News Date: January 29 2018
On 15 January 2018, I assumed the position of Director General of the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) with a clear mandate: to renew the Institute’s leading role as a key player in rural development in the Americas.
The centrality of agricultural matters in the global agenda makes this leading role a natural necessity. It also affords an unbeatable opportunity for IICA and, by extension, its 34 Member States, to fulfill a mobilizing, relevant and constructive role.
Throughout its 75-year history, IICA has sought to preserve its mission to support the efforts undertaken by its member countries to achieve agricultural development and rural well-being. It has provided this support through technical cooperation of excellence.
However, “business as usual” has ceased to be an option in today’s world, which is troubled and besieged by climate change and the deterioration of natural resources. As a result, it is imperative to modify strategies and behaviors in order to increase and improve production. New institutional frameworks for more productive, inclusive and resilient agriculture that includes active participation by youth and women are achievable, and must be the focus of our efforts.
At IICA, we are determined to contribute to abandoning the erroneous notion of agriculture as an extractivist sector that generates primary goods.
This condition is crucial to fully achieving our objectives. We must broaden the limited perception of agriculture as a mere supplier of raw materials for global value chains. Instead, we must undertake our work with a transformative vision that will allow for converting the Americas into a large factory of processed food, bioenergy, probiotics, nutraceuticals and biomaterials.
It is time to view agriculture as a biomass industry and a key player in this new era characterized by a society that aspires to be less dependent on fossil fuels and to implement climate-smart production strategies.
That is precisely what makes agriculture an inseparable part of the solution to the planet’s most pressing problems: the lack of food and nutritional security as well as the population, energy and environmental crises.
The goal, in short, is to contribute to fostering intelligent industrialization using our abundant biological resources, as well as to promote greater sectoral diversity and international competitiveness, increase the number of jobs, and strengthen climate change mitigation, based on science and technology.
Bio-economy largely expresses this transformative vision, which is geared toward fostering sustainable production using, as a foundation, our vast amount of natural resources.
This paradigm shift also means that rural areas must take on a more prominent role and be viewed as hubs for progress that boast new technologies and greater connectivity. In this way, we can overcome the stigma that propagates the idea that rural areas generate poverty and expel human resources.
Supported by a continuously fruitful history, IICA will aim to build a new future for the benefit of stakeholders and institutions that form part of the agrifood systems of the Americas. As it moves ahead toward its one hundredth anniversary, IICA must consolidate itself as a strategic resource at the service of the countries, making substantial contributions to agricultural development. To this end, the Institute’s governing bodies must be updated, in order to generate the conditions needed to foster active participation by the private sector. The Institute must also reinforce its commitment to integration, sub-regional and regional mechanisms, through the development of supranational projects geared toward solving shared problems.
The Institute will serve as a bridge between the Central American Integration System (SICA), the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) and the Andean Community. It will work closely with Canada, the United States and Mexico, as well as with Mercosur, which, given its productive and technological profile, has great potential to create complementary linkages with both Central America and the Caribbean.
We possess everything we need to undertake this journey. It would be inexcusable to miss this opportunity.
Manuel Otero is the Director General of the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA)