Agriculture in the Americas: Innovate or Fail

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The Ministers of Agriculture of the Americas met recently in San Jose, Costa Rica and confirmed their commitment to innovation as the way to meet the enormous challenges facing the world--challenges like food security and climate change. They also affirmed that innovation is the way forward to achieving the development objective of having competitive, sustainable, and inclusive agriculture in our nations.

The 2011 Meeting of Ministers of Agriculture of the Americas was held under the slogan: "Sowing Innovation to Harvest Prosperity." It was organized by the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) along with the government of Costa Rica, through its Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock and with the support of the Foreign Ministry.

Innovation was chosen as a topic because of a mandate from OAS member states. The 2010-2012 Strategic Plan for IICA establishes the obligation to promote innovation in agriculture to make it more competitive and sustainable and to spread the benefits of agriculture to a greater number of people.

Innovation: A Driving Force

By innovation we mean the development and practice of new ideas to improve production; productivity; and social, economic, and environmental sustainability in agriculture.

We live in the Age of Innovation. Fast-moving technological changes and their almost immediate application are part of daily life today; so much so that it's not just the specialists who are working to keep up with the latest technology. Ordinary citizens have also incorporated many of these innovations into their daily lives, especially in terms of information and communications technology.

Innovation is associated with change, with the creation and management of opportunities. It is a transforming process that opens up new frontiers of possibilities for a country, for a production sector, a business, or a community. Innovation is also important for agriculture.

If we agree that innovation is a force that drives the long-term growth of countries, we will need to strengthen institutional frameworks to promote it. We will especially need to strengthen sectoral and national systems of innovation where the potential for transformation is the highest.

Each country's efforts and policies for promoting innovation will determine its likelihood of success in today's competitive and globalized world. These efforts can be supported by international technical cooperation, which will also make it possible to create regional and hemispheric systems of innovation.

Systems of innovation require a set of actors and interactions, but they also require laws and policies to support them. And to make them function, it is important to channel resources through public and private investment.

Innovation is the key to creating competitive, inclusive, and sustainable agriculture. It is also essential for meeting the current and future demands of different groups in society; finding new socially inclusive and environmentally sustainable forms of production; benefiting from global markets and strengthening local ones; ensuring food security for all people; lessening the contribution of agriculture to global warming; and adapting agriculture to new climate conditions.

Technological revolutions are constantly changing and modernizing agriculture, and the sector's performance is being measured in new ways. Today, agriculture requires a new technological and organizational revolution based on an innovative technological paradigm.

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If we agree that countries reach new levels of wellbeing because of their capacity to innovate, we must say that agricultural systems are part of this process. IICA can play a fundamental role in catalyzing and strengthening innovative processes in agriculture.

IICA is the best ally of OAS member countries when it comes to agricultural and rural development with an innovative vision. …