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"We must put an end to the structural inequality of rural areas in Latin America to move towards a better future"

FAO's Regional Representative called for inclusive agrifood trade and reduction of inequalities during the Symposium on Trade and Sustainable Development.

Socially inclusive commerce must be the norm, the standard to which we aspire, said Julio Berdegué.

December 13, 2017, Buenos Aires, Argentina - Persistent inequality continues to act as a powerful brake on the development of Latin America and the Caribbean as a whole, and of its rural areas in particular, said FAO's Regional Representative, Julio Berdegué, at the Symposium on Trade and Sustainable Development.

The symposium takes place on the sidelines of the 11th Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization, in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Berdegué intervened in the session dedicated to the Latin American Challenges in the new global economy, and focused on the inequity that characterizes the region. (full statement)

"Our persistent and widespread inequality reduces economic growth, reduces the impact of that growth on poverty, weakens our democracies and the rule of law, erodes our formal institutions and prevents millions of people from expressing their full potential," said Berdegué, who intervened on behalf of FAO's Director General, José Graziano da Silva.

Berdegué stressed the importance of moving towards  agrifood trade that generates opportunities for sectors of the population that have been left behind by the current development model.

"Socially inclusive commerce must be the norm, the standard to which we aspire. Unless we assume this explicitly, meeting the 17 Sustainable Development Goals in rural areas will be an uphill struggle", Berdegué said.

Agricultural trade: guarantee benefits for all

The Regional Representative of the FAO highlighted that countries that today are protagonists of agrifood trade, such as Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Peru, maintain high levels of inequality in their rural areas.

"In all of these countries, rural income has shown significant growth, partly thanks to agrifood trade, but the Gini rural index has barely moved, which means that few are capturing most of the benefits," Berdegué explained.

Berdegué stressed that Mexico and Peru are leaders in terms of their agricultural value added exports, but they are also leaders in rural economic inequality.

"There are examples of agrifood trade that has been a positively disruptive force not only in economic terms, but also in creating more opportunities for sectors that have been left behind not for decades, but for centuries. However, until now, these examples are very few, maybe more the exception than the norm," explained Berdegué.

Ethnic and gender inequities

Ethnic inequality was another aspect that Berdegué outlined as a great challenge for the region, highlighting that close to 45 million indigenous citizens live in the region.

The Representative of the FAO pointed out that in Mexico there are 2.4 indigenous individuals suffering from chronic malnutrition for each non-indigenous person, a figure that in Guatemala is 1.4, in Honduras 1.7 and in Panama 3.2.

Gender inequality in rural areas is also widespread. "In Chile there are 137 rural women living in poverty, for every 100 men. In Uruguay, 143. In Costa Rica, 125. Three countries deeply committed to world agrifood markets, but where rural women seem to benefit much less than rural men from commercial opportunities," explained Berdegué.

Territorial inequalities: us versus them

According to Berdegué, territorial inequalities are another expression of the structural imbalances that affect the region.

"In our region we speak of Central and North Mexico versus the South, in Peru we speak of the coast and the highlands, in Colombia it is Bogotá versus the Caribbean regions; all this reflects the lack of integration between our territories, and a mentality of us versus them that must be changed to move towards a better future," Berdegué explained.

The Representative of FAO explained that these situations remain because e there are deeply rooted power structures and institutions that reproduce current inequalities. "Eroding the power of these structures and institutions and changing towards more just and equal forms of territorial expression is not a simple task, but it is possible and it is a responsibility of our generation," said Berdegué.

Agricultural trade and climate change; rural employment and poverty reduction

FAO led two events of the Symposium on Trade and Sustainable Development, organized by the International Center for Trade and Sustainable Development (ICTSD). The first was focused on the challenges for agrifood trade in the face of climate change.

"Trade can help countries adapt to the disruptions in their food supply that can result from climate change. In other words, trade can be seen as one of the adaptation tools needed to face it, compensating for regional changes in agricultural productivity", explained Ekaterina Krivonos, an economist at FAO.

The second event analyzed experiences of agricultural trade, employment and poverty reduction in the region. In this regard, FAO highlighted the importance of social protection policies and the urgent need to improve rural labor markets to recover the pace of rural poverty reduction in the region, which has stagnated in recent years. 

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