More than 20% of the population of Latin America and the Caribbean without access to a healthy diet

A report recently published by the United Nations (UN) concluded that 22.5% of the population of Latin America and the Caribbean does not have the necessary resources to access a healthy diet.

The data details that 131.3 million people in the American continent could not afford a healthy diet in 2020, the date of the last study. This is especially worrying as these figures represent an increase of 8 million over the previous year.

“No policy by itself can provide the solution to this problem,” emphasizes Mario Lubetkin, deputy director and regional representative of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) for Latin America and the Caribbean, convinced that ” it is necessary to strengthen national and regional coordination mechanisms to respond to hunger and malnutrition”.

According to data provided by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), this scenario is due to “the higher average daily cost of this type of diet in Latin America and the Caribbean compared to the rest of the world regions, reaching a value of of 4.23 dollars, followed by South America and Mesoamerica with 3.61 and 3.47 dollars, respectively.

Factors Contributing to Food Insecurity

In addition, it must be taken into account that the lack of access to this type of healthy diet is also related to other “socioeconomic and nutritional indicators”, such as the income level of a country, the incidence of poverty and the level of inequality.

To all this must be added “the increase in international food prices experienced since 2020, especially after the start of the conflict in Ukraine”, they point out from the PAHO, which caused “the rise in food inflation” and “increased the difficulties for that people can access a healthy diet.

It is the same opinion shared by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), which warns that the situation may worsen in the near future. “In the last two years, even before the crisis in Ukraine, 150 million people have once again returned to poverty or food insecurity,” explains Álvaro Lario, president of FIDA during an interview with the Voice of America.

The International Fund for Agricultural Development is an agency dependent on the United Nations whose objective is to promote and secure resources for the economic progress of rural areas, promoting projects to improve agricultural productivity.

In total, it is estimated that “3,000 million people in the world do not have a healthy diet and in many cases it is our own small farmers who cannot afford it”, figures that, in his opinion, “are scandalous ”.

the other crises

The UN justifies “a confluence of crises caused by climatic changes, conflicts and economic pressures” as the main causes of this escalation of famine, highlighting regions such as Latin America and the Caribbean.

“The reality is very harsh since we had seen a downward trend, that both poverty and food insecurity were decreasing. But I think that from the age of four or five the trend has reverted to a much worse situation”, comments Lario.

The report released by the UN also provides a series of guidelines to “improve the availability and affordability of nutritious food”, so that “the most vulnerable people and low-income households” could cope with this situation.

What to do about it?

“To contribute to the affordability of healthy diets, it is necessary to create incentives for the diversification of the production of nutritious foods aimed mainly at family farming and small-scale producers, measures for the transparency of the prices of these foods in the markets and trade, cash transfers and other actions such as improving school menus”, says Lubtekin.

Several international organizations, such as IFAD or FAO, stress that “trade and market policies can play a fundamental role in improving food security and nutrition, since through greater transparency and efficiency uncertainty is reduced and improves the predictability and stability of inter-regional agri-food trade”.

The FIDA president maintains that it is important to address the situation in a general way and drawing up global plans that do not only focus on only one part of the food crisis since, otherwise, it is very difficult to fight it successfully.

“A very clear example that I always give is that of the 2008 food crisis. So, we saw how many subsidies were being given to the production of seeds, but we saw that a year later a good part of that production was lost because we had nowhere to store nor how to distribute it”, he recalls.

One of the negative aspects that further accentuates this scenario is that Latin America and the Caribbean has become the region in the world “with the most expensive diet, which particularly affects vulnerable populations -small farmers, rural women and indigenous populations.” and Afro-descendants-, who allocate a greater percentage of their income to the purchase of food”, according to Rossana Polastri, regional director of FIDA in a statement collected by VOA.

“To reverse this situation, we must promote innovative solutions that diversify production and increase the supply of healthy food and that improve small producers’ access to markets and quality food,” he added.

“Investment in the region must increase”

Along these lines, Lario is convinced that investment plans can be a good tool to alleviate this scenario. “What is missing is investment, investment and investment. And it is not only an investment by the International Agricultural Fund, by the World Bank or the FAO, but it is also an investment by the countries themselves”, he defends, assuring that “if the investment does not occur even by the local governments nor for the development bank’s systems, and the platforms are not even put in place to attract the private sector” it will be very difficult to lay the foundations to appease this increasingly worrisome scenario.

So far, some social protection programs focused on improving nutrition have been implemented, especially in times of crisis like the current one, despite the fact that forecasts suggest that prices will continue to rise. “We must act now, but how can we do it? Supporting governments to expand social protection networks because the pandemic once again demonstrated that social protection is useful to improve the affordability of a healthy diet, preventing crises like this from hitting affected populations even more”.

According to data provided by PAHO, the number of hungry people in the region continues to rise. “Between 2019 and 2021, the number of hungry people in the region increased by 13.2 million, reaching a total of 56.5 million hungry people in 2021, a situation that was also affected by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic” says the report.

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