Council of the Americas and IICA: the digital revolution in agrifood systems is an opportunity to improve the welfare of rural communities
Washington, 13 July 2021 (IICA). Ministers of agriculture and private sector stakeholders participated in a debate about the digital technology revolution and its impact on agrifood systems’ ability to improve the productivity and standard of living of rural communities – a critical issue for the agriculture sector of today and tomorrow.
The high-level debate was organized by the Council of the Americas and the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), with the participation of University of Chicago professor, Michael Kremer, winner of the 2019 Nobel Prize for Economics for his research to alleviate global poverty. Kremer has been promoting agricultural digitalization as a central tool to improve the standard of living of rural communities.
Kremer began by discussing the potential of rural digital extension services and their impact on small farmer productivity and income. The presentations by the private sector representatives then highlighted important ongoing initiatives to enable the most disadvantaged sectors of the rural environment to access the digital revolution taking place in the world.
The debate was convened by The Americas Society/ Council of the Americas and IICA, as part of a discussion process and search for consensus ahead of the United Nations Food Systems Summit.
Kremer, who is also an IICA Goodwill Ambassador, was joined in the debate by María Emilia Undurraga, Minister of Agriculture of Chile; Rodolfo Zea Navarro, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development of Colombia; and Keeley Holder, Chief Agricultural Officer of the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security of Barbados, who shared their views about the role that digital technology should play in transforming agrifood systems to enable greater sustainability, as well as to foster rural retention, particularly of young people.
Other important contributions were made by Flávio Bettarello, Assistant Secretary for Trade and International Relations at Brazil’s Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Food Supply, and Andrés Pareja, Undersecretary of Agricultural Innovation Networks at Ecuador’s Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock.
The panel also discussed the primary technologies that can benefit those who live and work in rural areas, particularly vulnerable populations. Perspectives were also offered about which public policies and private sector actions would be most appropriate to facilitate increased access to digital agriculture, whose mass application is of tremendous relevance to the future of the rural sector.
The speakers touched on the specific realities—albeit with various common features—of the different nations in the Hemisphere, with respect to the penetration of new technologies and on what is needed to bridge the digital divide between cities and rural areas.
The commitment of the private sector to agricultural digitalization in Latin America and the Caribbean—a process that is still in the initial stages, but which has accelerated due to the restrictions in movement imposed as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic—was made evident by the substantial presentations by representatives of companies with a major presence in the region.
One of the speakers was Guiseppina Curreli, Director of Policy Relations in the Millicom Group, an international telecommunications provider and parent company of the cellular telephone operator, Tigo, which has approximately 55 million clients throughout Latin America.
Another presentation was made by Luciano Braverman, Senior Educational Director for Microsoft Latin America. Recently, this technology company, in partnership with the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), supported various research studies that placed on the public agenda the need to facilitate rural territories’ access to new information and communication technologies.
Simon Thorsten Wiebusch, Executive Director of Operations for Bayer Crop Science in India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka also addressed the participants. His company is a strategic partner of IICA in the Living Soils of the Americas initiative, launched by the Institute with decorated Professor Rattan Lal, for the purpose of tackling soil degradation – a phenomenon that is threatening the world’s capacity to sustainable satisfy the global food demand.
Susan Segal, President and Chief Executive Officer of The Americas Society/ Council of the Americas (AS/COA) gave the opening remarks, along with Manuel Otero, Director General of IICA.
At the end of the roundtable discussion, Otero indicated that the presentations had made it clear that the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean share a common problem, in terms of the need to bridge the digital divide between rural areas and cities, to enable rural areas to access these new technologies.
“It is time to lay the foundation for a new rurality that will entice youth and women, in particular, encouraging them to view these places as what they truly are: areas of opportunity. We must recover lost ground and demonstrate that rural areas are strategic to the development of our countries. The private and public sectors, civil society and universities must work together in this effort”.
Individuals with long-standing involvement in the agrifood sector attended the event, including the members of the Advisory Council for Food Security in the Americas, which was created by IICA to monitor the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic on the region’s food security.
With a view to the Food Systems Summit, the Council of the Americas and IICA have been organizing discussion sessions with various high-level actors, as part of the debate and search for consensus about how to improve farmers’ well-being, productivity, profitability and sustainability.
The sessions have stressed that farmers and rural communities should play a leading role in any discussion about the future of agrifood systems. The digital agriculture roundtable was preceded by another debate on the modifications that should be made in the international food trade to improve the situation of the small farmers, who are guaranteeing the world’s food security.
The participants urged the Council and IICA to continue with this line of debate, emphasizing that it is integrating the efforts of the public and private sectors to arrive at alternatives that will foster sustainable development.
Institutional Communication Division.