With Chile holding the presidency for the ongoing 25th Conference of the Parties in Madrid, Latin America and the Caribbean were always likely to feature prominently throughout proceedings. That proved to be the case at a CCAFS organised event entitled – Raising ambition for climate action in Latin America through transformation of food systems. With the overarching objective of catalysing a food system transformation across Latin America, participants from governments, academia and development institutions were invited to give their unique insights on what works and ways in which these interventions can be brought to scale.
During the keynote speech, Francisco Meza of the Universidad de Chile outlined the precarious state of affairs in the region-increasing urbanisation, ballooning energy needs and a rapidly changing climate, including the increased incidence of extreme events like droughts. These impacts have manifested themselves in declining yield trends. Deissy Martínez Barón, Regional Program Coordinator for CCAFS in Latin America, echoed these sentiments, highlighting the need for more dialogue from the local to the national levels. Agriculture can only be made more sustainable through value chains and dietary shifts. “Nothing short of an entire system transformation is required. The time to act is now,” said Martínez.
Following the keynote address, the expert panel gave some insight into country level perspectives. Walter Oyhantcabal, Director of the Agriculture & Climate Change Unit of the Ministry of Agriculture in Uruguay, underlined the need to build a triangle between government, farmers and scientists. In that way, all stakeholders can collaborate when forging the best way forward. Interestingly, Uruguay is adopting an umbrella framework on the concept of bioeconomy, which could be extrapolated to the global level. At the field level, Ana Cristina Quiros, Vice-Minister of the Costa Rican Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock, spoke about the benefits of interventions with a proven track record. Using the example of agroforestry, Quiros explained that the strategic use of trees represented an easy entry point that increased the quality of coffee. Additionally, the government provided incentive by rewarding farmers for implementing sustainable practices like planting trees and farming organically.
Javier Aliaga of the Caribbean Network of Fair Trade Small Producers and Workers (CLAC) emphasised that farmers are not a homogenous group, and depending on the circumstances they face a diverse range of issues. It is therefore crucial that each farmer employ tailor-made strategies that fit the unique challenges they face.
Speaking from a development perspective, IFAD’s Margarita Astralaga pointed out that farmers often lack the means to protect themselves from the mal-effects of climate change. To compound matters, there is a notable dearth of investment in adaptation from both private and public sources. This, coupled with issues related to geographic isolation and a consequent lack of local-level data, means that investing in value chains is fraught with risk. Development organisations like IFAD need to channel finance to rural smallholders in order to mitigate this risk and crowd in additional funding. “Private sector support is crucial if we want to transform food systems under climate change, but we need to de-risk investments in agriculture and use blended finance,” said Astralaga. However, additional finance alone will be insufficient to catalyse food systems transformation. The policy environment needs to be recalibrated in order to incentivise farmers and other value chain actors to adopt sustainable practices, including the realignment of subsidies to reward farmers for the ecosystem services they provide.
In closing, the World Bank’s Martien van Nieuwkoop reiterated the points made by the panellists, adding that the role of farmers needs to redefined in the 21st century, emphasising their role as the custodians of biodiversity and ecosystem services. “Farmers are not just food producers, but are responsible for maintaining ecosystem services. They should be rewarded for that too,” said van Nieuwkoop.
Overall, while the event provided an opportunity to showcase examples of interventions that can drive food systems transformation, it was abundantly clear that concerted action and coordination are needed among all actors throughout the entire food system.