Uruguay National Day celebrations during the 2020 covid-19 pandemic, started in The Hague with a powerful message from Her Excellency Ambassador Laura Dupuy Lasserre reviewing Uruguay and The Netherlands bilateral relations up today. Due to pandemic restrictions in place this year it is not possible to host a reception with Uruguayan high-quality beef and wine, hopefully ambassador Dupuy shared valuable information about her country´s efforts regarding sustainable development, not always known by all.
“Uruguay and the Netherlands share many values, including the support to the multilateral system, the promotion of human rights and fundamental freedoms and the rule of law; having Uruguay nominated Dr. Ariela Peralta Distéfano, as candidate to the position of judge of the International Criminal Court.” Ambassador stated.
“Uruguay is a democratic country (one of few full democracies, as per the Economist ranking – Nr. 15 in the world in 2018 and 2019-), of 3.5 million persons, with a territory of 176, 215 km2 (or 17,6 million of hectares), of well irrigated plains and low hills over the Atlantic Ocean and Rio de la Plata. It is a temperate country with natural grasslands covering 11,5 million hectares, dedicated to extensive open-air cattle grazing of our 12 million cows, plus sheep. Another 2,6 million hectares dedicated to cattle grazing are made of improved pastures (exotic pasture, fertilized or with forage crops).
So, no need to deforest, on the contrary, adequate cattle grazing is the best solution to preserve the natural grasslands ecosystem with its rich biodiversity, as scientific studies show (better than without these herbivores). These natural grasslands have 400 species of grasses and leguminous plants and are the habitat of 222 of the 351 bird species present in the country, 55 of the 74 mammals, 36 of the 65 reptiles, 114 of the 315 wood plants, and more than 300 species of 39 botanical families, among many other living organisms.
Silvo-pastoral systems of cattle grazing not only play a role in preserving biodiversity, but also as carbon sink (through soil use management plans and control -which helps compensate for the emissions of methane by ruminants-). Moreover, open-air grass fed bovines consume only rain water from the grass and water courses, the same that will fall anyway in the habitat without the animals, and is part of the natural hydrological cycle (so it is not sweet water taken from population or to irrigate crops needed when you choose an intensive production in stables or feedlots -grain fed-). Extensive production does not present the problem of manure management (vs. intensive with its phosphorus and nitrogen pollution of soil and water courses).
90% of our bovine cattle, both for beef or dairy products, is raised in the field (in an eco-friendly manner, respectful of animal welfare). Only 10% of the bovine cattle in Uruguay goes through some stabling and are corn-fed, but our feedlots are just for less than the last 100 days, basically to comply with consumer preferences -like in the Northern hemisphere- (a more marbled beef, instead of the lean beef of 100% grass-fed animals).
100% of the animals are raised with no hormones, no antibiotics (as growth enhancer -and exposed to fewer diseases needing antibiotics as medicine, compared to stables-), and no animal origin feed is allowed (normative bans have been applied for years in all these aspects), so it is a safe product from a nutrition and health point of view (no antimicrobial resistance).
Besides, the animals and derived food products are 100% traceable. Uruguay also applies traceability (geo-referencing) to other sectors (wines, honey, citrus and poultry).
If our cattle are the largest GHG emission source (and at the same time the agri-sector is the responsible for carbon sink or 100% of GHG sequestration or removals) is because we have already been decarbonizing our Economy. Electricity generation reached in 2016, 97% from renewable energy sources, after a 2008 Energy Policy with a 2030 horizon.
As a reliable high quality food exporter complying with the stricter standards (Uruguay has been in 2019 the 5th larger world exporter of bovine beef with 5% of the total traded, the 5th of ovine beef with 1% of the total, or the 8th or 9th exporter in rice -exporting 95% of what we produce-) and in view of the future increase of the global population, and the country vulnerability to climate change and climate variability, Uruguay has for years committed to an agro-intelligent production strategy, with specific commitments under the UNFCCC Paris Agreement of 2015, to reduce the greenhouse gases (GHG) emissions per unit of product (low-carbon agricultural sector), among others.
The strategy for an “agro-intelligent Uruguay” promotes rural sustainable development, from a socio-economic and environmental point of view, aligned with a circular Economy and with climate change adaptation and mitigation (including the production systems, but also considering the energy matrix). The aim is to increase productivity without negative environmental impacts (or sustainable intensification, with less GHG emissions proportionally per product unit). Uruguay included in its UNFCCC first NDC specific goals towards 2025 of reduction of GHG (including methane) in the agri sector.
Among the measures already taken or being promoted are:
- Compensation of 50% of methane emissions by cattle through natural carbon sink of soil and forestry systems through sustainable forestry plantations and increasing native forests. (other goals are presented for CO2 and nitrogen).
- Satellite monitoring of responsible application of pesticides (better use of soil and water resources, public health, etc.).
- Control of producer’s plans of soil conservation and management (related to SDG15 -ecosystems-, SDG13 -climate change- and others).
Regarding labor standards, the ILO recognizes Uruguay as a pioneer, traditionally committed to labor protection and social dialogue.
Uruguay is chairing MERCOSUR this second semester of 2020 (PPT-U) and therefore highly values the fact that an agreement between MERCOSUR and the European Union has been reached in 2019 after 20 years of negotiations; text to be ready for signature before the end of 2020. We are confident that it will provide opportunities to every party, while promoting sustainable development.”
Ambassador Dupuy Lasserre also shared few poems by Mario Benedetti (including one in Dutch) and Idea Vilariño, both well-known Uruguayan writers born exactly 100 years ago in 1920.