I am delighted to be with you today at this joint IICA-OAS Forum on Food Security. In our view, this is an important initiative which allows the OAS and the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) to launch a unique platform for leadership on agriculture development and food security. This is also an opportunity to highlight the significance of agriculture in the socio-economic growth, security and well-being of our citizens and to raise awareness of the critical need and opportunities that exist to increase investment in agriculture in Latin America and the Caribbean.
For example, an FAO report indicates that global food prices have been rising steadily since 2000, and was up almost 50% last year before the economic crisis. Low-income countries which import more food than they export have been hardest hit. This applies to most of our member states in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Despite the fact that food prices have seen declines from their 2008 peak, they are still historically high and volatile. The combined effect of underinvestment in agriculture and in food security, unstable price trends and the on-going economic crisis have increased hunger and poverty in most vulnerable countries and according to World Bank estimates could push 100 million people into deeper poverty, undoing years of progress in the fight against global poverty and hunger. Under these circumstances, our governments will be challenged to maintain positive rates of economic growth, acceptable levels of stability and security.
Rising food prices have forced the world community to place food security at the top of the global agenda. Unless food security, nutrition and increased agriculture production are given priority political attention, rising food prices and food insecurity will remain a serious policy challenge for governments throughout the Hemisphere. Poor households currently spend between 60 to 80 percent of their income on food.
In this context, the governments and peoples of the Hemisphere are facing a common challenge which requires a coordinated response to achieve the common goal of food security for the peoples of the Americas. No country alone and on its own can guarantee food security. We all need to work together to achieve the objective stated. The sense of urgency provoked by last year’s high prices and food riots have prompted greater policy focus and attention on this issue.
This focusing of interest constitutes a window of opportunity for hemispheric governments to harness the input and expertise of a broad range of sectoral and institutional stakeholders to develop practical solutions to address national and hemispheric concerns.
In order to design effective strategies to promote food security, policy action must include adaptation and mitigation measures to deal with a range of issues, including, natural disasters, climate change, and policy shifts in agricultural development. The opportunity exists now for governments to respond proactively and begin laying the policy and action framework that can avert a major food crisis in the Americas.
There is an urgent need for Latin American and Caribbean governments to take decisive steps to reverse the downward trend in agriculture. Years of under investment and benign neglect in the name of economic diversification have increased the likelihood of food scarcity in the Americas.
One possible option for member states is the Jagdeo Initiative which promotes the removal of constraints to the development of agriculture in the Caribbean sub-region. In his initiative which recognizes that the agricultural sector was neither providing for food security nor earning enough foreign exchange to cover the region’s high food import bill, President Bharrat Jagdeo of Guyana urged the establishment of a Common Agriculture Policy for the Caribbean.
I believe this common agricultural policy proposed for the Caribbean basin could also be expanded to the wider hemisphere. The President also called for urgent action on food security from IICA and the FAO to assist in developing a repositioning strategy in agriculture for the region.
Some of the realities we must consider include inter alia appropriate policy planning, new approaches to competitiveness, development and access to suitable land for agriculture, improved access to technology. It is also important for younger generations to pursue agriculture as a viable entrepreneurial activity.
The development of domestic and regional markets should be part of this common strategy to boost the agricultural sector and promote food security. But smaller countries like those in the Caribbean must do more to build up their regional market space as set out in the Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME).
The opportunity also exists to create stronger links between a growing agricultural sector and the services sector, including the tourism, hotel, restaurant and cultural industries. Tax and duty concessions, similar to those granted to the tourism sector, would create an incentive for the agricultural sector. Such an approach would have multiple benefits including the creation of new jobs and the boosting of domestic agricultural production.
Boosting agriculture production to adequate levels to feed our growing populations will require increased public investment in research and development and the adoption of new technologies, farming techniques and crop varieties.
FAO's latest projections indicate that global agricultural production must grow by 70 percent by 2050 in order to feed an additional 2.3 billion people. The projections indicate that most gains in production will be achieved by increasing yield growth and cropping intensity on existing farmlands rather than by increasing the amount of land brought under agricultural production.”
As the countries of the Americas pursue the common goal of ensuring food security, it will be important to develop partnerships to address the structural and long term needs of the agriculture sector.
The OAS is in the first place a political institution but I believe that we have an important role to play. So, what can we do as an institution to make a meaningful contribution to food security?
1. We will commit to partnering with the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture to focus political attention on this priority issue;
2. We will work in partnership with IICA to avoid the pitfalls of rhetorical debate and to work with countries to develop home-grown solutions aimed at improving investment in agriculture, expanding agricultural production, and developing internal and external markets;
3. We will reach out to international financial institutions to garner financial support that will help countries develop policies and implement programs that promote sustainable agriculture and food security;
4. We will work with governments, educational institutions and youth groups to bring new emphasis to the role of agriculture in development;
5. We will work with governments to pursue simultaneous and coherent policies that promote holistic development, environmental sustainability, and food security;
6. We will use the political leverage of the OAS and the technical knowledge of the IICA to encourage multilateral institutions to provide technical assistance; and
7. We will work with IICA and other international institutions to preserve the national agricultural base, expand employment opportunities, reenergize rural economic growth, promote backward and forward linkages with agriculture, and facilitate the sharing of best practices.
Finally, I believe we have a moral imperative to join efforts in our common fight against hunger and poverty. We have a pressing obligation to ensure that the people of the Americas have access to proper nutrition, health and food security.
At the 5th Summit of the Americas in Trinidad & Tobago, our 34 heads of state and government recognized the primacy of this issue and issued a clear mandate to “develop and implement comprehensive policies and programs to confront the challenges of food security.” As evidenced today, IICA has rightfully assumed leadership on this issue. The OAS stands ready to be a full partner as we pursue this common goal of food security in the Americas.
Thank you for your attention.