To consolidate the collaboration between FONTAGRO and CoSAI (Comisión en Intensificación Agrícola Sostenible [Commission on Sustainable Agricultural Intensification]), on August 26th both institutions organized a webinar to present and discuss successful experiences in innovation and research in agriculture and food systems.
To open the event, Julio Berdegué (FAO Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative for Latin America and the Caribbean) highlighted innovation as an indispensable element for becoming more efficient, inclusive and resilient.
He then explained that CoSAI is an independent commission made up of 21 experts, whose objective is to promote and support innovation in agricultural systems to achieve the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), aimed at expanding the availability of affordable, safe and nutritious food, a healthy natural environment and the reduction of poverty and inequality.
He warned that governments and private companies invest billions of dollars each year in agricultural innovation for the Global South, but most investments do not support environmental sustainability and do not benefit the poorest people. “What needs to change?” he asked. To answer that question, he said CoSAI is gathering existing evidence and has commissioned major studies in areas where critical gaps exist, developing metrics and reports.
To elaborate further on CoSAI’s work, Ruben Echeverria (CoSAI Chair) explained that the Commission is exploring key questions, through a series of studies involving stakeholders and public research.
Given the need to intensify innovation in sustainable agriculture, they developed working groups to explore these questions further, identify metrics and indicators to track and provide evidence in public and private sectors. “We must learn what is happening in the region, and promote more and better innovations, sharing examples to achieve results at scale,” he said.
He also pointed out that the commission does not consider industrial agriculture in the analysis, but focuses on family agriculture, given that it represents 80% in the Global South and half of all employment. “We are not looking for a single solution, the realities are diverse and the solutions must also be diverse,” he argued.
Echeverría again stressed the need to intensify food production in the face of growing demand, where Covid-19 made this even more evident, within a sustainable framework, with agri-solutions aimed at biodiversity, lower greenhouse gas emissions, soil regeneration, minimum tillage, pest management, crop rotation, etc.
While showing some results, the Chair of CoSAI indicated that of the total investments in innovation that are currently being made, only 7% have environmental considerations. In this regard he pointed out “Investments are few, but the needs are many. The good news is that a large part of the financing is destined to research in water management, which could achieve good results in mitigating hunger.”
Before giving the floor to the next speaker, Rubén Echeverría reflected “We have to show technological evidence seeking for the way to do it, we don’t want to repeat the list of questions, we don’t have time. We must promote how to redirect resources to innovative and sustainable solutions.”
Next, Rodomiro Ortíz (Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences) explained that Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) is a region capable of feeding its population and more. He indicated that the average yield gap of LAC countries is currently around 70%, so there is enough room to continue increasing food surpluses and the way to achieve this is Sustainable Agricultural Intensification (SAI).
Ortíz then spoke about the regional consultations held in 2014, in which academic institutions, national research institutes and governments participated, and identified 10 areas for action to promote SAI in LAC.
Of these, the gaps in agricultural and livestock yields are the most important. These are followed by the definition of indicators and impact pathways to monitor and assist policymakers in promoting incentives through policies; climate change adaptation and mitigation; use of information and communication techniques to share knowledge and support sound decisions in SAI; strengthening of cooperatives, creation of local organizations and linking producers to markets; analysis of the interfaces between agriculture and a sustainable food system; accurate mapping of the structure of farms in LAC agriculture; rehabilitation of degraded lands; reduction of food losses and waste throughout the value chain; and finally, reduction of deforestation.
Subsequently, Ximena Rueda (CoSAI Commissioner and Professor at University of the Andes) commented that the Commission focused on conservation payment instruments, given that payment for environmental services is a great incentive to promote the sustainable intensification of agriculture in the Global South, and she stated that “small producers are willing to take them to reconcile environmental interests, food security and family economy”.
To this end, the Commission conducted an analysis of financial conservation mechanisms to identify the effects on conservation and livelihoods; elements of design, implementation and compliance mechanisms that determine their effectiveness; and elements of the context that have contributed to their success.
She clarified that the spectrum of incentives ranges from regulatory to voluntary mechanisms, and for this study they focused on hybrid or market mechanisms.
Commenting on some of the results of the study, Rueda indicated that the emphasis is on deforestation and water supply, but nothing or almost nothing on biodiversity or other biomes such as the Gran Chaco. She stressed that the social capital of the communities and the presence of extension systems is critical to ensure success.
In conclusion, Ximena Rueda said that the next steps of the study will be to hold a round table (sponsored by CoSAI, IUCN, Alliance Biodiversity In & CIAT, CODS), draft a final article and a public policy document.
The second part of the dialogue focused on case studies of sustainable agri-food intensification, moderated by Eugenia Saini (Executive Secretary of FONTAGRO) who said “From FONTAGRO, we support innovation in agriculture by promoting science and collaborative networking. The FONTAGRO projects are clear examples of how progress has been made in the region.”
Next, to talk about private sector experiences in Latin America, Osiris Ocando (Bayer) discussed the challenges ahead in the face of a growing population, limited resources and pressure on ecosystems, and underlined that sustainable agriculture is key to providing solutions.
In this context, the speaker explained the paths to be followed by Bayer are focused on putting sustainability at the center and linking it with research and technology development, creating value in a transparent way to balance the needs of farmers with the expectations of society.
He later explained that Bayer defined 3 strategic pillars to transform agriculture: innovation, digital transformation and setting new sustainability standards.
With a commitment to transformation by 2030, the company aims to reduce 30% GHG emitted in the field, produce crops with higher yields with fewer natural resources and inputs, leveraged on cover crops, plant breeding, variable irrigation, precision agriculture, zero-tillage, etc. Bayer’s initiative is aimed at empowering smallholder farmers to access sustainable agricultural solutions.
Fariña noted that LAC has natural resources for milk production and there is a unique opportunity, but productivity is low. The challenge is to increase productivity, but in a way that generates more income for families and guarantees their well-being, without negative impacts on the environment.
Faced with this challenge, 11 FONTAGRO member countries came together to work in the field, with very different views and metrics regarding the same system.
“The project began by agreeing on indicators that look at sustainability, economic and social aspects, in order to establish a common language. Then we moved on to a diagnosis and modeling strategies to see the impact. Today we are validating and finishing to see real experiences of implementation in producers’ farms,” explained the researcher.
Once the production models, applicable to all LAC dairy systems, were established, training workshops were held to provide simple, low-cost, high-impact tools. “We want to put the region on the map in terms of production,” he said.
To conclude, Santiago Fariña called for co-innovation, involving the users of the technology to ensure its wider adoption.
To talk about the coffee sector, César Echeverri Castaño (TECNiCAFÉ, Colombia) emphasized the importance of the crop in the identity of the country and its impact on the economy of rural families.
“In Colombia, 90% of the coffee that is exported is transformed at its destination,” said the speaker. Faced with this scenario, starting in 2006, they began a process of research and development to produce high quality coffee and add value throughout the chain. In 2015 a public-private alliance was formed with the Corporación Parque Industrial Tecnológico de innovación TECNiCAFé to improve the world of coffee through innovation. Echeverri Castaño explained that they apply the “5Rs” for mitigation and adaptation for resilience to climate change and variability: rationalization of supply and demand; reduction of the ecological footprint of production and unnecessary consumption; reuse of waste; regeneration and recovery of ecosystems.
Since 2017, the core of innovation in coffee and coffee growing has been energized with all the stakeholders to identify and take on the challenges of the sector, making coffee growing an instrument of peace and reconciliation through young coffee growers “the program involved 17.000 young people from schools. Coffee growing is a tool to get young people out of the war, training will bring them wellbeing and progress”, he reflected.
Concluding this panel, Eugenia Saini pointed out that “it is essential to work closer to science and in the territory, involving numerous actors, adding value and including young people; agriculture is part of the solution.”
Closing the Dialogue on innovation in sustainable agri-food intensification in LAC, Julio Berdegué said “It has been a fascinating conversation. We see that we have plenty of solutions, the challenge is to take them to a large scale and not leave them as small experiences. Science and innovation have to pay more attention to incentives and funding to achieve this. Innovation used to belong to experts and scientists, but that is no longer the case, without collaboration there is no sustainable intensification at the scale we need.”
FONTAGRO was created 1998 with the purpose of promoting the increase of the competitiveness of the agri-food sector, ensuring the sustainable management of natural resources and the reduction of poverty in the region. The objective of FONTAGRO is to establish itself as a sustainable financing mechanism for the development of agricultural technology and innovation in Latin America and the Caribbean and Spain, and to establish a forum for the discussion of priority topics of technological innovation. The member countries are: Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Spain, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Dominican Republic, Uruguay and Venezuela. In the last 21 years 167 regional agricultural innovation platforms have been co-financed for an amount of US $ 124 million, which has reached 452 institutions and 33 countries worldwide.