Latin America could solve hunger by wasting less food: UN FAO

More food is lost and wasted in Latin America and the Caribbean than would be needed to feed the region’s hungry, which also has adverse effects on regional food security.

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venezuela supermarket bbc reuters
A supermarket in Venezuela. Nearly 50m Latin Americans suffer from hunger, but the FAO report suggests that reducing food waste could help solve this. Photo courtesy of Reuters via the BBC.

A new report from the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) has underlined how the amount of food wasted in Latin America and the Caribbean is more than the amount that would be needed to end hunger and malnutrition across the region. The report, released on 17 July, suggests that roughly 6% of global food wastage occurs in Latin America and the Caribbean, with devastating consequences for the 47m people who still go hungry across the region.

“Each year the region loses or wastes around 15% of its available food, which reduces the local and global availability of food, creates less income for producers and increases prices for consumers”, the FAO’s regional director in Latin America, Raúl Benítez, told reporters in Santiago, Chile. “Confronting this problem is essential in order to make progress in the struggle against hunger, and it has to become a priority for the governments of Latin America and the Caribbean”, he continued, adding that the inefficient production of food also has environmental side-effects due to the unsustainable use of natural resources and arable land.

The FAO defines food loss as the reduction in the total amount of food available for human consumption during the production, harvesting, storing, and transport of food. Wastage, meanwhile, refers to when food is discarded despite it still having nutritional value and being fit for human consumption, and is usually linked to consumer and vendor behaviour.

Food loss and wastage takes place at all points in the food chain, with Latin America and the Caribbean seeing 28% lost at the consumer stage, 17% in marketing and distribution, 22% during handling and storage, and 6% in post-harvest processing. With all the food that is lost at the retail stage – that is to say at the point of sale in supermarkets, street vendors and elsewhere – more than 30m people could be fed across the region, the equivalent of 64% of those who suffer from hunger.

“Although it’s important to highlight the fact that the region’s countries have enough calories at their disposal to feed all their citizens, the enormous quantity of food that is lost or which ends up being thrown away is quite simply unacceptable when hunger continues to affect nearly 8% of the region’s population”, Benítez stated.

The FAO suggests several ways in which food loss and wastage could be avoided, including the use of food banks which collect and redistribute food that for whatever reason had been earmarked for the rubbish bin, examples of which can already be found in Costa Rica, Chile, Guatemala, Argentina, the Dominican Republic, Brazil, and Mexico. Public awareness about food wastage is also essential, according to the organisation, and can be improved through well-targeted advertising campaigns. “Eradicating hunger throughout the region requires all sectors of society to make an effort to reduce the amount of food they waste”, suggested Benítez.

While the figures are critical when considering the levels of hunger and malnutrition still prevalent in many parts of Latin America and the Caribbean, the 15% of food wasted still compares favourably (or less unfavourably) with the global average of between a quarter and a third of all food produced. The FAO estimates that the 1.3bn tons of food lost or wasted each year around the world would be enough to feed 2bn people. 842m people in total are said to suffer from severe hunger globally.

bean crop honduras international centre for tropical agriculture
A farmer tends to his bean crop in Honduras. Central America is one of the regions most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, with potentially devastating consequences for the region’s small farmers, as well as for food security and the fight against hunger. Photo courtesy of the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT).

The report also comes just days after the FAO had teamed up with Mexican authorities to present a new programme aimed at tackling hunger in Latin America and the Caribbean. The initiative, titled “Mesoamérica sin Hambre” (Central America without Hunger), was announced in the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa by representatives of this joint venture, which hopes to “enable complementarity and cooperation” among Central American countries, the Dominican Republic, and Colombia.

The implementation of the initiative “provides ample space for the start of a process of transformation and change” in Honduras that will benefit the “poorest and most needy” communities in Central America’s poorest country, the Honduran Vice-President Rossana Guevara said in a statement. She emphasised that food and nutritional security is a “complex” issue, which “combines the need to promote initiatives of social and economic development which attend to the great needs of the Honduran people”.

Meanwhile, the Mexican ambassador in Tegucigalpa, Víctor Hugo Morales, stated that the initiative’s objective was to successfully eradicate hunger across Latin America and the Caribbean by 2025. “The aim is to work together to make it a reality that by the year 2025, Latin America and the Caribbean can be free of hunger and people won’t have to go to bed without a meal”, he said.

Eradicating hunger and food insecurity in Latin America and the Caribbean is going to be a considerable challenge, nonetheless, with parts of the region among the most vulnerable areas in the world to the effects of climate change. These impacts are already being felt in the form of greater seasonal variations in weather patterns, more severe droughts on the one hand and more intense rainfall leading to flooding on the other, and higher temperatures affecting the viability of certain crops in certain terrains. Many parts of the region are heavily dependent on agriculture for their economies, in particular rural parts of Central America, meaning that a lack of food security in the future – possibly aggravated by climate change – could have severe economic consequences on local communities, as well as persistent hunger and malnutrition levels such as those highlighted by the FAO report.

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