Latin America is an agricultural powerhouse, but has suffered a sharp increase in hunger in recent years, highlighting the need to transform its agrifood systems to make them more efficient, inclusive, resilient and sustainable, said Qu Dongyu, director-general of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
"The rise in hunger, poverty and malnutrition is a paradox for a region that contributes significantly to the world's food supply and produces enough food to feed its entire population," he said at an event organised by the Development Bank of Latin America on the sidelines of the 77th session of the General Assembly, which brings world leaders to New York.
No region of the world was more affected by the COVID-19 pandemic than Latin America and the Caribbean, where economies shrank twice as much as the global average, poverty rose to its highest level since 2006 as employment was wiped out and 65.6 million people went hungry, with nearly five times that number, or more than 40% of the population, facing moderate or severe food insecurity, according to data from the UN agency.
The war in Ukraine, along with other conflicts, has exacerbated the pandemic's impact and added more unpredictable challenges, especially for countries in the region that are net importers of wheat, maize and vegetable oils, all of which have been subject to price shocks in the past year.
Even the region's capacity as a net food exporter is at risk due to the rising cost of fertilisers, which could affect staple food production and yields and trigger a crisis of food availability and affordability, the FAO Director-General added.
1) Provide immediate support to vulnerable people through social protection systems, especially in rural areas and among vulnerable groups.
2) Boosting agricultural production by ensuring that family farmers have affordable access to seeds and fertilisers, working capital and technical assistance, and links to markets.
3) Facilitate trade in agricultural commodities and inputs to avoid further disruptions in food production.
4) Investing in climate-resilient agriculture to cope with and reverse the effects of the climate crisis.
He also assured that FAO is committed to working with members in the region and beyond to achieve "long-term inclusive and sustainable development".
Qu's remarks came during a conference organised by the Development Bank of Latin America to identify the challenges, strategies and urgent coordination actions needed to promote food security in Latin America and the Caribbean. Qu spoke alongside Sergio Díaz-Granados, Executive President of CAF-Development Bank of Latin America, David Beasley, Executive Director of the World Food Programme, and Manuel Otero, Director General of the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture.
The Development Bank of Latin America, made up of 18 countries in the region, as well as Spain, Portugal and 13 private Latin American banks, is in the process of a $7 billion capital increase to expand its activities to promote sustainable development and regional integration in a range of sectors.