Successful public policies halve the percentage of people affected by hunger in Latin America and the Caribbean in 20 years

03/12/2013 - 

December 3, 2013, Santiago de Chile – The reduction inhunger and stunting among children in Latin America and the Caribbean is mainly due to successful public policies implemented by the governments of the region, according to the FAO flagship, Panorama of Food and Nutritional Security 2013, released today in Santiago, Chile.

"Latin America and the Caribbean is the region that has achieved the greatest global reduction of hunger, halving the percentage of people affected in twenty years, bringing the Millennium Development Goal one step closer”, said FAO’s Regional Representative, Raúl Benítez.

The Panorama says that this progress is due to the combination of economic growth, political commitment and decisive public action under the "twin-track approach", which complements policies that address social emergencies with long term interventions to change the underlying structures that generate exclusion and inequality. 

Video: Key messages (in Spanish)

State of undernourishment in the region

Hunger or undernourishment in the region still affects 47 million people. Countries with the highest prevalence of hunger are Haiti (49.8%), Guatemala (30.5%) and Paraguay (22.3%). Nicaragua (21.7%) and Bolivia (21.3%) have prevalence’s above the regional average (7.1%) but have made significant progress since 2000-2003, reducing their undernourishment by 9.5 and 7.3 percentage points, respectively.

According to FAO, Argentina, Chile, Mexico, Venezuela, Barbados, Cuba, Dominica and St. Vincent and the Grenadines have already achieved the eradication of hunger*. For their part, Brazil, Colombia, Guyana, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru and Dominican Republic have met the first Millennium Development Goal (MDG 1) by halving their proportion of people suffering hunger, two years before the 2015 deadline.

In Mexico and Central America, most countries are moving towards the achievement of the first MDG, and only Guatemala and Costa Rica have suffered setbacks.

In the case of the Caribbean, only Granada has fallen behind in the achievement of the MDG 1, while the rest have advanced, especially St. Vincent and the Grenadines, which reduced its prevalence of hunger from 20.1% to less than 5.5%, and Cuba, country that had a 7.8% prevalence and today has eradicated hunger.

In South America, Guyana and Peru stand out among the countries that have shown the most significant advances, reducing the proportion of undernourished by more than 19 and 17 percentage points, respectively. In this sub-region, only Paraguay has suffered a setback in its levels of undernourishment.

Stunting cut by half

In the case of stunting among children under 5 years of age, the regional indicator fell from 13.8 million in 1990 to approximately 6.9 million children in 2012, although it still affects 12.8% of all children in Latin America and the Caribbean.

By sub-region, Central America has the highest stunting rates (18.6%), followed by South America (11.5%) and the Caribbean (6.7%).

“The trend in stunting in the last 20 years has been positive, with great advances in countries such as Peru, with a 17% reduction, followed by Honduras and Colombia, with drops of 13%," said Raúl Benítez.

Guatemala is the country with the highest prevalence of stunting in the region, with 48% of children in this situation, followed by Haiti and Honduras, both with 30%. Chile and Jamaica are the countries with the lowest prevalence, with 2% and 5%, respectively.

Worrying rise in overweight and obesity

As noted in the Panorama, overweight affects 23% of adults and 7% of preschool children. Additionally, 3.8 million children under five suffer obesity.

The countries most affected by obesity in adults in the region are in the Caribbean: Saint Kitts and Nevis (41%), followed by Bahamas and Barbados, both with a prevalence of 33.4%. In the Mesoamerican region, Belize (35%) and Mexico (33 %) are the countries with the highest incidence of obesity, while in South America the countries that have the highest proportion of obese adults are the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, with 31%, and Argentina and Chile, both with 29% .

Childhood overweight has increased in 13 countries, with the highest prevalence affecting Argentina (9.9%), Peru (9.8%) and Chile (9.5%).

Policies that make a difference: the twin-track approach

The Panorama highlights the success of the “twin-track approach” implemented by countries and promoted by the FAO worldwide.

Immediate steps of this approach include conditioned income-transfer programs, implemented by 21 countries in the region, supporting more than 113 million people, about 20 % of the regional population implemented.

Equally important has been the expansion of school feeding programs, which cover more than 67 million children, up to 89 % of students in Bolivia, 95 % in Guatemala, and 100% in Nicaragua .

Also part of this twin-track are the policies and programs that provide support for family farming in its production phase and its insertion into local and international markets, favouring the availability of healthy foods that are deeply linked to local cultures.

Structural policies aimed at improving the rural labour market and promoting decent work, reducing precarious employment and increasing the minimum wage, can have a huge impact on the most persistent hotspots of poverty and food insecurity in the region, which are found mostly in rural areas.

* For FAO, hunger in a country is considered eradicated if the prevalence is less than 5%.


Panorama of Food and Nutritional Security 2013

Submitted by: Benjamín Labatut
FAO Office: FAO Office for LAC