Argentine Manuel Otero declares bid to lead IICA
JAVENE SKYERS Observer staff reporter firstname.lastname@example.org
THE election process for the post of director general at the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) is not set to commence until late April, but prospective candidate, Argentinian Dr Manuel Otero, has long been in preparation mode for the position which is expected to become available next year.
Otero, who has worked extensively with the organisation, hopes to succeed the current director general of the institute, Dr Victor Villalobos, who is serving his second term.
IICA, which is headquartered in Costa Rica, is the specialised agency of the Inter-American System for agriculture and aims to support the efforts of the member states, which include Jamaica and other Caribbean countries, to achieve agricultural development and rural well-being.
Otero, on a two-day visit to Jamaica last week, explained that as far as he knows, he is the sole candidate for the position to date, but it wouldn’t be rare for other countries to present candidates once the election process has been formally started. He added that, for any election, there are usually two or three candidates.
The director general candidate, who visited the Jamaica Observer’s Beechwood office in Kingston along with the Argentine ambassador to Jamaica Ariel Fernandez last week, laid out arguments to support his view that he is the best man for the job.
“First of all, I know IICA, and I joke that IICA knows me, but I know IICA very well, since I have worked 25 years in the headquarters and also other countries. I recognise the…realties of agriculture and I represent the country that has a past, present and future closely related with agriculture,” Otero said.
“Argentina is one of the key actors in the international agricultural arena, producing 130 million tonnes of grains and we also produce a lot of beef and fruits. I’m a part-time farmer, so I understand what agriculture is, because I represent the country in which agriculture expresses a strategic sector of our economy,” he continued.
Otero described his five-hectare farm, which includes an orchard of about 50 trees and among other agricultural inputs, as his “escape” from stress. He also maintained that, having visited or lived in various member countries, he understands the reality for the different agricultural sectors in different countries.
As it relates to the work of IICA, Otero said that Villalobos has eliminated the silos and compartments within the organsiation through modernisation as well as the introduction of flagship projects in an effort to unify all 34 offices of IICA.
“There’s one related to competitiveness and productivity, the other one with the promotion of family agriculture, the third one is social inclusion for those that are very vulnerable in the sector, and the fourth one related to coping with climate change,” Otero outlined.
He stated that the overall initiative is good, as the director general has taken an integrated approach with more consolidated efforts.
When asked about his prospective approach and initiatives should he be given the nod to serve in the position, Otero explained that a key focus of getting results is managing rural to urban migration in countries, as this has a significant impact on the agricultural sector.
“Yesterday, [las Tuesday] we had a meeting with Minister (Karl) Samuda and he emphasised that the next director general has to take decisions based upon data…Countries are waiting on results; results are not (just) documents…IICA has to help to continue working together with the member countries in transforming agriculture and improving the quality of life in rural areas,” he said.
He added: “I’m preoccupied with the way in which Latin American countries, in general, the people from rural areas are going to the big cities and, in part, it’s sort of the failure of rural development strategies. We have to consider these rural areas as the spaces of social construction in which agriculture is equally important as non-agricultural opportunities.”
Otero said efforts, therefore, need to be concentrated in trying to promote strategies and goals that result in reducing the numbers of people immigrating to cities.
He added that agriculture has been transformed and has become very sophisticated in which the services, commercialisation activities, research, trade and banking are becoming very important and interrelated.
“The farmers of this century are much more sophisticated and have to take advantage of the new technology in order to increase productivity to put more value added in basic products, to understand the variables of climate change. So, agriculture is not anymore an art, it’s a very complex science in which farmers and workers have to be prepared,” Otero stated.
He said rural farmers need to understand that new agriculture is emerging and that the sector is industrialising and modernising, which is a trend no one can stop.
Otero noted, too, that the rural development strategy for IICA moving forward has to be high on the agenda, and that agriculture, especially rural and family agriculture has to be seen as part of the solution and not the problem.
“We have to see agriculture as the glass being half-full, instead of half-empty. We have to provide credit, we have to provide appropriate technology, we have to provide extension service in order for farmers themselves to become protagonists of this new agriculture revolution,” he said.
However, Otero pointed out that while IICA has limited resources, as it is a technical corporation institution and not a bank, he posited that it is not necessarily a matter of resources that will make agriculture in the various countries of the region successful, but a willingness to do as much as is possible.
According to his curriculum vitae, Otero is a trained veterinarian who has a Master of Science in Agriculture Development as well as a Master of Science in Agricultural Sciences, in addition to specialised training in quality management and systems and high management applied to agriculture.
Otero served as a professor of genetics at the Faculty of Veterinary Science at the University of Buenos Aires in Argentina, before moving on to holding various positions within IICA such as the head advisor of the director general in 1989, as well as the post of director of programming and evaluation for three years, having started in 1991.
He then moved to the position of director of the Andean Regional Centre of IICA in Peru in 1994, and later a representative of the IICA office in Uruguay and then Brazil, where he also held the position of technical coordinator of IICA’s southern region.
His most recent posting within the organsiation is special advisor of IICA’s director general for institutional matters in Argentina, which he has held since 2016. Otero has also served in various agricultural capacities outside of IICA, such as being listed as the agricultural counsellor in the Agriculture Secretariat of Argentina in Washington, DC, and vice-president of National Agricultural Technology Institute in Argentina.