Access to technologies and adoption of Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs) are the keys to agriculture in Latin America
Interview with Valdemar Fischer, Chairman of the Board and José Perdomo, Executive President of CropLife Latin America
Which were the issues that demanded the most effort in 2018 from CropLife and its associations?
It was a very dynamic year, we focused on supporting the fight against the illegal trade of pesticides and winning allies for that purpose, we continued to promote good agricultural practices which is a daily mission that will never end, and we took care of multiple fronts in regulatory matters. All were efforts made as a team with the National Associations.
Did the authorities' commitment to the fight against illegal trade increase?
Today we can say that there is a greater awareness because we have all made visible the negative impact of the illegal trade of pesticides. The joint efforts with authorities, associations, and companies have generated preventive and operational actions to seize and dismantle criminal organizations located mainly in Brazil, Paraguay, Chile, Colombia, Bolivia, Guatemala, and Mexico.
What were the milestones in regulatory matters in 2018?
One of the most important processes in 2018, which has not been completed yet, is the law that modernizes the registration of pesticides in Brazil; this is necessary for the entry of cutting-edge products. In the Andean region, the Andean Technical Manual was updated. In Costa Rica, the registration regulation that will allow the entry of more innovative products is already in force. There were prohibition initiatives that were withdrawn once the authorities analyzed the technical and scientific support of the products.
What do you mean by innovative or state-of-the-art products?
As in all industries, crop protection products or pesticides have permanent improvements. If we compare products from the 60s or 70s with the more modern ones, we find great differences; for example, newer ones are degraded more easily, they have lower toxicity, and lower doses are required. There is also innovation in the packaging, such as the water soluble bags. These technologies are more environmentally friendly and safer. For this reason, to mention an instance, Brazil needs to update its regulation and allow access to cutting-edge products.
What other examples of innovation came in 2018 for pest control?
Today farmers have more integrated technological packages to protect their crops. The most modern pesticides are complemented by application equipment that allows greater precision; the use of drones for monitoring and integrated pest management, biological products to be used in organic or conventional crops, seeds resistant to pests, and a wide range of digital applications that allow them to have all the monitoring and production of the crop online.
Does the profile of a Latin American farmer allow him to take advantage of these innovations?
Undoubtedly, today’s farmers have more access to communication and are more informed and interested in new technologies. But here is a task for all; we must ensure access to information, education and technologies to the weakest links of the agricultural chain. We hope that in 2019, cell phone and internet coverage will grow in rural areas and that the use of cell phones by small-scale farmers will increase. Access to the internet has allowed farmers to receive and share knowledge to improve their practices.
We can have all the possible technology at our hands, but without Good Agricultural Practices, (GAPs), we cannot move towards a more sustainable agriculture. What happens with the control and monitoring of the implementation of GAPs in the field?
There is increasing awareness of the need to comply with GAPs and mandatory processes are being put in place. Every country has regulations that force the authorities to monitor their compliance, and in all of them there are multiple guidelines and shared requirements. Additionally, 2018 leaves us with a learning experience on this front; the initiative of the GAP Network of Argentina, an inter-institutional alliance that promotes Good Agricultural Practices by recommending regulations for the application of crop protection products, using indicators so that each farmer can track their implementation, and granting agricultural certifications. It is a model that demands the participation of the entire chain and that is also being considered in Uruguay.
What progress can be highlighted in CropLife Latin America’s GAP training programs?
Our network of 25 associations continued with different training models both in the CuidAgro program, dedicated to Good Agricultural Practices, and in CampoLimpio, focused on the final disposal of packaging. With the multiplier training model, we were able to reach 200 thousand people in person, and more than 60 thousand tons of plastic were collected from the field, which was mostly recycled.
What progress does CropLife Latin America report in online education?
This year we updated the design of the virtual courses platform, making it more user-friendly. We also launched the Introduction to Biotechnology course, and are currently working on a course about Pesticide Risk Management and Mitigation. Additionally, the English version of the platform was enabled. We applaud the development of other public and private virtual training initiatives, because it is the future.
What are the most relevant issues for 2019?
We will maintain our efforts in the promotion of the responsible handling of agrochemicals; we will continue the proactive dialogue with authorities, farmers and other sectors of society to seek the improvement of regulatory systems and a greater understanding of the sector in areas such as innovation, illegal trade in pesticides and the sustainability of modern agriculture.
Hand in hand with GAP, there are other issues of high social concern, such as the health of pollinators. How was this topic addressed in 2018?
Bad agricultural and beekeeping practices affect pollinators; there are areas where farmers are unaware or ignore the importance of pollination and the benefit to their own crops, and therefore, they do not protect them. On the other hand, many beekeepers do not have an adequate sanitary control of the beehives and in some places there is no communication and cooperation between beekeepers and farmers. We continue to work with authorities and other organizations in conducting training sessions in Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico and Brazil. But it is very important to add allies so that farmers and beekeepers implement best practices and coordinate better. It is also necessary to highlight that the world production of honey has been increasing in recent decades. In Mexico, for example, it increased more than 34% in 2018.
What is your view on pesticide residues in food?
Consumers should trust authorities and science when they argue that the presence of pesticide residues in food is so low that it is not a health risk; this is proven by studies and technical and scientific analysis, and by regulatory authorities around the world. It is a very emotional issue rather than rational, in which we are working and we will continue doing so in 2019. When in doubt we must always resort to the answers of science, and do it in a clear, transparent and accessible way.