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OAS General Assembly: Countries Discuss Food Security and Other Matters

  June 5, 2012

The representatives of the member countries of the Organization of American States (OAS) today concluded their statements on “Food Security with Sovereignty” during the third plenary session of the forty-second regular session of the General Assembly, held in Cochabamba, Bolivia. They agreed, in general, on the need to take measures to improve the food situation in the Americas.

The heads of delegation of the OAS member states stressed the importance of promoting healthier nutrition; making use of technological advances in food production and distribution; and other proposals for providing access to abundant, safe, and nutritious food.

The discussion was based on the report “Situation of Food Security in the Americas”, prepared by the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) and presented to the Assembly session by its Director General, Víctor Villalobos. ”The right to healthy food is an essential human right,” the official said, noting that the report provides an overview of food production and marketing in the region and a description of the challenges faced by the nations in meeting the nutritional needs of their inhabitants.

Also discussed during the plenary session were the inter-American human rights system, the dispute between Costa Rica and Nicaragua, and the need to decide in the coming months on a Plan of Action for the recently adopted Social Charter of the Americas.

The heads of the delegations participating in the debate were the representatives of Chile, Colombia, Brazil, Canada, Peru, Venezuela, The Bahamas, Mexico, Jamaica, Dominica, Uruguay, Paraguay, Saint Lucia, Belize, El Salvador, Argentina, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Barbados, and Bolivia.


The Minister of Foreign Affairs of Chile, Alfredo Moreno, pointed to the “noteworthy economic progress” of the region, which “puts us in a better position to deal with crises than in decades past.” He said his Government is resolved to “move forward” in areas such as the protection of at-risk persons; disaster prevention; and control of small weapons and psychotropic substances. The Chilean minister also thanked the Bolivian Government for having proposed food security as the central theme of the Assembly session. He recommended “prudence” in “going further” in that concept. Foreign minister Moreno also referred to the ideas presented by the President of Bolivia, Evo Morales, on the opening day of the forty-second regular session of the General Assembly. “I want to stress that respect for treaties and dialogue are the paths toward the integration and progress of our peoples.”


The Minister of Foreign Affairs of Colombia, María Ángela Holguín, said her country “is especially gratified by the adoption of the Social Charter” of the Americas. The foreign minister noted “Colombia’s special affinity” with the central theme of the Assembly session, “Food Security with Sovereignty,” and said “today’s world has the challenge of producing adequate food for a growing population.” Citing FAO statistics, she said that by 2015 there were expected to be 600 million malnourished persons, “a figure that demonstrates the topic’s importance.” The Colombian diplomat said “the solution requires joint work by the private and public sectors. It is important not to make the mistake of believing that everything can be done by the state and public policy.” She also said her Government supports the report of the Permanent Council on “strengthening” the inter-American human rights system, and called for a “united front” against drug cartels.


The Assistant Secretary for Political Affairs of Brazil, Ambassador Vera Machado, expressed support for the choice of “Food Security with Sovereignty” as the central theme of the Assembly session. She said this is “a cross-cutting theme that requires the coordination of various planning measures at the state level, such as support for family farms, more equitable land distribution, granting credit, technical assistance, producers’ access to markets,” and others. Machado recalled that the Constitution of Brazil recognizes “adequate nutrition” as a right. The diplomat said the implementation of the Zero Hunger program in her country has allowed “millions of people to escape poverty and was essential to nutrition rights in Brazil.” She also said global food security is affected by “the elimination of subsidies and the liberalization of international agricultural trade.” She pointed to the adoption of the Social Charter of the Americas during the Assembly session and added that her Government “hopes” that negotiation of the Plan of Action of the Social Charter can be completed before the next Assembly session.


The Minister of State of Foreign Affairs of Canada, Diane Ablonczy, said that “increasing people’s access to food is a critical global issue.” She said “the experts predict that the world will have to double its food production in 2050 to meet the demands of the population and of population growth.” This represents “an enormous challenge” that can be dealt with “if we work together.” She mentioned three essential principles: sustainable agricultural production; opening up trade in farm products; and better access to food and nutrition for at-risk populations in the Americas, in particular children under five. The Canadian minister recalled that, over the past three years, her country has invested a billion dollars throughout the world in food security. At another point in her statement, she expressed her Government’s support to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which she called “flagships” that “must be protected.”


The Minister of Foreign Affairs of Peru, Rafael Roncagliolo, emphasized the importance of food security to his country. He said the lack of such security “is the clearest manifestation of exclusion and inequity.” He cited, among other causes of food shortage, “speculation by the big transnational conglomerates.” The Peruvian diplomat also reflected on the present situation of the OAS and the need for the Organization to look toward the future. “We need an OAS for tomorrow, not for yesterday,” he said. As for the inter-American human rights system, Minister Roncagliolo expressed his country’s support for the system and its strengthening, but called upon all member states to share the same commitments in this area.


Nicolás Maduro, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Venezuela, reiterated his congratulations to the Organization on the adoption of the Social Charter, which arose as “a demand for social justice” by the peoples of the Americas. As for the official topic of the Assembly session, he expressed his hope that the declaration would be “an impetus for public policies that guarantee food security with sovereignty for our peoples, with production models that move toward mechanisms of equality, security, and social justice.” The Venezuela foreign minister asked all the member states to ratify the OAS’ American Convention on Human Rights and to improve the functioning of the system. “We call for keeping the doors to change open.”

The Bahamas

The Permanent Representative of The Bahamas to the OAS, Cornelius Smith, thanked the OAS and CARICOM electoral observers for monitoring the recent elections in his country, which was the first time such a mission had visited The Bahamas. He spoke of the threats faced by his country and the region, such as drug trafficking and organized crime, and a “new” threat that affects “our ability and capacity to provide for the basic food needs of our populations. Food security isn’t simply a matter of bringing food to hungry people. It is a moral imperative and, moreover, a representation of the broad range of issues affecting economic growth, energy and environmental factors, levels of poverty, interests and goals, and, lastly, national security.”


The Secretary of Foreign Affairs of Mexico, Patricia Espinosa, reaffirmed her Government’s position that the countries of the region should adopt a constructive approach at hemispheric forums and “emphasize topics that bring us together and link us, more than those on which we may have different views.” The foreign minister also spoke of the OAS’ role in strengthening democracy in the region, promoting and protecting human rights, fostering integral development, and helping to coordinate regional efforts to fight organized crime. The topic of food security, he said, is very important in Mexico, especially the danger of obesity, “a triggering factor in illnesses that not only take a high social and human toll but also place a heavy fiscal burden on the public health system.”


The Minister of State, Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade of Jamaica, Arnoldo Brown, joined in thanking the Government and people of Bolivia for their hospitality in the city of Cochabamba. As for the topic of the Assembly session, he said “it has become difficult to meet local demand for production of the main components of the Jamaican diet.” He added that this, together with the high price of imports, has a negative effect on efforts to alleviate poverty. The Jamaican foreign minister said the only sustainable way to overcome the crisis is to increase food production. The keys to that, he explained, are more access to financing; cheaper means of production; and more effective use of modern technology.


Hubert Charles, Permanent Representative of Dominica to the OAS, said the Organization remains, for his country, “a source of hope that the policies and programs of its member states will focus on building and preserving peace, which to us is a prerequisite for improving the well-being of our region’s peoples and realizing their aspirations.” Ambassador Charles expressed his concern over the persistence of hunger in the region and suggested that part of the solution could be for nations to share their best production and distribution technologies. “We are certain that, with partners like IICA, and with the willingness of member states to share their knowledge and experience in food production, we will transform our region’s profile into one characterized by food security,” said the diplomat of Dominica in conclusion.


The Undersecretary of Foreign Affairs of Uruguay, Roberto Conde Carreras, said “this General Assembly will go down in history.” In order to make food and nutritional security a reality, he said, one needs availability of, access to, and use of technology transfer and agricultural innovation to reduce poverty levels. “Establishing scientific standards and adapting to climate change are issues we hope to keep on the governments’ agendas,” he added. The Uruguayan vice foreign minister pointed to the relationship between the Inter-American Democratic Charter and the Social Charter of the Americas, adopted on Monday by the General Assembly. “Economic growth and social justice must go together. Hence the increasing importance of integral development, one of the pillars of the Organization’s work.”


The Minister of Foreign Affairs of Paraguay, Jorge Lara Castro, expressed satisfaction “that Bolivia recalls that we must adopt urgent measures to reverse the present situation of hunger and impoverishment among our peoples.” Paraguay, he said, is a big exporter of products, but it depends on imports for staple foods. The land is “alarmingly monopolized” in a way that shuts out many, said Minister Lara Castro. He added that 19% of Paraguayan territory is owned by foreign investors, which forces people to migrate from rural areas to the city and causes more poverty. “Although we are rich in natural resources, international organizations rate our Hemisphere as one of those with the most inequality. This dual structure creates social exclusion and further poverty, a larger gap between opulence and scarcity. I invite member states to continue taking measures to build a new form of development that will allow all peoples of the Americas to live well,” he said in conclusion.

Saint Lucia

Alva Romanus Baptiste, the Minister for External Affairs, International Trade and Civil Aviation of Saint Lucia, said food security provides nations with a guarantee of survival, but few pay attention to this issue, except members of a famished community. In fact, she said, “many did not awaken to this reality until the food crisis arose in 2008.” The crisis obliged governments, as well as international organizations, to pay more attention to the importance of food security, especially its impact on the economic and social well-being of underprivileged groups. In order to overcome the crisis, she added, it is necessary to increase sources of public and private investment to increase farm production. The Caribbean foreign minister referred to the droughts and hurricanes her country has experienced in recent years because of climate change, which has altered the economy and caused job loss.


Wilfred Elrington, Attorney General and Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade of Belize, said the Hemisphere has enough food, despite climate change and other alterations of nature. Concern should focus on how to ensure healthy nutrition, since many citizens are victims of chronic poverty and “for them food security is a mirage.” Many such persons, he said, live in Belize, where he said the poverty level is high, something that is not unique in the Hemisphere. It is a priority for the countries of the Hemisphere to show more forward thinking, solidarity, and perhaps more interest in making food security a reality.

El Salvador

The Salvadoran Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs, Carlos Castañeda, said his Government, from the beginning of his term in office, believed that food security should be “the subject of serious public discussion,” with active participation by civil society, the United Nations system, and the secretaries of state in the fields of agriculture and animal husbandry, education, the economy, environment and natural resources, public health, and social inclusion. They all serve on the National Council on Food and Nutritional Security, formed in 2009, one year after official adoption of the national food security and nutrition policy. That policy defined food security as the "right of all persons to enjoy, in a timely and ongoing manner, physical, economic, and cultural access to adequate nutrition.” Vice foreign minister Castañeda also informed the General Assembly in Cochabamba that El Salvador has begun a process of recognizing the landholding rights of thousands of rural families; it is implementing a family farming plan, facilitating credits in this area with the lowest interest rates in history, and conducting school food and breastfeeding programs, among others.


The foreign minister of Argentina, Héctor Timerman, emphasized the successful coordination of the General Assembly session in Cochabamba in “a revolutionary and peaceful process that will go down in the history of the Americas. This meeting offers us an appropriate forum for discussion of topics such as human rights, democracy, regional integrity, and security, topics on which there are varying points of view and guidelines in our Hemisphere.” Food security, he added, is a central issue on the current international agenda, because every state must decide for itself how it will ensure food security for its people. "Unequal income distribution, and distortions of international trade stemming from protectionist measures by developed countries, are the main causes of hunger in the world, and in our region in particular," he said. Argentina, he explained, is eliminating protectionism and reinforcing family farming as a way to address poverty and increase income, among other things. “Today in Argentina, South-South cooperation, both horizontal and triangular, and the transfer of leading-edge technology take precedence over the importation of foods,” he concluded.


In his statement to the Assembly session, the Guatemalan Minister of Foreign Affairs, Harold Caballeros, said “Guatemala recognizes the great importance of the inter-American human rights system, supports it, and calls attention to urgent measures to strengthen it.” However, he said, in the Hemisphere there are “disturbing realities” in this area. He called for imposing “clear rules for all users of the system.” Foreign minister Caballero concluded by recalling the recent agreement with Belize, under which the two countries, on October 6, 2013, will hold a simultaneous consultation “that will make it possible to bring our territorial, maritime, and insular dispute before the International Court of Justice.”

Costa Rica

Enrique Castillo, foreign minister of Costa Rica, noted his country’s efforts to achieve “food autonomy” and how it has improved its capabilities along its way to this goal. “It makes us very hopeful,” said the Costa Rican diplomat, “that many other sister countries in the Hemisphere are also taking decisive steps toward increasing food production and security, and recognize that it is important that those increases also be reflected in the well-being of the greatest possible number of persons and in sustainable development.” Foreign minister Castillo also referred to the dispute between his country and Nicaragua


Ricardo Patiño, foreign minister of Ecuador, congratulated Venezuela and all the member states on the adoption of the Social Charter. He sent greetings to the President of Venezuela, Hugo Chávez, to whom he wished a swift recovery from his “difficult health” situation. Food security, said foreign minister Patiño, “is part of the concept of ‘good living,’” which includes access to, availability of, and stability of the supply and use of food.” Food availability is a “political responsibility of our governments” and therefore governments must be the principal regulators of national resources. In concluding, foreign minister Patiño reaffirmed the demands made, on Monday, to the General Assembly, by his President, Rafael Correa, for reform of the institutions of the inter-American human rights system.

Saint Vincent and the Grenadines

The Representative of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Andreas Wickham, said the matter of “Food Security with Sovereignty has been on the international agenda for decades” and added that it is “an important concept for the small countries like Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.” He said the topic of “sovereignty,” and that of “food security,” should be examined in this “particular context.” All the countries, he said, “have the obligation to ensure our exercise of sovereignty over our resources.” Although one cannot live in isolation, he said, since we live in a globalized world, countries have the right to exercise their sovereignty for their own development. “The food security issue is one of the key factors in the countries’ development,” he concluded.


The Permanent Representative of Barbados, John Beale, said the topic of food security has complex connections to agricultural trade, trade policy in general, and food security in the Hemisphere. Ambassador Beale said that in Cochabamba “it has become quite clear that there are many points of view” on the topic. He indicated that his Government pays special attention to rational land use in agriculture, “not only in the production of foods and supplies, but also in the guarantee of a good quality of life for the population.” The diplomat also said national policy should guarantee supplies of foods for the nation, whether local or imported. He also explained that Barbados is in the process of restructuring and repositioning its farm sector, where it wants to focus on increasing safe production of foodstuffs. “The objective here is to ensure the health of the population of Barbados,” said Ambassador Beale.


The Minister of Rural Development and Lands of Bolivia, Nemesia Achacollo, said “today we all know about various crises in the world, the energy crisis, the financial crisis, the climate crisis, and the food crisis.” She said the food crisis “is manifested in greater demand for foods and more frequent steep changes in food prices.” She said “food security with sovereignty is now at risk,” and that it is necessary to open up access to land titles, to technical assistance, to credit for small farmers, so as to provide citizens with “the decent life they all deserve. It is up to peoples to define their own production policies and strategies,” said the Bolivian Minister, adding that “many countries” continue with the “old scheme” based on “food as business rather than as a human right. It’s hard to believe there are countries that want to continue to place the market above people and not recognize the right of everyone in the world to food.”

A gallery of photos of the event is available here.

The video of the event is available here.

The audio of the event will be available here.

For more information, please visit the OAS Website at

Reference: E-209/12