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Dean addresses Colombian government, business leaders

Kathryn Boor, the Ronald P. Lynch Dean of Agriculture and Life Sciences, shared an international stage with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and former U.S. Treasury Secretary Larry Summers, Oct. 6.

In the keynote, Boor addressed the future of global agriculture to about 1,000 senior Colombian executives, government officials and educators at the ExpoGestion conference on Agriculture, Water and Energy in Bogota.

Colombia is well-positioned to take advantage of international opportunities, she said. But she warned that it would require public and private investments in agricultural research, markets and infrastructure in parallel with social acceptance of the resulting outcomes.

Boor said there are ample opportunities for Colombian agriculture to grow. Only 12 million of the country's 53 million acres of arable land are in use, primarily planted with coffee, palm, bananas and flowers. She encouraged the country to diversify its crops to move toward increased agricultural self-sufficiency.

Boor praised Colombia's agricultural business cooperative model, which has supported research, outreach, quality standards and marketing for more than 500,000 coffee producers, and led to the highly successful "Juan Valdez" branding. She mentioned Cornell's new relationship with Colombian dairy company Alpina, which recently broke ground on its first North American yogurt plant in Batavia, N.Y.

She also addressed the competing tensions associated with increasing agricultural productivity, stating, "Our ability to provide energy/fuel and healthful, adequate and safe food and water for the global population while simultaneously protecting the environment and conserving natural resources is a growing challenge."

Her remarks were timely as Colombia has been grappling with a sudden boom in mining that spurs economic growth but is challenging the government's ability to protect the country's fragile environment and the communities that depend on it.

In his remarks to open the conference, Santos said Colombia's challenge will be to know where to draw the line between development and the environment.

Summers, former president of Harvard University who was secretary of the U.S. Treasury under President Bill Clinton and director of the White House National Economic Council for a year under President Barack Obama, encouraged business leaders to continue to be innovative in their use of natural resources and praised Colombia for turning itself from a "failed state" to an "international model."

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Joe Schwartz