UN State of Food Insecurity report 2014 – Latin America’s progress

Latin America and the Caribbean makes impressive progress in efforts to bring down hunger, according to new FAO report, with shining examples from Brazil and Bolivia highlighted in global study.

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Marketplace in Guatemala. Photo courtesy of the World Bank via Flickr.

Latin America and the Caribbean is the developing region making the most progress on reducing hunger and food insecurity, according to a new report from the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). The 2014 edition of the organisation’s State of Food Insecurity in the World (SOFI 2014) revealed, among other reported instances of progress and setbacks, that the region has reduced the prevalence of hunger by nearly two thirds since the early 1990s, and also boasts the highest proportion of countries to have already met the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) on reducing hunger by half.

The percentage of Latin American and Caribbean citizens failing to receive enough food fell from 15.3% at the start of the 1990s to 6.1% today, a 60.3% drop, meaning that as a whole the region has already met the hunger-related MDG (MDG-1). In absolute numbers, this represents a reduction from 68.3m people to just 37m at the latest count. However, there remains a significant difference in performance between the subsets of Latin American countries and Caribbean ones: whereas Latin America has seen its number of hungry people slashed by 64.3% from 60.3m (14.4%) to 29.5m (5.1%), Caribbean nations have enjoyed a much smaller reduction (25.7%) in the levels of undernourishment, from 8.1m people (27%) in 1990 to 7.5m (20.1%) today.

Among the stand-out countries, the experiences of Brazil and Bolivia are outlined as case studies in the report and their efforts are applauded, but Haiti is also featured as a specific case where attempts to reduce hunger and boost food security have failed to make much headway. Ten countries from Latin America have already reached their MDG-1 – Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Guyana, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, Uruguay, and Venezuela – while three more (Bolivia, Colombia, and Honduras) are projected to meet their target by the time the MDGs period expires at the end of 2015. In the Caribbean, four countries have reached their MDG-1 – Barbados, Cuba, Dominican Republic, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines – but no other country is expected to join them by the end of next year. The only country in the entire region deemed to have gone backwards in hunger reduction is Costa Rica, though with a hunger rate of 5.9% (up from 5.2% in 1990) it is still considerably better-placed than many of its neighbours.

The Fome Zero programme in Brazil, launched by former President Lula da Silva (2002-2010, pictured), is widely praised for having brought down hunger rates in Brazil as well as inspiring other similar initiatives in neighbouring countries. Photo courtesy of teleSUR.

The success of individual countries across Latin America in bringing down hunger rates was praised by the FAO’s Director-General, José Graziano da Silva, who highlighted that regional efforts – such as the Hunger Free Latin America and the Caribbean Initiative – gave important support to national hunger-reduction plans. “The Hunger Free Latin America and the Caribbean Initiative was launched in 2005, inspired by the Brazilian Zero Hunger Programme, and was soon adopted by all countries in the region”, da Silva says in comments published in an FAO brief on the SOFI 2014 report. “From the very beginning, FAO supported this initiative, working with governments, parliaments and non-state actors. Over the years, the countries in Latin America and the Caribbean developed more inclusive food security strategies and strengthened social protection following the realisation that increasing production alone was not enough to end hunger. These efforts help explain the success Latin America and the Caribbean is having in the fight against hunger”.

The Brazilian Zero Hunger Programme, known locally as Fome Zero, is the wide-ranging anti-poverty strategy that includes its better-known component Bolsa Família. Its success in slashing hunger rates in Brazil and in inspiring other similar policies across Latin America is one of the main reasons for Brazil’s inclusion as a case study in SOFI 2014. Fome Zero is credited with the remarkable progress made almost immediately after its launch in 2003, with the undernourishment rate falling by more than half during the first half of the 2000s – and more than 80% overall over the past decade – while it also ensured that “ending hunger was put at the centre of Brazil’s political agenda”.

Bolivia, meanwhile, is praised for having championed policies across the board that have brought previously marginalised communities – especially indigenous people, who make up over 60% of the population – into public life, with a reduction in hunger and increase in food security one of the positive consequences. The proportion of undernourished people in Bolivia has more or less halved since the early 1990s, down from 38% to 19.5% today, while the number of young children (below the age of three) suffering from chronic malnutrition has been more than halved, from 41.7% in 1989 to 18.5% in 2012.

The report also notes that a “strong focus on pro-poor and food security policies” was behind a massive 7.4 percentage-point fall between 2009-11 and 2012-14 (from 26.9% to 19.5%), underlining the way in which the Andean country’s anti-hunger drive has picked up steam over the past few years. The report makes special mention of the fact that empowering rural (mainly indigenous) communities has increased their access to arable land, leaving them with far greater food security. However, the most significant factor, according to the report, has been the inclusion of ‘the right to food’ in the Bolivian Constitution since it was rewritten in 2009, a move that has been backed up by several laws intended to make this right a reality.

Indigenous women in Bolivia. The country’s anti-hunger push is credited with having given Bolivia’s most marginalised groups better access to food and arable land, boosting food security. Photo courtesy of IPS – Franz Chávez.

In spite of the recent progress, the FAO’s Alan Bojanic, who is the organisation’s representative for Brazil, told an audience in the Bolivian capital of La Paz last week that Latin America and the Caribbean needs to invest an extra US$3bn a year on top of what it is already providing towards the fight against hunger, if it is to actually eradicate the problem. This figure represents around 10% of the total sum mooted by the FAO as the amount needed to effectively combat hunger around the world, and would include money destined both for food-production programmes and initiatives to make food more easily and widely accessible for the most vulnerable sectors of society.

Another recent report from the FAO, released in July, suggested that food waste was a serious obstacle that needed to be brought under control in order to bring levels of malnutrition down even further. The report suggested that Latin America and the Caribbean wasted around 15% of its available food each year, and that in theory the amount wasted would be more than enough to feed the 37m people who still go hungry in the region. Food security has also been brought into sharp focus in Central America recently, with a harsh drought wiping out crops and causing a spike in food prices, leaving hundreds of thousands at risk of critical food shortages and some countries, especially Guatemala and Honduras, on the brink of a ‘humanitarian crisis’.

The 2014 State of Food Insecurity report from the FAO can be read in full here.

The ongoing drought in Central America has brought food security into sharp focus, as hundreds of thousands are threatened with food shortages and higher prices. Photo courtesy of Reuters – Oswaldo Rivas.