Speech of President Juan Manuel Santos at the 50th Anniversary of the International Center for Tropical Agriculture

What a great joy it is to come to Palmira, the agricultural capital of Colombia, to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of an institution as valuable and important as the International Center for Tropical Agriculture.

It is an amazing thing to look back and see how much our country has changed since CIAT laid eyes on us to base its international research center.

Since then, CIAT—with an unwavering commitment—has contributed a very large number of research studies to the global purpose, because it is indeed a global purpose, of building a food-secure future, reducing rural poverty, enhancing food security, and promoting sustainable management of natural resources.

And it has done so as part of a large international partnership that gathers 15 agricultural research centers and a broad range of strategic partners.

Among the multiple contributions of CIAT to such global purpose, it is worth mentioning the distribution of more than 1,000 improved varieties of bean, tropical forages, and cassava across more than 160 countries in Asia, Africa, and the Americas.

They were just showing us the distribution of those varieties in an impressive facility.

CIAT has invested a considerable amount of resources, US$2.3 billion in the last 50 years.

But this investment has generated revenues for more than US$39 billion. In other words, this is something remarkable even just from the financial point of view.

But let’s go back to CIAT and its fortunate arrival to our country.

Shortly after this headquarters were established, the Government of President Carlos Lleras Restrepo assigned to CIAT and ICA the Carimagua farm, located in the Department of Meta, for them to conduct research on the native savannas of our country.

Back then, ICA, in addition to being the county’s phytosanitary authority, was responsible for conducting research and transferring knowledge, a task nowadays performed by Corpoica.

The fact is, that the cooperation was so substantial that when Brazil created the currently renowned Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation, it sent its researchers to be trained at Carimagua.

Brazil made a large, a very large, progress in incorporating its savannas to agricultural production, to the extent that today it is a world leader in food production.

I remember that at the beginning of this Administration, and as Minister of Agriculture may be you do too, Dr. Juan Camilo, this was the first country we visited. We wanted to see what we could learn from Brazil, since it had made so much progress when in fact, it was Brazil that 43 years earlier had sent its researchers to us, to see what they could learn from Colombia.

And Colombia could have experienced the same transformation, but—unfortunately—violence run rampant on our country, especially on the rural area, and stalled progress in many fronts for more than five decades.

But as the saying goes, it is never too late to start over. And this new Colombia, said Dr. Echeverría, is the one we’ll be able to build now!

United, we Colombians, made possible what once seemed impossible: put an end to an armed conflict that lasted more than 50 years.

We let go the heavy and painful burden of war—which for us all felt as a curse that would never be lifted—and now we have the opportunity to build peace.

CIAT accompanied us in the last years, all these years, and especially in the most difficult years. You believed in our potential and have never stopped working for the benefit of smallholder farmers and, in general, for the Colombian agricultural sector.

The countryside—both a scenario and a victim of war—today must play a leading role in the construction of a more prosperous country, a more developed country, a more reconciled country, a country at peace.

And the work of all of you, CIAT officials and workers, will be even more important, not only to deliver the promised fruits of peace across the regions, but also to reach something Colombia has always kept close to its heart, because we have always been proudly involved in the creation and advancement of the Sustainable Development Goals, especially those related to overcoming poverty in all its forms and eradicating hunger.

And, of course, in making Colombia a global breadbasket. This is one of our dreams.

According to FAO, we are one of the five countries with the largest potential, owing to our location and our soils. This is something we need to harness.

And here you have contributed significantly to strengthening the country’s scientific research capacity thanks to the training that more than four thousand Colombians received from you in agriculture-related areas.

Many of the doctoral graduates we have today in Colombia are counted among CIAT’s outcomes.

And your committed work—hand in hand with Colombian partners and the Government—has helped us enhance our food security and increase rural household incomes.

As a result of such partnerships, it was possible, among other things, to release more than 100 improved seed varieties of rice, cassava, bean, and tropical forages for feed.

Such improved beans, for instance, contain almost 60 percent more iron and they cook faster, so less energy is spent to prepare a highly nutritious food.

It has been proved that forage crops could help mitigate the effects of climate change, which is a priority for our nation, because we unfortunately are—let’s never forget—one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change.

That’s what this is all about! About optimizing the resources nature has provided us for the benefit of us all, especially those who need it the most.

During the last seven years under my administration, the Government has been trying to play its part, and while I am the first to acknowledge that there is still a long way to go, we have made significant progress.

Since 2010, over 1.8 million new hectares have been sown to crops; we have registered the tenure of 3 million hectares of land to peasants and indigenous communities, and we have returned 200 thousand hectares to victims of the armed conflict.

And we have given renewed impetus to the countryside through aids and solutions to improve the quality of life of its inhabitants. We have already allocated US$20 billion in credits for farmers and rural housing solutions delivered to more than 90 thousand families.

In addition, we have undertaken a structural reform of entities from the rural sector to bring them closer and reconnect them with the reality of the country ans the world.

All the decisions we have made are being translated into progress, in opportunities for the Colombian countryside. For instance, out of the 3.2 million employments we have created in the last seven years—formal jobs for the most part—nearly one million and a half are concentrated in the countryside.

This has gone hand in hand with a priority we had set ourselves, of reducing poverty in rural areas, where it is mostly concentrated.

And the result is quite good. One and a half million people have been lifted out of poverty in the countryside.

We know CIAT will remain an ally in the advancement of Colombia, and we will continue working together.

We will further strengthen research and agricultural technology transfer. That’s where Corpoica is a key player.

Corpoica’s current situation is very different to what it was seven years ago, when we found it underfunded and, let it be said, quite discredited.

Today it is a major partner of the Colombian agrarian sector; it has a team that includes 140 members with doctoral degrees and more than 800 employees with technical, professional, and postgraduate backgrounds. Moreover, its funding is totally secured.

Every time I visit Corpoica I feel injected with optimism for the future, with the productivity rates mentioned by Juan Lucas, in contrast to what can be done and what is being done in the Colombian countryside, in addition to sustainability.

And I remember very well a visit I made some months ago, where he said: look, any Colombian farmer can send a sample of his land, and when it arrives at Corpoica, we can tell him what fertilizers he has to use and what crops he can grow, all of this is done through Servientrega.

Now that the owner of Servientrega is running for President of Colombia, he will be able to continue to provide this service, and I think that is great. It is wonderful that a farmer can send samples and the analyses are returned to him for free. That is the future.

The investment in silvopastoral livestock systems is increasing. We visited the Colombian Caribbean, and the increase in milk and beef productivity is impressive; that is why this is one of the fronts where CIAT will also play a leading role for the future of Colombia.

And, in addition to its work in joint collaboration with CIAT, Corpoica is also engaged in major value chains, such as cocoa, avocado, citrus fruits, and other crops that are crucial to food security and rural development.

We still have much to do and we are just at a very early stage, but we are moving forward in the right direction.

And we want to ensure that this new—promising and challenging—period we are living through, has rural Colombia at the core of its progress.

A countryside at peace is a countryside that makes progress and is able to—responsibly—take advantage of the enormous potential we have in terms of food production.

I therefore welcome the existence of projects such as “Future Seeds,” a valuable initiative by CIAT seeking to safeguard global food security through crop conservation.

Today we seal an alliance—that had been nurtured for quite some time—to support the construction of a new building for CIAT’s Genebank, whose facilities I have just been visited.

And for those of you, who do not know what a genebank is, let me share with you that it is a seed bank, where the genetic diversity of many crops is conserved.

Speaking of which, I am not sure if it was Peter who said: “what we do here is to protect biodiversity,” and it was heavenly music to my ears; this is something that we Colombians must always do, because our country has an extremely rich biodiversity.

In over 24 hours I will be in London, I will be awarded, not me, but all of you will be awarded a prize for protecting biodiversity, those biodiversity-rich areas.

We received Colombia with 13 million protected hectares, and I hope that by the end of my Administration, we will have more than 30 million protected hectares, and that represents a wealth we need to care for at any cost; it is the greatest wealth we or any country can ever possess.

I was impressed to a great extent, and let me tell you about this little gadget. When Prince Charles came to visit, since he was very interested in all environmental and biodiversity issues, I invited him to the Chiribiquete Park and he told me, and to the present he still states, that it was the most fascinating experience he has had on this front, the front of biodiversity. What he felt or breathed was something he had never experienced in any other part of the world.

I told him: well, I have an idea; Colombia is a country very rich in biodiversity. We are perhaps the richest country per square kilometer and the Chiribiquete Park is likely to concentrate the largest biodiversity in the whole world.

Simultaneously, in London, in the London Stock Exchange, the New York Stock Exchange, or the Frankfurt Stock Exchange, companies taking the most value are those engaged in biotechnology.

How can we link biodiversity to biotechnology, preserve biodiversity and at the same time harness that natural wealth? And why don’t you help us?

A crusade was launched there, a dream of a new botanical expedition. I told the then Director of Colciencias—today Minister of Education—as well as the then Minister of Education, María Fernanda Ocampo, who is a native of Valle del Cauca.

I told her: let’s organize a new botanical expedition, but with today’s technology. If the technology used by José Celestino Mutis 200 years ago managed to discover what he discovered, today, with peace, we can do something similar and perhaps we will discover very important things; and that’s what I told Prince Charles.

When we went to England on an official visit at the end of last year, he invited me to the Science Museum and he said: do you remember you told me that you wanted to use today’s technology to discover new species? And he showed me and handed me this little gadget.

This is how one could identify DNA on a computer and, virtually in real time, discover new species.

There are 21 planned and executed expeditions, there are still nine to go, I am hoping I can join one of them; we are going to Vaupés, but many more species have been discovered and this is an asset we Colombians have, that we must harness but, most importantly, safeguard.

Thus, for the Genebank, we are going to provide US$3.3 million, as approved in the latest budget increase, in addition to Corpoica collaborating with CIAT to conduct research on genetic resources that will sharpen the competitive edge of our agricultural sector.

With all this, with everything you have done, for rendering a great service to the country and humankind, and as a token of this Government’s admiration for what you have done, I am pleased to award you the National Order of Merit in the Degree of Silver Cross for these first 50 years of work towards an agriculture that is more productive and, especially, more climate smart.

It is great to know that we can rely on the best partners to face the challenges that lie ahead.

Congratulations on your Golden Anniversary and may you keep producing wealth and prosperity for humankind.

Thank you.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This