July 27, 2012
IICA celebrates 70th Anniversary

Fri, Jul 27. 2012

Victor M. Villalobos,

Director General of the Inter-American

Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA)

Seven decades ago, the world lived in fear of conflagration. War was imminent and it was feared that there would not be enough food, and especially not enough agricultural raw materials to meet strategic needs in times of war. At the same time, the conviction that agriculture was key to development and to feeding the world, and that in the tropical regions of the Americas there was an abundant supply of such resources, was beginning to take hold.{{more}} In this context, what today is the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) was founded in Turrialba, Costa Rica, a small town known for heavy rainfall and heat.

Today, as we proudly celebrate our 70th anniversary, we are convinced that we have a promising future. Working in concert with our member countries to improve agriculture and rural life, we have accumulated a wealth of experience and knowledge related to agriculture in the Americas.

Some might think that an organization that has been in existence for 70 years may have outlived its usefulness. In our case, we are more relevant and more modern than ever and are working to fulfill newly issued mandates. Our 34 Member States have entrusted us with promoting a new type of agriculture which is more sustainable, more competitive and more inclusive. They have asked us to bring all our human, technical and financial resources to bear in promoting innovation in agriculture. Therefore, in all our spheres of action, we propose the adoption of new paradigms so that agriculture can contribute to meeting the challenges of concern to the international community today, such as food security and climate change.

Today’s challenges are much greater than those that the visionaries who created IICA were attempting to resolve. Seventy years ago, there was less pressure on natural resources. Today, more than ever, and given the alarm being raised by continued population growth, we must learn to produce more on less land and with less water. In the past, we were not as concerned about the climate, the damage being caused by our development models or the impact of agriculture on the environment and vice versa.

Today IICA strives to increase not only knowledge, but also awareness of the need for a new type of agriculture, one that is more sustainable as well as more efficient and productive. Together with our member countries, we are placing all our hopes on innovation, on the use of agricultural practices such as direct planting and conservation tillage, on modern irrigation systems, on bioenergy production and on the improved use of advances in biotechnology, to mention only a few.

Because our region is endowed with such biodiversity, is suited to agriculture and is one of the few regions with countries in which it is still possible to expand agricultural frontiers, we view the future with optimism. We are confident that the new agriculture we are promoting at IICA will be able to meet such colossal challenges as doubling agricultural production in the next 40 years; however, we are fully aware that this will have to be done with less land, using fewer natural resources and also, and this is very important, meeting the needs of more demanding and well-informed consumers. If we, as the human race, are to be successful, we must put into practice all the scientific knowledge we have generated in recent years. We must do so responsibly, taking much better care of our soils, using water more judiciously and applying agrochemicals more wisely, by making available to producers a number of technologies that will enable them to search for solutions to the problems we are facing today.

It is essential to bear in mind that in order to achieve food security, increasing yields is not the only goal. Poverty is an obstacle that must be overcome to provide food security for all. Of the 1.4 billion persons around the globe who live in poverty, 1 billion live in rural areas. At the same time, the greatest potential for reducing poverty lies in increasing both agricultural production and rural employment. It is urgent to increase investment in agriculture and to adopt public policies that will encourage production, including by the poorest producers.

On this our 70th anniversary, IICA is using its history as a platform from which to envision the future and to thank all those who, over the years as employees of the Institute, have committed themselves to strengthening agriculture and rural development. Even more importantly, we acknowledge on this occasion the work of the millions of men and women who cultivate our fields and have made agriculture their way of life.

San Jose, Costa Rica, July 2012