The Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) celebrated its first 80 years of existence with the official opening of the Plaza of Agriculture of the Americas, a public space constructed at the front of the organization’s headquarters in San Jose, Costa Rica.
The new plaza, which was declared a site of public interest by the Government of Costa Rica, seeks to highlight the value of agriculture, the rural world and biodiversity in an urban setting.
The commemoration ceremony was attended by Stephan Brunner, Vice President of Costa Rica; Lydia María Peralta, Acting Minister of Foreign Affairs and Worship; Jannixia Villalobos, Vice Minister of Science, Innovation, Technology and Telecommunications; Rolando Méndez; Mayor of Vázquez de Coronado; Saboto Caesar, Minister of Agriculture of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines; Manuel Otero, Director General of IICA; as well as numerous specially invited guests, including parliamentarians from Costa Rica’s Legislative Assembly, members of the diplomatic corps, representatives of international organizations, private sector executives and residents of Vásquez de Coronado – the canton where the Institute’s headquarters is located.
The plaza was launched as one of the activities to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the organization whose mission is to spur agricultural and rural development in the hemisphere. IICA was established on 7 October 1942, under the name Inter-American Institute of Agricultural Sciences. The ceremony also launched “The Soul of Rurality”, a book that recounts stories of the men and women who are making a difference in rural areas of the Americas, while also paying tribute to the Directors General Emeritus of IICA.
The ceremony recognized the Institute’s founder, Henry Wallace, who was a U.S. agronomist that also once served as his country’s Secretary of Agriculture and Vice-President. Moreover, the book paid tribute to former IICA Directors General Armando Samper, José Emilio Araujo, Francisco Morillo, Martín Piñeiro, Carlos Aquino, Chelston Brathwaite and Víctor Villalobos.
The commemorations featured a video message by celebrated Argentinian composer and singer León Geico, who was one of the popular musicians who took part in a 2020 IICA campaign to recognize and thank the farmers and food chain workers whose toil in the height of the COVID-19 pandemic guaranteed the food supply for the countries of the Americas.
The central role of agriculture
“Have you ever asked yourself what our lives would be without those men and women who work the land? I don’t think so”, Bruno reflected, in reference to the particularly challenging situation that farmers are now facing, given the impact of the war in Eastern Europe, the high prices of agricultural inputs and climate change.
“IICA—said Brunner—has been one of the key partners for farmers in Costa Rica and the Americas. Its programs, studies and publications have assisted millions of people. Not only has it become a benchmark for good production practices, but is also a forum in which research and international cooperation come together to foster food self-sufficiency and food security”.
The Plaza covers a total surface area of 455 square meters, surrounded by green zones. It has a linear-meter water trail running along its promenade, designed to depict a watershed. It also contains planting beds featuring the varied topography of the Americas, with designs symbolizing rectangular, flat, orderly, as well as curved and terraced farms. The vegetation is also representative of the countries of the Americas.
The Plaza boasts a mini amphitheater that can accommodate cultural, artistic and commercial activities for the entire population, particularly for small farmers and artisans from Coronado, which is considered as one of the most rural municipalities of Costa Rica.
Manuel Zamora, a Vásquez de Coronado resident, remarked that, “The canton is overjoyed at IICA’s decision to open up a space for the public to facilitate recreation and to strengthen relations with the community, as part of its social responsibility and humanistic vision”.
Similarly, Rolando Méndez, Mayor of Vázquez de Coronado, congratulated IICA on opening its doors to the community and expressed the canton’s pride in having “housed the Institute for several decades, during which time we have witnessed the perhaps silent but productive efforts that have made a significant impact on agriculture throughout the Americas”.
Reasons to celebrate
“Believe me, 80 years don’t come by often. Which is why we have plenty of reasons to celebrate today”, said Otero in beginning his speech.
“The Inter-American Institute of Agricultural Sciences was founded in 1942 in the midst of World War II, as the world was grappling with the need to improve the supply of raw materials. Eight decades later, we are experiencing a similar multidimensional crisis. Today, food security is at the top of the global agenda once again, and agriculture’s standing as a strategic sector for achieving greener, more resilient and more inclusive development is being strengthened. Above all, agriculture today is an indispensable tool for peace”, said the Director General of IICA.
Otero remarked that the inauguration of the Plaza of Agriculture is not an isolated event, noting that it forms part of a master plan to transform IICA’s image. He listed other emblematic initiatives, such as the Interpretive Center for Tomorrow’s Agriculture (CIMAG), an interactive educational space that showcases the technologies that are already transforming regional agriculture; the Fab Lab, an agricultural innovation laboratory; the Typical Rural House, which is reminiscent of rural traditions in our hemisphere; the Forest of the Americas; the mural of agriculture and urban art; and AgroArt, IICA’s Virtual Art Museum.
“All of these initiatives embody the spirit of an institution that firmly believes that agriculture is a strategic sector in efforts for sustainable development and that working together is the only way that we will be able to assist in improving the living conditions of all the people in our hemisphere”, said Otero.
Defending the interests of agriculture
Laura Suazo, Secretary of Agriculture and Livestock of Honduras and Chair of IICA’s Executive Committee, and Marcos Montes, Minister of Agriculture, Livestock and Food Supply of Brazil and Chair of the Inter-American Board of Agriculture (IABA), also delivered video messages during the event.
“IICA is a very important strategic partner for our country, in terms of identifying long-term programs as well as projects that can provide rapid responses to the very difficult context we are experiencing”, said Suazo.
Montes noted that IICA has helped its 34 Member States to implement projects of key importance for agricultural development and has played a leading role in positioning the Americas on the global stage as well as defending the interests of agriculture in trade discussions and, more recently, in environmental debates.
Saboto Caesar, Minister of Agriculture, Forestry, Fisheries, Rural Transformation, Industry and Labor of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, participated in the celebration ceremony in his capacity as Dean of the Ministers of Agriculture of the Americas.
“Henry Wallace planted a seed and produced a beautiful plant. Millions of people in our hemisphere are working day to day, and we can’t have all of them here in this room today. But IICA’s hard work will continue to have a positive impact not only in our hemisphere, but around the world”, remarked Caesar.
“Twenty years from now, we will celebrate 100 years of IICA. For all the future Directors General: you will stand on the shoulders of giants. There are four fundamental tenets for development: there must always be a clear expression of political will, there is an important need for a legal framework, the factors of production must be mobilized and there must be a clear process for implementation”, said the minister.
“Manuel, my brother, you have done an excellent job and you continue to work very hard in the vineyard of the struggle for the integration of our hemisphere”, added Saboto Caesar.
Lastly, Julián Arias Varela, Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Livestock of Costa Rica, highlighted the coincidence between IICA’s anniversary and that of the Costa Rican ministry, which is also celebrating 80 years. “Agriculture in Costa Rica, and in our region as a whole, owes a great deal to IICA”, he noted.