MINISTERS OF Agriculture of 34 countries in the Americas emphasized the importance of regional coordination and unity to strengthen agricultural production and food security in light of the instability of agricultural markets caused by the conflict in Eastern Europe, and requested full access to key inputs for production to prevent food shortages and mitigate price rises.
At a meeting called by Brazil’s Minister of Agriculture and Chair of the Inter-American Board of Agriculture (IABA),Tereza Cristina, the ministers and secretaries of Agriculture of the United States, Tom Vilsack; Guatemala, José Ángel López; Guyana, Zulfikar Mustapha; and Paraguay, Santiago Bertoni, spoke at the meeting in representation of the regions of the Americas after hearing the words of FAO Director General, Qu Dongyu; the UN Special Envoy for the 2021 Food Systems Summit, Agnes Kalibata; and the Director General of the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), Manuel Otero.
The meeting took place in the context of the crisis triggered by the conflict in Eastern Europe, which has affected the market of raw materials, especially wheat, energy and fertilizers, all key inputs for food production, a release from IICA states. A proposal was made for a renewed space of cooperation for countries of the Americas, with Brazil expressing a willingness to continue with the successful work undertaken in the region in preparation for the Food Systems Summit, with the consensus of the 34 countries of the Americas.
Opening the meeting on Wednesday, March 16 minister Tereza Cristina said, “The crisis in Europe impacts all the world and places obstacles for the changes that we require in the production of foods and the sustainability of the land. We are one of the largest agricultural regions in the world and we have to stay together to overcome these challenges. We have the opportunity to consolidate ourselves as leaders in food production and care for the planet and we are here to continue working together to ensure global food production”.
She continued, “The countries have financial imbalances, farmers have difficulties in terms of inputs and the population is facing food shortages. Vulnerable groups such as women and indigenous peoples suffer disproportionately. Rising food prices aggravated by the crisis in Europe impacts the whole world and this situation imposes more obstacles”. The Minister made an appeal to “exclude fertilizers from sanctions” on trade, as “suppressing the trade of inputs affects agricultural productivity and reinforces the inflationary trend, affecting the availability of food and threatening food security”.
The U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, stated that “although IICA members are distanced geographically (from Eastern Europe), the situation is undoubtedly going to impact the Western Hemisphere, which is home to the largest agricultural exporters”.
In this regard, Vilsack acknowledged that “supply chains are facing an unprecedented challenge, so it is important to tackle these challenges by working together with IICA and other organizations, such as the FAO, to provide accurate and timely market information to facilitate trade and guarantee global food security”.
He continued, “It is fundamental that we maintain transparency in our markets… Agricultural inputs such as fertilizers and commodity prices have shot up due to demand and disruption in the supply chain. The Russian invasion has accelerated this price rise … so it is important for us to be careful about interfering with the markets … We need transparent markets and clear pricing schemes because this is vital to increase supplies and maintain a healthy global trade network. It is important to avoid measures that restrict food trade”.
Former Minister of Agriculture of Rwanda and president of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), Agnes Kalibata,welcomed the growing cooperation between African Union countries and IICA countries and lamented that in light of the pandemic and the climate crisis, the situation in Eastern Europe should bring the world to the threshold of another global crisis.
“We hope that our alliance with the Americas can survive this crisis. We are starting to see now that in addition to price increases, there are problems with fertilizers, especially nitrogen fertilizers…”.
In turn, IICA’s Director General expressed his concern at a situation that is threatening world peace and affects food security.
“The supply of inputs is jeopardized, there are risks in trade channels and in addition to this are the effects of La Niña, which has brought water stress and an excess of water in many of our countries. Agriculture has strategic importance; one in four tons and 28% of food exports come from our continent. The wheels of agriculture cannot stop turning. This is a time for dialogue, for action, and to highlight the fact that agriculture is an instrument for socioeconomic development and for peace”, said Otero, appealing for greater cooperation between the FAO and IICA.
Qu Dongyu focused his concerns on the persistent effects of the pandemic and pressures arising from the environment, natural resources and food production. “We are concerned about the issue of food prices. Challenges persist and agricultural systems must ensure their resilience”, he said.
Mustapha, representing Guyana and the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), reminded participants that the current situation comes in addition to the extreme climate vulnerability his region suffers. “We need the support of international partners such as IICA and the FAO as we face the effects of climate change”, he said.
The meeting ended with an appeal by the Brazilian minister and host of the meeting.
“We cannot have a conflict that impacts the global food chain,” she said.