FAO Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean

Ministers and Secretaries of Agriculture of 34 countries of the Americas coordinate actions to guarantee food against COVID-19

FAO and IICA facilitated an unprecedented hemispheric meeting to strengthen the response of 34 countries of the Americas to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

Authorities from North America, South America, Central America and the Caribbean shared their experiences .

April 22, 2020, Santiago, Chile— Ministers and Secretaries of Agriculture of 34 countries of the Americas met remotely today to share their policies, actions, and plans to address the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the food security of their populations, agriculture, food systems and the rural world.

Authorities from North America, South America, Central America and the Caribbean shared their experiences and the measures they are implementing to guarantee their food production and supply.

The ministers stressed the importance of food being available at convenient prices, and that its production, distribution and sale be carried out with minimum risks to the health of all those who participate in the food chain. They also emphasized the need to boost intraregional food trade.

The unprecedented Hemispheric Meeting of Ministers and Secretaries of Agriculture was organized by the the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) in response to a request from the Ministry of Agriculture of Chile.

The meeting was chair and moderated by the Minister of Chile, Antonio Walker, also representing the
Southern Agricultural Council (CAS); by the Minister of Jamaica and President of the FAO Regional Conference for Latin America and the Caribbean and by the Minister of the Dominican Republic, Osmar Benítez, also President of the Inter-American Board of Agriculture (JIA).

"FAO and IICA have a very relevant role and great experience to achieve a better coordination of the efforts that we must make in terms of food supply for our citizens," said Antonio Walker, Minister of Agriculture of Chile.

“International cooperation is one of the main tools we have to face the effects of the pandemic; no country by itself can guarantee the food security of its population,” said Julio Berdegué, FAO Regional Representative for Latin America and the Caribbean: "This crisis teaches us that we must accelerate the transformation of food systems to make them more resilient, inclusive and sustainable”.

“This hemispheric meeting is a sign of the times to come, of cooperation, complementarity and joint work. More innovative policies and States and more flexible institutions will be required. The the traditional moulds will be broken. We need more cooperation than ever to have better, solid public policies for a sector like agriculture that is strategic to keep the world on its feet,” said Manuel Otero, Director General of the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA).

Country measures

The Secretary of Agriculture and Rural Development of Mexico, Víctor Villalobos, stressed the importance of avoiding unilateral actions that affect the free exchange of food, implementing all the necessary sanitary measures to commercialize food, and to establish international and interregional communication channels to commercialize food.

Villalobos also proposed that the 34 countries create a joint task force to deal with both the pandemic and the post pandemic situation. The FAO Representative and the Director General of IICA supported the proposal and indicated that both institutions could facilitate the work of this task force.

Antonio Walker, Minister of Agriculture of Chile, pointed out that the Southern Agricultural Council (CAS, in Spanish) is focused on maintaining food supplies, open and transparent international markets, reducing urban-rural territorial gaps, and carrying out an analysis of how to face the post-pandemic situation. The minister highlighted the importance of family family farming in this scenario and the need to implement sanitary protocols along the entire food chain.

Mauricio Guevara, Secretary of Agriculture and Livestock of Honduras, explained that the Central American Agricultural Council (CAC, in Spanish) is conducting a survey to know exactly how much food is available in each CAC country, what are the surpluses and the country’s needs.

Saboto Caesar, Minister of Agriculture, Industry, Forestry, Fisheries and Rural Transformation of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, spoke on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM): “We are experiencing a disruption in the trade of agricultural commodities in CARICOM, due to breaks in the food and input supply chain”.

Saboto Caesar highlighted the need for governments to support producers so they have protection elements, stressed the need for technical assistance for CARICOM countries, increased food trade among CARICOM countries, and South-South cooperation between CARICOM and South America in food trade.

The Minister of Agriculture and Livestock of Ecuador, Xavier Lazo, representing the Andean countries, pointed out that many small farmers have begun to use technological platforms to reach people more directly, including direct supply for households.

"Agrifood chains will be essential to maintain employment and will be engines for a rapid post-crisis recovery," explained Tereza Cristina Corrêa, Minister of Agriculture, Livestock and Supply of Brazil: "Free and fair trade is the key to the provision of food, especially for the poorest areas of the world”. The minister also highlighted the importance of family farming.

The Undersecretary of Agriculture for Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs of the United States, Ted McKinney, highlighted the importance of promoting innovation to increase food production, and the relevance of the future I World Summit on Food Systems, promoted by the UN, as a key instance to strengthen the global food system.

The meeting also included the participation of regional authorities and experts from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the Central American Bank for Economic Integration (CABEI), the Caribbean Research and Development Institute (CARDI), the Agricultural Health Agency and Caribbean Food Security (CAHFSA), the Development Bank for Latin America (CAF), the Inter-American Commission of Women (CIM, in Spanish), the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), the International Regional Organization for Agricultural Health (OIRSA, in Spanish), and the World Food Program (WFP).