A strategy for sustainable intensification of agriculture in Latin America and the Caribbean

Martin Kropff, Director General, CIMMYT

With the looming challenge of feeding nine billion people in 2050, the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) fully supports the clear recommendations put forward by the AgroLAC 2025 Initiative for policies to help Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) sustainably realize the potential of its outstanding natural resources.

Martin Kropff joined CIMMYT from Wageningen University and Research Center (Wageningen UR) in the Netherlands, where he was rector magnificus and vice chairman of the executive board for almost 10 years.  From 1990 to 1995, Kropff was the systems agronomist at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in the Philippines  From 2013 to 2015, he was a member of the board of directors of CGIAR, the 15-member consortium of international agricultural researchers to which CIMMYT and IRRI belong.

Martin Kropff joined CIMMYT from Wageningen University and Research Center (Wageningen UR) in the Netherlands, where he was rector magnificus and vice chairman of the executive board for almost 10 years. From 1990 to 1995, Kropff was the systems agronomist at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in the Philippines From 2013 to 2015, he was a member of the board of directors of CGIAR, the 15-member consortium of international agricultural researchers to which CIMMYT and IRRI belong.

However, this process cannot occur without investment in sustainable farming practices, crop improvement, infrastructure, research and capacity-building efforts across the agricultural sector. Neither will the presence of high-potential farmland and untapped resources alone help guarantee better livelihoods and diets for farmers and communities.

Local governments, development agencies, foundations and higher education and research institutions must invest heavily in agricultural research and development. If they do so, the return on their investment will be profound; this we can already see in the work of CIMMYT in Ecuador, Guatemala and, most notably, Mexico.

We work to bring the latest research and technology in precision and conservation farming practices to farmers at all scales. This supports them to adopt the optimal farming system for their needs to improve productivity with minimal use of resources and cost to the environment. Conservation agriculture has been shown to cut by half, on average, the manual labor needed from farmers and also to reduce fossil fuel consumption by 70 percent.

The application of this strategy requires collaboration with and between farmers, seed and machinery producers, service providers, extension workers and policymakers.

In Mexico alone, this amounts to a network of over 150 partners, 50 research platforms, 233 demonstration modules and several thousands of extension plots, reaching over 200,000 farmers. The application of knowledge and technology at scale has the potential to be truly transformative, raising national maize and wheat productivity by 25 percent and 10 percent, respectively, by working with some of the most marginalized farmers in resource-poor areas of Mexico.

The MasAgro Móvil project demonstrates one of the methods used to bring knowledge to those that need it most. This is a subscription mobile phone service that provides timely information about weather conditions and the best farming practices to adopt in their area. The project is made possible through the collaboration and information system of Mexico’s Agriculture Secretary (SAGARPA), and uses a train-the-trainers approach to provide the right advice; 287 extension workers are training 2,500 agronomists to provide advice to the 36,000 farmers participating.

The potential of this system is enormous and the CIMMYT team has now developed an improved knowledge management concept with ICT as a supporting element. With further investment, we hope to to deploy, test and further improve this service not only in Mexico, but also in the rest of the region.

CIMMYT is ready to support the AgroLAC 2025 Initiative, and all of the partners involved, by continuing its efforts to raise funds for research and implementation of sustainable intensification practices, so that consumers and producers alike can live better lives. I believe that the innovative spirit and ambition of its citizens and leaders can turn Latin America and the Caribbean into a leading region for agricultural excellence in the 21st century.