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Latin America and The Caribbean


“Today, more than ever, reducing poverty and achieving Zero Hunger requires the involvement of various sectors”


Agronoticias interviews Mr Iván Felipe León Ayala, a newly-appointed FAO Representative in Nicaragua.


Mr. Iván Felipe León Ayala at FAO Headquarters, Rome

You recently began your role coordinating FAO’s Nicaragua office, which lists food security, family farming and climate resilience as top priorities in its FAO Country Program Framework. In your opinion, what are the immediate lines of work to be carried out?

I believe that Nicaragua’s economy has shown significant growth, demonstrating broad opportunities to generate development in a sustainable manner. I think the priorities should now focus on assisting the government in building an intersectoral dialogue for the development of long-term policies; touching different spheres of the economy based on the government’s approaches established in its national development plan. There are definitely two points of view here: the first is the promotion of large-scale investments, which increase the impact of policies that have already been developed. The second is to work specifically within the framework of the Central American Dry Corridor, which undoubtedly poses important internal challenges for achieving development in the social, economic, and environmental conditions of that particular region. To the extent that we can align our strategy with the government, we should be able to scale-up policies.

As part of the FAO Colombia project, do you see similarities between the two countries?

Yes, I think they have several points in common. Both are Latin American countries, Nicaragua has experienced a process of conflict, then reached a peace process, and has been consolidating peace with social justice. Colombia is currently moving in that same direction, and there are many lessons and meeting points that can be shared. The program in Colombia has extensive areas of work, and not only focuses on the agricultural sector, it also involves the forestry sector, the issue of land, the economic sector, social protection, etc. I believe that working with different sectors is a good reflection of the potential work that FAO can carry out in Nicaragua. We must recognize that today, more than ever, reducing poverty and achieving Zero Hunger in Latin America and in the world requires the involvement of various sectors, not just agriculture. In fact, I think several initiatives have already been carried out in the agricultural sector, so now we have to focus on other sectors of the economy, social protection, the environment, etc. That was the case of Colombia and I hope that Nicaragua can move forward in the same direction as well.

In recent years, Colombia has faced a number of challenges and socio-political changes that have had a decisive impact on agriculture and rural development. What is your perception of the current situation in the country?

I think that Colombia has made significant efforts to overcome certain indicators that are consequences of the conflict. Today, hunger and poverty in rural areas in Colombia are the result of a conflict that has lasted for over 50 years, a conflict that has produced (within its own conflict structure) challenges such as the cultivation of plants for illicit use and illegal mining. We must move forward to generate sustainable alternatives for development within the scope of legality. I believe that increasingly favorable conditions are now being established in order to achieve that goal, as well as to generate investments, to develop intersectoral policies, to facilitate a continuous presence of the state in areas wrought with the conflict. However, it is important to recognize that there is a long road ahead. The conflict lasted for 50 years, so it will surely take us a number of years to rebuild those areas. Furthermore, as we move forward, and as the country moves towards the consolidation of peace, the Colombian society must reach a major consensus. Peace is not only about the government or about the actors causing the conflict. Peace must come from the commitment of the whole of Colombian society, and I believe that this requires advancing that culture, generating a more defined identity through the peace process. The war was caused by the actors that instigated it, but peace is by and for everyone. I believe that now there are good conditions for peace, but it’s a path that must be paved step by step.

Could you tell us about the role of FAO’s work, in particular investments for territorial development, and for building the peace process?

Sure. The first thing to mention is that FAO has taken on its role thanks to the government. For many years, we have worked on programs for rural development, poverty reduction, employment creation, and governance of natural resources. However, in this phase of the peace agreements, some of the lessons learned are being drawn from the work that FAO is carrying out directly in the region, including understanding regional realities, their potential and limitations, as well as their challenges... and structuring certain programs accordingly, engaging in experiences that, over time, have led to public policy. To mention one, the intersectoral coordination of traditional food security policy – a project on which FAO has provided assistance. In addition, forest management issues and policies for reducing deforestation and degradation, issues associated with land policy, and rural entrepreneurship for family farming... these have been key topics over the last decade, which have become more relevant within the framework of the peace process. They are elements that are currently being implemented in different projects or programs, in an attempt to support the implementation of peace agreements.

From a more political point of view, FAO is currently one of the international actors in the peace agreement implementation process, a role taken on by the technical secretariat along with three other entities: the European Union, Via Campesina and UNDP.

As someone who has worked in different countries in the region, what do you believe are the steps that FAO should take to increase its impact in Latin America and the Caribbean?

Latin America and the Caribbean have three very important challenges to overcome. One is obesity. Obesity has become one of the most significant causes of death in Latin America and the Caribbean, leading to significant public sector costs in terms of health, and adversely affecting the development capacity of several countries. We no longer speak only of undernourishment, but of malnutrition, obesity, and hunger. The Latin America and Caribbean region shows very high rates of obesity, which requires a lot of work. This also reflects on agri-food systems, which leave much room for improvement in terms of efficiency, quality, and the ability to offer a wide range of healthy food products, which should favor the development of society without increasing exposure to the risk of obesity-related diseases.

The second issue is inequality. Latin America and the Caribbean still have major inequality indicators in terms of different generations, as well as differences between men and women. I believe that FAO should contribute to reducing inequalities in Latin America and the Caribbean for issues such as land access, access to public goods and services, and favoring articulated social protection schemes that make it possible to guarantee access to a system of social guarantees for lower income citizens.

Lastly, it is important to mention the participation of civil society, and capacity building in societies that enable the regulation of political and public schemes. This is critical. There are still high rates of corruption in Latin America and the Caribbean, and I believe that FAO can contribute to building the capacity of different actors to participate in public policy dialogues, structuring these policies, and creating a system of guarantees that can help us focus on public investments in a more transparent way.

Please note that this article was not originally written in this language.
Author: Jordi Vaqué, TCIC, FAO
Photo Credit: Agronoticias

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