative. The panel included Max Campos, Chief of Integrated Water Resources Management of the OAS; Chandra Madramootoo , McGill University Professor; and Joan Girona, Director of the Water Use Efficiency Program of the Catalonia Agri-Food Technology Research Institute in Catalonia, Spain. During the discussion, they talked about, among other things, elements of climate change, the growing demand for water, the variability of precipitation and water availability for agriculture, watershed management, water conservation approaches, and the advantages and disadvantages of different irrigation systems.

The second panel, moderated by Kelly Witkowski, Agriculture and Climate Change Officer for the IICA was focused on "Sustainable Solutions." Randy Vines, scientist at the Tauri Group, spoke on the topic "Harvesting value from impaired water: feed, fertilizer and fuel;” Rick Morris, Global Agribusiness Leader for IBM, spoke on "Improving water efficiency throughout the value chain – the Flint River Partnership and Deep Thunder;"and Tien Shiao, Senior Associate at the World Resources Institute, spoke of potential stress points for global agriculture.

Miguel Garcia, Manager of the IICA Agribusiness and Commercialization Program, closed the Roundtable noting that water is "an issue that is very sensitive, that goes beyond agriculture. It is an issue that goes to the basic existence of the planet earth." Looking to the future, Garcia said that "the way forward is to continue to promote the leadership of the Ministers of Agriculture, to promote the integrated management of natural resources, promote innovation, improve capacity and promote human development."

A gallery of photos of the event is available here.

The B-roll of the event is available here.

For more information, please visit the OAS Website at

Reference: E-432/13