FAO Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean

Latin America and the Caribbean produces enough food to feed its entire population. The central problem concerning hunger in the region is not a lack of food, but rather the difficulty the poorest inhabitants face in being able to access that food.

Food and nutrition security in Latin America and the Caribbean

According to the latest FAO estimates, 805 million people are affected by hunger in the world (2012-2014). This represents a fall of more than 100 million in the last ten years, and 209 million fewer than in 1990-1992. In Latin America and the Caribbean, hunger affects 37 million people (6.1% of the population), which is a significant advance from the 68.5 million (15.3%) that suffered hunger in the three-year period 1990-1992.

Between 1990 and 2014, Latin America and the Caribbean, as a whole, reduced by 60% its proportion of undernourished population, making it the only region in the world to achieve the goal of "halving the percentage of people suffering from hunger" set for 2015 by the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

The region's experience shows that to deal with the major social challenges, in particular extreme poverty and hunger, what is needed is a combination of economic growth, strong political commitment and decisive public action, in the form of public policies that have a high impact on the most vulnerable segments of the population.

Food production

Latin America and the Caribbean is one of the world's leading food producing and exporting regions. It has enormous natural wealth, a flourishing agricultural industry and a family farming sector that is fundamental for the food security of its population.

The region produces sufficient food to meet the needs of all its inhabitants. The central problem concerning hunger in the region is not a lack of food, but rather the problems that the poorest members of society face in gaining access to that food.

Family farming accounts for a fundamental share of food production consumed internally in Latin America and the Caribbean. On average, holdings run by small farmers represent over 80% of the total and provide between 30 and 40% of the region’s agricultural GDP. Family farming also fosters employment in rural areas where pockets of poverty and food insecurity are at their worst.

The accelerated growth of livestock production has converted Latin America and the Caribbean into the world’s leading exporter of beef and poultry, accounting for about 45% of the region’s agricultural GDP. However, this growth requires a sustainable approach if it is to avoid increasing pressure on the region’s natural resources and environment.

Aquaculture’s contribution to the regional economy has increased substantially in the last ten years. It provides direct employment to more than 200 000 people and indirect employment to a further 500 000.

Vulnerable population

Indigenous peoples

The indigenous peoples have contributed more than anyone to the domestication of agrobiodiversity that feeds humanity today, yet their levels of food insecurity are several times higher than those of the non-indigenous population.

Women and food security

Rural women account for more than half of food production, play an important role in the conservation of biodiversity and ensure food sovereignty and food security with the production of wholesome foods. However, they live under conditions of social, political and economic inequality, receiving only 30% of land titles, 10% of credit and 5% of technical assistance. What is therefore needed is concerted public policy to promote gender parity in the region.

Food prices in Latin America and the Caribbean

Higher food prices impact directly on family welfare, reducing purchasing power and thus affecting both the quantity and the quality of food purchased by households, especially those that are poorest and most vulnerable, given that these spend between 60 and 70% of their income on food.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, 58 million women live in rural areas, 17 million are part of the economically active population and 4.5 million are agricultural producers.

The gender gap constitutes a real cost for society in terms of agricultural production, food security and economic growth. If women farmers enjoyed the same conditions as men, it would be possible to feed an additional 150 million people in the world.

Rural employment

The worst pockets of poverty and food insecurity in the region are found in the rural areas. Regrettably, the rural labour market in Latin America and the Caribbean is predominantly informal and casual, without normal social security provisions.

Reinforcing the institutional framework for employment is one of the keys to reducing poverty and improving the distribution of income in the rural areas of Latin America and the Caribbean.

Absolute policy priority needs to be placed on generating an institutional framework for employment that will protect workers' rights and encourage the creation of employment that is dignified, formal and with social security, in addition to developing workers' skills through education and vocational training.

More on rural employment: (in spanish)