Design and implementation of techniques for agricultural excellence, protecting natural resources - Vera Bohórquez
Vera Bohórquez

Design and implementation of techniques for agricultural excellence, protecting natural resources - Vera Bohórquez

Well, it’s going to be difficult after such a real experience, to talk about more theoretical topics; but life is of the two things I think.

I also wanted to mention that today we have a great celebration because today is World Food Day, so it is a very important day to talk about these issues. We were just on Saturday celebrating the World Food Day here in Santiago de Veraguas, with the participation of family farming, logically, also from the authorities; but we were also sharing experiences, especially of family farmers, fishermen, young people and also of two ladies of the Ngäbe people, who also presented us with the vision of how food and family farming comes in Panama.

Well, I would like to first of all give you the greetings of Mr. Tito Díaz, who is our sub-regional representative of FAO for Mesoamerica; which unfortunately he is with another commitment and he asked me if I could assist him doing the presentation, which is about the “Design and implementation of techniques for agricultural excellence, protecting natural resources.”

As we already heard, the population in the world is growing and with that the demand for food increases; and at the same time in some countries malnutrition has also increased.

If we see, for example, here in this table we see that by the year 2050, we expect almost 10 billion people in the world, and we are not talking about 2100 where there are going to be more than 11 billion people.

At the same time we have, as already mentioned, problems that there are 42 million undernourished people (who go hungry to bed every day); and of those, there are 6.1 million children under the age of five, who also suffer (in addition to undernourishment) deficiencies of micronutrients such as iron, vitamins.

And on the other hand, we have almost triple, more than triple, that is 140 million people, who suffer - who are obese, who are not undernourished, but are poorly fed because they eat the wrong foods and therefore have obesity problems.

And 360 million people are overweight, that is, they are not obese but they do have a few extra pounds; and of those there are 3 almost 4 million children who are already overweight; that has very important implications ⏤as we already heard it here⏤ for health and also for the economies of our countries, because these children are going to suffer…, there are already children of 5, 6 years who have diabetes, something that had not been seen before; adults are going to have problems surely, or there are already cases of many cardiovascular problems, of heart attacks; which are things that are worrying us.

On the other hand, the increased demand for food increases the pressure for natural resources, because to produce this food we need more resources; and on top of this, we have problems because as we were not taking good care of the world or the earth, we also have climate change impacts that every day are… this year was quite serious, with many hurricanes and things that affected us everywhere.

Then as we already said, with an increasing population; for example, in Central America we will have 30% more population, and for that we need to produce more food. And especially in developing countries, that is going to imply that we are going to need twice as much food, a percentage more than in the developing countries.

And for that we need to expand the production areas, we especially need to expand the dry land production areas and take better advantage of the areas where we can apply irrigation; and also ⏤as the comrade already said here⏤ we are going to need more water to produce the food; and if we do not take good care of it and if we do not agree who will use it and how, we will have problems, we will have conflicts; and we are contaminating it and we are reducing these resources.

To produce, there is an expansion of the agricultural frontier, which also leads to problems of deforestation; we also have problems in the seas, which are being affected by overuse of the seas but also by pollution, especially the mangroves that we are cutting.

Here in Panama, I think we have good examples of large cities that emerged in places where mangroves once existed, and that also causes our climate events to become increasingly extreme and increasingly frequent. The climate has always changed, there have always been changes in the climate, but we are seeing that today, these changes are much more violent and more frequent.

So what we are promoting as FAO, is that the intensification is sustainable. Unsustainable intensification of production increases the risks of animal health, human health and ecosystems; that’s why we promote a sustainable intensification.

The intensification that is not sustainable uses an intense mechanization, uses agrochemicals and biologicals in an inadequate way, increases the density of the crops, often also causing monocultures and crops that we do not really eat; many times they are for fuel production, for example, which compete with food.

And we also have the production of animals that often cause ⏤for example, in the Amazon⏤ the leaves and the animals themselves, the deforestation.

We also have a contamination problem. FAO is part of large agreements where these issues are regulated.

And on the other hand, they also said here: “No, if I do not eat fish because it is full of mercury, it is also full of plastic,” then we already know that there are islands the size of a continent floating there in the sea, and those particles, they are getting smaller and smaller and they are entering the food cycle, so those plastics somehow, through the fish are already reaching us, and already in some places people are already talking about an increase in cancer.

On the other hand, we have also through this production so unsustainable and intense, problems of pests and border diseases that are increasing.

We also have a problem (which is also a very worrying problem) that according to the way in which animal species are being produced, since many animals are in a very intense place, we have the problem that these animals are given antibiotics; and as these antibiotics are consumed by us, there are already a large number of people who are resistant to antibiotics; then when we get sick we get antibiotics and we die because there is no way to cure it.

But if we see, at the World Economic Summit, there was a study where they saw that there are different issues that are all related in the framework of sustainable development. Sustainable development is supposedly a development that is a balance between economic, environmental and social development, so these three have to balance; because it does not work to be only an economic development if we do not take into account that we are doing away with the environment; and we can not develop more economically if we do not take into account that this development is inequitable, that there are people who are dying of hunger, while others do not know what to do with their money.

Then a study was made and they saw that there are important issues, but that all these issues are somehow related among them. For example, climate change has an impact on food, on food production, and in the same way food production has an impact on our social issues; and for example, if there is no food, if we have problems that our environment is deteriorating, we also have a migration or movements of populations to other countries where they hope to have better opportunities. So all these issues are somehow related to each other.

And one of the things signed by the countries of this world (two years ago) was the 2030 Agenda, where there are 17 Objectives that the countries committed to meet to have a sustainable and equitable development, without leaving anyone behind; and these obligations are of all countries. And we, from the United Nations, are supporting countries to see, to measure progress in fulfilling this Agenda.

In any case, there are two very important issues: one that focuses on rights and the fight against inequality; the other, gender equality; the issue of the elimination of poverty (we have little time left in reality, 13 years to eliminate poverty in the world, I do not know how we are going to do it), I think it’s half unrealistic, but let’s try… And the important thing is —as the comrade here also said— we need the link between peace, security, rights and a holistic development (an integral development).

And to achieve these SDGs, these Sustainable Development Goals, the transformation of the rural sector is important. There is always talk of the rural sector, of farmers as a problem; but farmers, especially family farmers, contribute to the solution of our problems.

So, among them family farming is very important in the production of healthy and nutritious foods; and there is a commitment from behalf of family farming, this is a movement, an interest in working on that.

And what is being promoted is that the food systems… because it is a system, everything has to do with the other; it is not only producing food, but it has to do with the whole system: how it is consumed, how it is produced, how it is wasted, how… Everything is a system that is linked to the other. And these systems have to be efficient; and that is why it is also important that the development of rural territories or rural areas be sustainable and supported by social and technological innovation.

And in that sense, what is strengthening is the circle between agriculture, nutrition, health and education; for example, a lot of work is also being done on all the topics, this week I was just in a workshop, working on school feeding and school gardens; because the moment that people are taught to have a healthy diet and to have healthy habits should be in children, it is at that moment that they form their eating habits; and if we do not grab them at that moment and give them chips at the kiosk on the corner, and they go home and the mom does not have time and she gives them something that she took out of the microwave because she bought it at the supermarket, then we are not going to create those eating habits.

And what we are trying to do is also see how in schools it is also a whole integral circle to work with school feeding (that is, the food that is given to children in school), but to link everything to an education system, so that the garden, for example, is also used to educate children: how food is produced, to value the production of food.

How many children in the city think that milk comes from the supermarket box; they haven’t seen a cow in their lives, they don’t even know what the cow is about, and that there is a farmer who gets up every day at 4 in the morning to milk that cow and has to feed him, and in the afternoon he has to milk it again, and there is a system so that the milk does not go bad before it reaches the supermarket, that there is a risk that the little cow will get sick, that the snake will bite it; then, nobody knows all that, we have to value all of that.

So that’s why it’s so important to start with children, teaching them how food is produced, what healthy food is, what implications it has for their health, for their life, not to feed themselves in a sustainable way.

And another issue that I see here is: reduction of losses and waste. With the food that is thrown away in Panama, one could feed all the people, the 400,000 people who suffer from hunger in Panama, simply with the food that is thrown away every day, here in this country; and it is the same at a global level, I speak of Panama because I know the numbers, but globally it is the same: food is thrown away, wasted and lost; that is, in production there are many losses, and also in transportation, and then the waste of people who buy food and will not use it and throw it away.

So the other issue is that it’s one thing to work with people, but it’s another thing to have policies and food systems supported by poverty reduction policies; because it is not enough to simply work and train family farmers if they do not have a policy that supports them; and they need special policies. The same thing goes for indigenous peoples, they need policies that support the things they are doing; and we have to support that, to achieve a sustainable rural development.

Then the demands are changing: we are talking about nutritional food security, we are talking about conserving and using biodiversity better, and strengthening biodiversity, and adapting to climate change.

Well, I will not talk about all these things because they are a bit detailed and I think we do not have much time, but it is important to see that there are many movements that are being supported through FAO and other UN agencies.

The issue of agroecology, the importance of biodiversity is being recognized, because it is being lost through all these very intensive systems, biodiversity is being lost; and we are also working with indigenous peoples, with family farmers, to see how biodiversity can be maintained.

And the pillars for this transformation, on the one hand, is to economically include women, young people and indigenous peoples, give them opportunities. Young people, for example, in all Latin American countries, are those who have the most problems finding a job, finding opportunities, and that is why they are often the ones who migrate the most.

On the other hand, also make a management of social, economic and environmental risks in rural territories, but also in urban areas. In the World Food Day event, one of the issues and here we are going to hear about that too, urban agriculture, because many people migrate to cities, and also sometimes have spaces to produce their food.

And the other issue is the one that worries me, because if everyone is going to be in the city, who will produce our food in the future? If we do not value food production, at some point we will not have anyone produce; I do not know if we are going to have… maybe they will give us pills, they will make them synthetically, maybe, I do not know.

On the other hand, it is also important to strengthen the capacities and also the investments, because the producers that were there in the event, they said: “Well, we produce, but the road is shattered; then, how are we going to get our product to the markets? Who buys our product? We are working from dawn until dusk, but we live in poverty.” Then you also have to have investments and help to make this work worthwhile.

And here, well, as FAO we are already working in several areas; for example, we are working with young people, here these guys who are watching, this boy is a boy from Ngäbe, where we are working on the issue of forest monitoring of their own forests with drones, to see where there are problems of illegal deforestation, partly.

Also with rural women; many times in rural communities those that remain are women and children, because men often migrated, so it is also important to strengthen autonomy so that it also improves the quality of life of women.

Indigenous peoples are important peoples in the region in Central America, where we work, and we are working together; we had a meeting two years ago or so, where we established a joint agenda with representatives at a Latin American level, of what is expected by the indigenous peoples of FAO; and well there are many other events where we are working together.

This other issue is also precisely to strengthen these links between the urban and the rural; and there, small cities play an important role because people do not necessarily go directly to large cities, but they are in small cities where opportunities can be created.

The other issue is also that many times our producers or family farmers are abandoned, they do not have access to any service, the extension does not arrive (here in Panama the extension reaches 3% of the producers): they do not have access to land, no access to credit, no access to markets; then they are issues that must be strengthened. And they have to be specific to the needs of both women, of the local organizations…

And the important thing is also to work with the policy issue; here we were just talking: it is being approved in Guatemala or is being worked on right now - and here in Parlatino, we work with the Family Agriculture Framework Law, which was a year or so ago, that we were working here. So we are trying to move these issues at the policy level so that producers or family farmers have the necessary support.

School feeding —which I was already talking about— the importance they have, because on the one hand they are social programs, but on the other hand they are programs that have an important impact at a time when eating habits are formed.

And also, another thing that is also having a lot of impact, is that we are working with a sustainable school feeding program, where there is a link between what is consumed in school and family farming.

Guatemala has just approved the School Feeding Law, where 50% of the food that children will consume at school will be purchased directly from farmers, from local producers; and that also taking into account the eating habits. Here they mentioned that, well, they are giving things they do not (but, well, in Guatemala “we look like chipilín,” for example); then they are trying to recover and strengthen and value traditional systems in localities.

Well, also the issue of working in an inter-sectoral way because you can not solve problems individually; we have to work together among the different ministries (Agriculture, Health, Education...), it has to be a joint work.

Well, to restore systems we also have to think about the social, economic and ecological contexts, to restore natural resources.

A subject that is also being promoted at the Central American level through the CAC, is the topic of sustainable agriculture adapted to the climate, where I was already going to see all the work with the different ministries in Central America.

This year was quite strong with emergencies, but seeing how emergencies also help us to lead development, so that we are not in an emergency in the next, but we are resilient and adapted to them.

So I think there are many more things that I could tell you, but I think they are very specific, that maybe at this time it would not be…

Well, the issue on water is also a very important issue, which we have also been working on in the framework of the CAC; there was a big event on the subject of water to see how water is treated and conserved in the region, harvesting water; because water, for example, in the region does not lack (in almost all places). We saw in northeastern Brazil, where it rains 300 millimeters and sometimes it does not rain for 5 years, here we have between 1000 and 5000 in some places and sometimes we lack water, so it is a matter of learning how to use that water in a sustainable way.

Well, I do not want to continue with so many details, this is a presentation that was made for I think more time, and I tried to summarize it a little bit. There is a lot of information, if you enter the FAO page you will find many of these data that I was giving you on hunger, malnutrition and obesity, and of production, family farming and what we are doing.

Thank you very much, and sorry if I fell behind.