Private LatAm agri sector should invest in agtech and people

A World Economic Forum panel said rural development and technology are needed for the region to take advantage of its strong resources and boost production.

Latin American countries must invest in rural development, smallholder farmers and agtech to meet food demand, according to economic and agricultural experts at the World Economic Forum on Latin America.

A rural workforce depleted by urbanisation and struggling lack of technology is preventing the region from reaching its production capacity, delegates said.

In Colombia, these trends have been exacerbated by 60 years conflict that accelerated urbanisation and made rural development too risky, said the country’s vice-minister for agriculture and rural development Juan Pablo Pineda Azuero. With relative peace between rebels and the government, Colombia has a lot to catch up on.

[quote]We are in the days of the machete. We want to at least move on to the gas-powered lawnmower[/quote]

“We are in the days of the machete. We want to at least move on to the gas-powered lawnmower,” he said.

But across Latin America economic opportunity and access to public services has driven people from the countryside, something long-term private agricultural investors must also work to tackle, said Victor Manuel Villalobos Arámbula, director general of the Inter-American institute for cooperation on agriculture.

The inclusion of smallholder farmers in expanding agricultural production projects is one solution, said Laxman Narasimhan, chief executive of PepsiCo Latin America, adding that 80 percent of the people in the region produce 20 percent of the agricultural output.

The private sector should play its part and work with governments in ensuring supply chain reliability for both smallholders and large agribusinesses, said Narasimhan.

Investors have shown enthusiasm for Latin American agriculture investments, with secured debt-focused AMERRA raising more than $500 million in commitments for its third agriculture fund, and impact investment firm SEAF nearing a $20 million first close on its Colombia Agribusiness Fund. US general partner Farm Folio also said it plans to open Latin American agriculture to a wider pool of American investors through what its founder calls “farm shares” through an online platform, betting on an upsurge of interest in the region.