FAO Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean

Hunger now affects 42.5 million people in Latin America and the Caribbean

South America hosts the majority of the undernourished due to the decline of food security in Venezuela, says new UN report.

South America hosts the majority (55 percent) of the undernourished in the region.

15th of July 2019, Santiago, Chile - Hunger is rising in Latin America and the Caribbean, and affected 42.5 million people in 2018, 6.5 percent of the regional population, says a new UN report, The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2019 (SOFI).

According to the joint FAO, IFAD, UNICEF, WHO and WFP report, over the past five years (2014–2018), undernourishment has been on the rise at the global level, mainly due to increases in Africa and –to a lesser extent– in Latin America.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, rates of undernourishment have increased in recent years, largely as a consequence of the situation in South America, where the percentage of hunger increased from 4.6 percent in 2013 to 5.5 percent in 2018.

South America hosts the majority (55 percent) of the undernourished in the region, and the increase observed in recent years is due mainly to the deterioration of food security in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, where the prevalence of undernourishment increased almost fourfold, from 6.4 percent in 2012–2014 to 21.2 percent in 2016–2018.

Venezuela’s significant increase in undernourishment in recent years coincides with the country’s recession period, as inflation was reported to have reached circa 10 million percent and growth in the real GDP worsened, going from negative 3.9 percent in 2014 to an estimated negative 25 percent in 2018.

By contrast, the percentage of undernourishment in Central America (6.1%) and the Caribbean (18.4%), have been decreasing since 2013, despite being higher than those in South America (5.5%).

“During the first 15 years of this century, Latin America and the Caribbean cut undernourishment by half. But since 2014 hunger has been on the rise”, said FAO’s Regional Representative, Julio Berdegué.

“We have to rescue, on average, over 3.5 million people from hunger every year from now until 2030 if we want to reach the zero hunger goal of the Sustainable Development Goal 2”, he added.

Economic slowdown, rise in poverty and inequality

The uptick in hunger is closely associated with the region’s general economic slowdown. Declines in commodity prices since 2011 led to a deterioration in public finances for many commodity export dependent countries in Latin America and the Caribbean.

The urban unemployment rate reached 8.9 percent in 2016, representing an increase of 1.6 percentage points from 2015. The declining GDP and the rise in unemployment resulted in lower household incomes. After several years of marked reductions in poverty, the number of poor people rose from 166 million to 175 million between 2013 and 2015, increasing from 28.1 percent to 29.2 percent of the population.  

A new measure of food insecurity

This year’s SOFI report includes a new way to measure advance towards the Sustainable Development Goal 2.1: the prevalence of moderate or severe food insecurity based on the Food Insecurity Experience Scale (FIES).

While the prevalence of undernourishment (hunger) is FAO’s traditional indicator used to monitor hunger, the FIES scale relies on data obtained by directly asking people through surveys about their food security and access to food.

According to the FIES, 9 percent of the Latin American population (only South and Central America, since there is no data available for the Caribbean) suffered severe food insecurity in 2018, while 21.9 percent suffered moderate food insecurity. The rate of severe food insecurity reached 10.6 percent for Central America and 8.3 percent for South America. Moderate food insecurity affected 20.9 percent of Central Americans in 2018, and 22.3 percent of South Americans.

Stunting, wasting, overweight and obesity

Currently, according to the SOFI report, 4 million children under 5 years of age suffer overweight (7.5% of the total), 700 000 suffer wasting (1.3%), and 4.8 million are stunted (9%).

For adults, things fare even worse in terms of overweight and obesity. “Today, for every person who suffers hunger, six are overweight”, said Berdegué, calling for a mayor regional push against all forms of malnutrition.