Hope for hemispheric co-operation

| July 2, 2018 | 0 Comments
North America, South America, Central America and the Caribbean islands are sometimes referred to as the “potential breadbasket” for the world. (Photo: IICA Archives)

North America, South America, Central America and the Caribbean islands are sometimes referred to as the “potential breadbasket” for the world. (Photo: IICA Archives)

Where in the world does one find the richest biodiversity, vast hectares of arable land and an abundance of fresh water? If you said the Americas, you would be correct.
North America, South America, Central America and the Caribbean islands — the region of the Americas — is sometimes referred to as the potential “breadbasket” of the world. But take note of the word “potential.” In spite of being positioned to feed the world, many persons within the region are still food insecure. This is because countries are at varying levels of development. Some have weak infrastructure and don’t have the competencies to take full advantage of this potential. Added to which, extreme climatic events have placed added pressure on much of the agri-food systems.
Addressing gaps in policies, knowledge, technologies and innovations is a smart way to produce long-lasting desirable impacts such as reducing poverty, generating wealth and contributing to sustainable development. In fact, with further development, countries would not only be able to feed themselves, but also contribute to the global breadbasket. Accomplishing this, however, is a tall order that requires a multi-faceted approach with the commitment to delivering on shared and specific goals. This may have been the thinking that motivated the establishment in 1942 of an inter-American body strategically headquartered between North America and South America — in Costa Rica — to promote and co-ordinate research for improved agricultural productivity.
Fast-track to today, the Inter-American Institute for Co-operation on Agriculture (IICA), with corporate services still in Costa Rica, has offices in 34 countries in the Americas, all with a common goal of having sustainable, productive and competitive agri-food systems. IICA, part of the Organization of American States’ (OAS) Inter-American System, is now 75 years old and is governed by an Inter-American Board of Agriculture (IABA), which is made up of ministers of agriculture from each of the member countries. The IABA provides guidance on the priority issues to be addressed in the hemisphere, taking into consideration local imperatives. An elected director-general carries out the institute’s mandate through on-the-ground activities in member countries. Although Canada joined IICA more than 45 years ago and it has offices in downtown Ottawa, the organization still appears to be a best-kept secret in Canada.

With a growing market for antioxidant-rich foods, there is heightened interest in the hemisphere for sustainable supplies of cacao. (Photo: IICA Archives)

With a growing market for antioxidant-rich foods, there is heightened interest in the hemisphere for sustainable supplies of cacao. (Photo: IICA Archives)

So what does IICA actually do?
IICA supports the agricultural sector through policy advice, institutional strengthening, capacity building and knowledge sharing. With “boots on the ground,” delegations in each country interact with policymakers, regulators, researchers, farmers, processors, academia and non-governmental organizations — essentially all players in the food system. In so doing, we are able to have a finger on the pulse regarding priority issues and opportunities for impacting food security and rural development.
IICA often addresses weaknesses in commodity chains, resulting in increased productivity and competitiveness. Typical activities include reviewing policies and proposing recommendations, providing guidance regarding structure and operation of institutions and small businesses, hands-on training in various agricultural practices, development of technologies and standards, as well as supporting innovation.
Recently, for example, the organization strengthened 14 agricultural commodity chains in 10 countries of Latin America and the Caribbean. These included agricultural products that are important to small farmers across the region, and products that are also in demand on the global market. We identified productivity, safety and quality issues affecting products such as coffee in Peru, cashews in Honduras and sheep in Paraguay and, in partnership with respective local stakeholders, we developed and implemented strategies for addressing the issues. This model ensures sustainability of the interventions, as it includes policymakers and regulators as well as farmers and processors. Each group has a role and vested interest in the success of the interventions, achieving results that range from increased productivity and sustainable supplies to access to markets. These all contribute to the reduction of poverty and improved food security.

Partnerships are in our DNA
When countries adopted the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015, they made a commitment to work towards ending poverty, protecting the planet and ensuring prosperity for all. Importantly, they recognized that joint efforts were crucial to ensuring results in the timeframe set.
Targets that resonate in the SDGs, such as food and nutrition security and sustainable agriculture, are at the core of IICA’s mandate. Acknowledging that no one organization is able to effectively tackle the multiplicity of challenges facing agriculture and food security in the world, IICA is keen on partnerships of all types. The chief in-country partners are traditionally the ministries of agriculture. Through these agents, IICA receives real-time information on local conditions, needs, gaps and opportunities. Additionally, government ministries present a means for recommending policy shifts or revisions to create an enabling environment for growth and development of the sector. Collaboration with governments to manage, co-ordinate or implement development projects is one of the highly appreciated functions of the institute. In these roles, IICA usually partners with other international organizations, development agencies and NGOs to deliver on expected outputs. For projects being led by IICA, consortiums also often include partners from academia, co-operatives and NGOs.

Canada as a special partner
Canada is seen as a trustworthy, fair country with an innovative, stable and safe agri-food system. These attributes are widely acknowledged and valued, so it stands to reason that Canada is the sixth-largest exporter of agri-food products in the world. Through information and knowledge sharing, IICA, with support from Canada, has empowered countries in the Americas to adopt principles of science-based decision-making for trade, and learn how to consistently meet international sanitary and phytosanitary requirements. Joint efforts with the U.S. have also added benefits for all countries involved. For example, consensus-building around defining food-labelling criteria and limits on pesticide residues are two areas that affect consumers everywhere and have been enhanced by knowledge-sharing initiatives facilitated by IICA.
Canada is an important partner and the second largest contributor to IICA (through annual quota payments). Through participation from ministries such as Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and Global Affairs Canada, Canada is an active participant, providing governance and administrative guidance to the headquarters of the institute. Over the years, countries across the hemisphere have also benefited from technical and policy advice brokered by IICA. Furthermore, numerous development projects have been undertaken courtesy of Canada. Haiti, Honduras, Peru, Colombia and Brazil are among many Latin American and Caribbean countries that have benefited from targeted interventions in areas such as food security, animal and plant health, value-chain development and agri-business. Initiatives aim to produce win-win outcomes.
One case worth mentioning involves cacao, a commodity with market appeal in Canada. As we all know, our appetite for chocolate has not waned over the years. On the contrary, with the huge market for antioxidant-rich foods, and the new exotic combinations being produced, there is heightened interest in procuring sustainable supplies of cacao. The Latin American and Caribbean region is well known for its fine cacao, which is used in premium chocolate products. IICA worked in countries such as Peru, Costa Rica, Panama and the Dominican Republic to not only strengthen their production systems for sustainable supplies of high-quality cacao beans, but also supported female entrepreneurs to get involved in processing value-added products, improving access to local and external markets. Involvement of Canadian regulators as well as buyers throughout the project cycle has helped to make sure the products met standards and expectations.

Local delegation committed to delivering value
IICA representatives in each of the member states play a pivotal role in implementing the IICA’s agreed programs and projects locally. While the scope for implementing technical co-operation projects in Canada is currently limited, the IICA delegation has identified several exciting options for supporting the Canadian agri-food sector, by, for example, leveraging IICA’s presence and reach in 34 countries. The current slate of bilateral trade agreements, together with the dynamic portfolio of regional agreements currently being negotiated (or renegotiated), provide ample opportunities for IICA’s assistance in preparing member countries to meet Canadian requirements for market access and for building capacity in science-based decision-making. Similarly, the new Canadian feminist international assistance policy, which stresses the economic empowerment of women and sustainable environmental practices, offers tremendous opportunities for Latin American and Caribbean countries to make gains on their SDG indicators. Here again, IICA would prove to be an invaluable facilitator. A bonus of being a part of the diplomatic corps lies in the relationships with Latin American and Caribbean missions in Canada, yet another route for demonstrating the delegation’s value through catalytic and strategic actions.
IICA offers a bridge for forging connections for joint research, technology transfer, trade, development and policy dialogue. Quiet but influential in the region, this organization is being increasingly appreciated by policymakers, country missions, academics and industry and is only too ready to deliver on expectations.

Audia Barnett, who has a PhD in chemistry from the University of the West Indies, is the country representative of the Inter-American Institute of Co-operation on Agriculture (IICA) in Canada.

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Audia Barnett, who has a PhD in chemistry from the University of the West Indies, is the country representative of the Inter-American Institute of Co-operation on Agriculture (IICA) in Canada.

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