Farmers in Latin America and the Caribbean are interested in using safe tools to improve the quality and resilience of crops and adapt to climate change. The Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) is supporting 34 member states in the Americas to implement science-based regulatory systems and create a policy environment that promotes technology adoption, which contributes positively to agricultural productivity growth. With technical cooperation and training, countries such as Honduras are becoming leaders in the use of agricultural biotechnologies that help farmers use less pesticides, require less labor, and earn higher net profits. IICA has organized seminars with regulators from 17 countries of the Americas.
In Latin America and the Caribbean, farmers are interested in adopting new crop varieties and livestock derived from biotechnology and genome editing that can withstand climate change pressure, as well as improve the taste, nutritional quality, and use of vital inputs. However, the science-based regulatory systems necessary for the adoption and use of these technologies are limited in several countries.
To assist in building institutional and regulatory capacity, the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) is using a coordinated approach to help its 34 member states of the Americas design and implement science-based regulatory systems to benefit farmers, consumers, and the environment, and to boost trade. As a neutral institute that contributes to strengthening the technical capacity of ministries of agriculture, IICA conducts training workshops, shares science-based information, and creates a process for cooperation and feedback to build trust. IICA has worked since 2006 with its member countries on institutional support, capacity building, and communication around biotechnology and biosafety issues.
In Honduras, IICA helped build the capacity of the Ministry of Agriculture to establish a clear and transparent regulatory framework. Farmers are now adopting biotech-developed crops that require fewer pesticide applications, require less labor to harvest, and result in higher net profits. For every dollar invested in the cultivation of biotech maize in Honduras, for example, farmers are now receiving $14.70 in profits.
Guatemala is beginning confined testing of some biotechnology products as well. With the support of IICA, both Honduras and Guatemala have developed science-based policies to regulate the adoption and use of genome editing in agriculture, which enables plant breeders to achieve traits desired by farmers, such as drought tolerance, or desired by consumers, such as higher nutritional content.
IICA is also supporting innovation for institutional cooperation in trade. An example can be found in Central America, within the framework of the Guatemala-Honduras-El Salvador Customs Union Agreement. This agreement began in 2015 when Guatemala and Honduras created the customs union to advance trade in goods and services; El Salvador joined the agreement in 2018. Since Honduras had adopted biotech maize (genetically modified to resist pests) and Guatemala had not, IICA supported the two governments by conducting a risk analysis of potential transboundary movements.
IICA also carried out joint work between Honduras and Guatemala to create the “Technical Rule on Biosafety of Living Modified Organisms for Agricultural Use” that was submitted to national public consultations in the two countries and to the World Trade Organization. This process helped Guatemala create a new biotechnology regulatory framework that now allows its agricultural research centers to conduct tests and confined field trials of new crops that can eventually be used by its farmers.
With more than 80 regulators from 17 countries of the Americas, IICA has organized several seminars to provide clarity for developers to create safe and useful products such as rice resistant to bacterial blight, mustard green that is gene-edited to reduce bitter taste, and gene-edited bananas with reduced browning. IICA also facilitates hands-on laboratory training in gene-editing in partnership with the Bioversity-CIAT Alliance in Colombia and the Technological Institute of Costa Rica (TEC).
Thanks in part to this institutional support and training offered by IICA, a growing number of Latin American countries have regulatory frameworks in place, allowing the research, development, and production of biotech products that are accepted by more farmers and consumers. Making these technologies accessible to farmers can boost agricultural productivity and improve lives and livelihoods.