Economic Growth

Can Latin America feed the world?

Lisa Dreier
Managing Director, Advanced Leadership Initiative, Harvard University
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Who will feed the world when our population reaches 9 billion? A big part of the answer lies in Latin America.

This week at the World Economic Forum on Latin America, leaders are discussing how the region can fully realize its potential as an agricultural powerhouse while ensuring sustainability for the long-term benefit of regional economies.

A report by the Forum’s New Vision for Agriculture initiative, launched today in Spanish, outlines how leaders can achieve sustainable agricultural growth through ambitious, market-based strategies. The report’s findings will be discussed this week by Latin American and global leaders of government, business, farmers’ associations, international organizations and civil society.

Putting the New Vision for Agriculture into Action: A Transformation is Happening (La nueva visión para la agricultura en acción: una transformación en curso), outlines six key elements of successful agriculture-sector transformations. Drawing on the experiences of countries in Latin America and elsewhere, it highlights the role of strong leadership, sound strategies and viable business models as key to developing an effective approach, which can then be scaled and sustained with the necessary financing, infrastructure and institutional support.

The potential for creating further transformative growth in Latin America is clear. The Latin America and Caribbean region produces 14% of world agricultural exports, including a large and growing share of exported corn, soybeans, beef and poultry. It is also home to one-third of the land that is suitable for sustainable agricultural expansion due to its high agro-ecological potential, low population density and non-forested status (World Bank, April 2012). Policy reforms have created thriving agricultural markets.

However, the region also faces challenges in its agriculture sector. Improving infrastructure and distribution will be key to lowering costs and expanding rural communities’ access to markets. Adopting resource-efficient practices will be essential to overcome challenges of water scarcity and climate change. Empowering farmers by ensuring their access to finance, training and land rights will enable greater productivity.

Taking action to improve agriculture requires a coordinated approach by government, business, farmers and civil society. In Mexico, a group of leaders is taking such an approach with support from the World Economic Forum. Nearly 40 global and Mexican companies have joined forces with Mexico’s Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Rural Development, Fisheries and Food (SAGARPA) to strengthen productivity, sustainability and farmers’ economic opportunity. Called the Mexican Agribusiness Partnership for Sustainable Growth, the group is focusing its efforts on five major crop groups – grains, oilseeds, fruits and vegetables, coffee and tea, and fisheries.

These efforts point toward a growing recognition that leadership and collaboration will be key ingredients to transforming agriculture worldwide. The New Vision for Agriculture is now facilitating such partnerships in 11 countries, while encouraging global-level support through platforms such as the G20 and G8. Led by 28 global companies working in partnership with a wide array of stakeholders, the initiative looks forward to making the New Vision a reality in Latin America and beyond.

Author: Lisa Dreier is Director of the Food Security and Development Initiatives, World Economic Forum USA

Pictured: Scientists work in a field of maize plants at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) in El Batan on the outskirts of Mexico City. REUTERS/Eliana Apont 

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