|CERES No. 105/109 - October 1985 (FAO Ceres, 1985, 50 p.)|
"The green revolution did not always have a beneficial effect in the traditional food producing sectors."
What is your evaluation of FAO's activities in Latin America during the past 40 years?
FAO's assistance during its 40 years has been characterized by its adaptation to the changing reality of the countries that make up the region.
Essentially, FAO's strategy, which used to be simple lending to those countries, has become a true catalyst of national efforts and policies for the agricultural, livestock, forestry and fisheries sectors; this active role has led with ever greater intensity to the promotion of horizontal exchanges among countries and to a greater font of experiences and understanding from outside the region. The policy goes back to the Buenos Aires Declaration on Technical Cooperation among Developing Countries.
One result of this policy has been the growing number of Latin American technical cooperation activities, several of which are being led by Colombia. One can also observe in the region the impact of the general FAO policy of following the recommendations of the World Conference on Agrarian Reform and Rural Development (WCARRD), which give priority in its Latin American and Caribbean programmes to the attainment of food self-sufficiency, greater utilization of a country's own resources, and access to goods and services by the least favoured rural populations.
FAO, by means of its representatives in the countries, continues to fulfil its traditional mission of technical assistance, transferring of technology and information and aiding governments to identify projects that will help achieve previously identified objectives.
What were the productive, economic, social and ecological results of the green revolution?
In Latin America, the green revolution has resulted mostly in great increases in production and productivity of maize, sorghum and soya, among others. Some countries with deficits in these products have achieved self-sufficiency and even exportable surpluses.
Nevertheless, the limitations of the strategy called the green revolution are clear. The emphasis was on the increase of physical yields rather than on economic profitability.
Implicitly, it was considered that advanced technology was neutral in terms of the production scales in which it was applied. This fact ignored the structural differences in the rural sector of Latin America in types of farms, tenancy, size of holding and access to complementary inputs needed with this technology.
The final result was that the green revolution did not always manage to have a beneficial effect in the more traditional food producing sectors.
In some cases, it brought capital-intensive technologies; this meant that much manpower, the most abundant resource of our countries, went unused. In other cases, like that of the Colombian coffee sector, the generation of employment and the productivity of the land did in fact increase.
Additionally, the excessive use of inputs in very delicate ecosystems led to a notable deterioration of the physical environment in some areas.
It should also be noted in this connection that the misuse of inputs in such crops as rice, sorghum and cotton also led to high levels of birth defects and sometimes fatal food poisoning.
Nevertheless, the modifications to this strategy, which were introduced later, were much better adapted to the characteristics of farming in this type of country. Such is the case in China today, where the introduction of appropriate technological packages has transformed the country into one of the world's largest producers of grain.
What, in opinion, are the continent's greatest problems in the areas of food, agriculture and rural development?
The first problem, without doubt, is development strategy, which is oriented essentially toward promoting industrial growth at the expense of the agricultural sector Food import policies to ensure low prices for the urban populations have meant that agricultural activities have been left relatively unprotected, exposing them to the fluctuations and the unfair competition of subsidized exports from developed countries. To redirect this strategy involves, in the short term, political costs which our countries must today assume.
A second problem is the dichotomy, in the agricultural sector, between commercial production (associated with raw materials and export products) and the traditional production of basic foods. Both the power structure of these countries and the administrative and operative capacity of the states make the instruments of policy more suitable to a development based on commercial rather than on traditional production.
These facts result in a division of society in that the rural population, tied to small production, continues to lag behind the economy as a whole. The social tensions generated by this division can, in some countries, lead to armed conflicts, which introduce still more elements of instability and backwardness.
Do you believe that there is adequate cooperation in the struggle for food security? What will be its expression and eventual advantages or defects?
In Latin America, the problem of food security is different from that faced by some regions of Africa. In our case, food security policy does not seek to resolve an imminent threat of famine, but rather to develop self-sufficiency and raise the nutritional level of the poorest strata of the population.
This difference in the nature of the problem also raises basic differences in the role that international organizations, such as FAO developed countries and the affected countries themselves can play. In the case of Latin America, support in rationalization and coordination of agricultural and nutritional policies at the regional and subregional levels are more important to achieve food security than external economic cooperation with such conventional mechanisms as food donations.
This distinction has not been entirely understood by the international organizations, which have hindered the development of programmes of this type in the various regions. It is necessary, therefore, to reorient international cooperation toward the specific inter and intracontinental circumstances to find an efficient food security system.
The Andes Group, in particular, is trying to develop a subregional system for food security which, by restricting food imports from third countries, achieves an adequate supply through regional exchanges and especially through increases of production and productivity by the rural sectors in the respective nations.
To encourage this effort and to try to extend it to other regions constitutes, for us, an excellent mechanism for gaining ground in the fight for a functional food security programme.
What is the state of the peasant movement and of rural cooperatives in the principal zones of the continent? What development do you foresee for such organizations.
The peasant movements in Latin America had a great boom in past decades, which led governments to support the emergent organizations and to regard participation of the peasant communities as a basic element of rural development. The processes of agrarian reform have caught the dynamism of the peasant movements and are bolstering their consolidation.
Nevertheless, even with the great differences in the political processes of the region, it can be stated that mechanisms guaranteeing full participation of the rural population in the design and making of policy and programme decisions have not always been found.
In countries like Colombia, there is today a resurgence of peasant organizations after a period of stagnation, and the importance of the cooperative sector is recognized as a basic element of cohesion for development of the least developed regions.
On the other hand, a new approach appears to be emerging at present in some organizations, which are moving from general claims to much more specific ones linked to the solution of regional problems and the formation of associative production groups. This situation can be favourable and respond to the needs of economic development, facilitating more effective and direct dialogue between these organizations and the governments, which are joining forces to reactivate traditional production in the field.
How do you see the situation of the rural woman in Latin America? What basic problems does she face as producer and as citizen?
In recent years the rural woman has shown a dynamic growth of participation in agricultural production, especially in the small units most affected by poverty. The contribution of women to the production of food in the region is being recognized in countries such as Mexico, Colombia and Paraguay, to cite just a few. At the same time, there are changes in the family structure that reflect the natural adaptation this process of greater economic integration requires.
The basic problem is that these changes are still not fully recognized by society and governments and therefore the dichotomy between men, as producer agents, and women, as exclusively domestic agents, remains; as a consequence, the peasant woman does not get adequate support for her work, and this critically lengthens her already long workday and her condition of backwardness.
FAO has played an important role in the discussion of these problems in our countries and has supported efforts which, in the case of Colombia, have led to the execution of policies and programmes expressly directed by rural women.
What is your opinion of the various agrarian reforms, some quite far-reaching, seen in recent years in Latin America? What have been their principal results, limits and lessons?
Considering the specific characteristics of each of the Latin American countries, one can state that the agrarian reforms of the last decade responded to general policies for facing situations of land pressure.
The equitable distribution of land and the development of a network of integrated services for the advancement of the peasant population were the basic principles of the strategies for agrarian reform. But these goals are not always reached in practice, among other reasons because of the political tensions caused by the prevailing structure of land tenure. Nevertheless, in many countries, the average farm size is today less than it was 30 years ago, which reflects the appearance of numerous mediumsize units and the gradual disappearance of the large, unproductive latifundium.
It has been recognized, at least in the case of Colombia, that the most important indirect effect of agrarian reform was the process of modernization it produced in some sectors of traditional agriculture. A more capital- and technology-intensive farm appeared and this led to greater dynamics in production.
What, in your judgement, is the cure for rural migration and the process of acute urban concentration that characterizes many countries in Latin America?
In the first place, it must be recognized that, although the rural-urban migration process has slowed down in recent years and the migratory flows have changed in terms of age and sex, the phenomenon continues in the majority of countries of the region.
But, more than rural-urban migration in itself, the object of concern in Latin America today is the combination of a structural problem of urban unemployment with the existence of a reserve army of minifundistas and peasant daily workers who, if they do not receive the attention they should, can exert excessive pressure on the urban labour market.
Therefore, the strategy of focussing on the agricultural sector is not only essential to guarantee an adequate food supply and equal social development, but must also be an essential component of a policy of employment.