Lessons and challenges: cooperation in the era of Coronavirus

Manuel Otero, Director of the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA)

We are witnessing the spread of a new pandemic in the 21st century. Now less than four months since it first erupted, this emergency is rocking the world, and we are not yet able to foresee what life will be like in a few months when this dramatic event is finally over.

Amidst the confusion, fear and disorientation, we can draw some conclusions and identify preliminary lessons. The first is obvious. This situation is having a greater impact on economies that are excessively dependent on one sector, such as tourism, petroleum or agricultural raw materials. The structural, long-term antidote to this is diversification.

The slowing down of trade is also endangering people’s ability to fully exercise their right to food, especially in countries with an extremely high agricultural trade deficit.  In some cases, it seems that there may be insufficient labor to transport goods, especially over long distances, although, this is not affecting the food supply at the moment.

Approximately 20 countries in the hemisphere are net importers of food. Each year, the Caribbean region alone draws a cheque for 6 billion dollars to feed 44.5 million people. The situation calls for food security strategies and greater efforts to increase self-sufficiency.

We must again reassess the role of family farmers, who, ironically, although pivotal in ensuring food self-sufficiency, are the adjustment variable in times of economic uncertainty. These farmers supply close to 60% of the food demand in the hemisphere. This situation requires us to focus on policies that benefit these producers, emphasizing areas such as associativity, extension services, access to technology and agricultural insurance.

The new generation of pests and diseases affecting men and women, crops and animals—such as Fusarium on bananas, locusts and African Swine Fever—create the need for sophisticated surveillance and agricultural quarantine services, as a means of reinforcing the importance of health intelligence and prospective monitoring.

We will have to strengthen national and regional innovation and development systems before the developed countries leave us behind completely. Our countries must increase the production of major crops while boosting their resistance to drought, pests and diseases; and we must be increasingly rigorous about controlling the indiscriminate use of certain agrochemicals.

The well-being and food security of our people are at stake, which means maintaining the world order, as we know it. This situation makes the delivery of effective and first-class technical cooperation an imperative.

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