2016 has been a year marked by unexpected events in the political, social, and climatic arenas. The global agricultur and food security agenda, and the fight against hunger and extreme poverty, has faced unpredictable and unprecedented challenges.
The year began with the final throes of the El Niño causing heavy rains and floods in Uruguay, Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina. About 150,000 people saw the dawn of the new year out of their homes. Nonetheless, Argentina, just a few weeks later, presented severe droughts in the northeast of the country, threatening crops. "The situation is unheard of in a year of El Niño," said an expert. Cuba, Haiti, Panama and Costa Rica suffered from the phenomena at the end of the month, and the news that Peru had managed to avoid large losses thanks to an efficient prevention system evidenced the importance of anticipation and resilience to natural disasters in the area.
In Brazil, in the midst of an unstable political climate, and with all eyes set on the upcoming celebration of the first Olympic Games of the subcontinent, the effects of the Zika virus in the country triggered all the alarms. It was February, and soon the Brazilian government revealed the first strategies to fight against it. FAO followed, guaranteeing its support for affected countries in the region in order to protect the food chain. "With its resources and experience, FAO is ready to do its part," said José Graziano da Silva, Director General of the Organization. During his visit to Mexico's regional conference in February, Da Silva expressed concern about the impact of the virus, putting considerable attention in the fact that malnutrition and extreme poverty are pending issues in Latin America and the Caribbean. “The region is the most unequal in the world", pointed out Alicia Bárcena, Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean The Caribbean (ECLAC).
In April, the so-called Dry Corridor (a region in Central America most affected by droughts and climate change, comprising areas in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras), focused the attention as international agencies alerted on the ever-growing food and environmental risks, as well as the need for a systematic intervention. Food shortages were reported in May, and in June FAO hosted a high-level meeting on the issue. That same month, Ecuador suffered a devastating earthquake of 7.8 degrees. UNHCR chartered two airlifts to provide immediate assistance for the 73,000 displaced people, including refugees, asylum seekers and residents, all of them affected by the earthquake.
In June the United Kingdom voted in favor of leaving the European Union in what was known as the Brexit referendum, opening an uncertainty-fueled debate at a global scale. Would Brexit affect the country's trade agreements with Latin America and the Caribbean in any way? The Costa Rican Central Bank addressed this question in these terms: "It is still early to identify and quantify the effects of this decision on our economy; however, direct implications are likely to be few, given the relatively low share of the UK as a trading partner of the nation."
June also saw the announcement of the first international treaty against illegal and undeclared fishing, called Port State Measures Agreement (PSMA), which several of the countries in the region signed. Agronoticias published an article by the FAO fisheries expert Alejandro Flores to shed light on the impact of this agreement. "The ultimate goal is to protect fishery resources from overexploitation in the world," said Flores. Along these lines, in July FAO reported that the yearly world consumption of fish exceeded 20kg per capita.
Brexit was not the only referendum of unpredictable results in 2016. In October, Colombia, in the midst of a social climate that paved the way the end of the armed conflict, voted against the proposed peace agreement. This did not prevent the media from anticipating a "Colombian post conflict" era, or the country’s rural communities from celebrating the agreements. The process earned its president, Juan Manuel Santos, the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize. In December, Santos visited the FAO headquarters in Rome to discuss the key importance of the agricultural sector in the disarmament process. "Rural development is Colombia's peace dividend," said the president.
Also in October, Hurricane Matthew hit the Caribbean, affecting the Bahamas, Belize and the Dominican Republic, but with a particularly devastating impact in Haiti. The shadow of approaching famine put international organizations and stakeholders into action, with FAO and the World Food Program launching emergency response activities in the island. The situation also generated solidarity between countries, and Panama announced in November the shipment of fortified seeds to Haiti.
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Photograph in the Bulletin of Edgar Barany C via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
Photography 1. Prevention of Zika in the Dominican Republic. Image of Presidency RD via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Photography 2. Action on the Dry Corridor in Guatemala. Photo of WFP / Francisco Fión via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Photography 3. Haiti following the impact of Hurricane Matthew. Photo of UN Photo / Logan Abassi via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)