Agronoticias: Agriculture News from Latin America and the Caribbean

Latin America and The Caribbean


World hunger increases for the first time in 15 years: have we taken a step backwards?

Hunger is on the rise for the first time in over a decade, and Latin America and the Caribbean are no exception. Climate change, civil unrest, economic downturn and food waste are some of the main factors responsible for the increase in hunger for 38 million people.

Man feeding his baby with a bottle in Surinam (CC BY-ND 2.0)

“Latin America and the Caribbean used to be a worldwide example in the fight against hunger. We are now following the worrisome global trend,” stated FAO regional representative Julio Berdegué. The data demonstrates a clear deterioration over the past decade. From 2005 to 2015, the region was leading the fight against hunger, but this year does not leave much room for optimism, according to the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World, a new, comprehensive report analyzing trends and advances in food and nutrition issues around the world. The global reality is clear – in less than one year, there are 38 million more people starving in the world. 

Within a global context, the food deficit has gotten worse primarily due to civil unrest and the impacts of climate change – especially on the African continent. In the case of Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC), the region's progressive economic slowdown has adversely affected fundamental facets of people's lives such as employment and purchasing power, forcing many people to change their diet. The result is an increase in hunger in Latin America and the Caribbean for the first time in the last 15 years. While nearly 40 million people went hungry in 2013, the number has risen to 42.5 million in 2016, which represents 6.6% of the population of the entire region. “This is unacceptable and all Latin Americans and Caribbeans should feel personally offended by this setback. We cannot take a step back, putting at risk the health, well-being or even the lives of thousands of people,” commented Berdegué.

Gráfico que evidencia el repunte del hambre en el mundo por región.

But poor nutrition, particularly manifested in the form of childhood obesity, is the new enemy lurking in the shadows of the LAC region, with much higher rates than in Asia or Africa. Approximately one in four adults in the region is obese, and nearly 4 million children are overweight. Julio Berdegué referred to this worrisome trend as “simply shameful, especially with regard to children under five, whose development and future is being eroded by poor nutrition.”

Local disparities

The report compares data compiled in 2014-2016 to the 2-year period between 2004 and 2006. Specific country data can be found here.

Although the Caribbean still has the highest rate of hunger (17.7%) in the LAC region, the overall rate has not increased in recent years, only in Dominica, Jamaica and Saint Lucia. Despite the fact that Haiti is still the most hunger-stricken country in the region (at 46.8%), it has also decreased significantly (down from 57.1% in the past decade). The most positive advance in the Caribbean is in the Dominican Republic, which nearly cut its hunger rate in half (from 24.4% to 13.5%) over the past ten years.

In Central America, approximately 8.3% of the population suffered from hunger one decade ago. This figure has decreased to 6.7% and Belize, Costa Rica and El Salvador are the only countries that have shown slight increases in undernourishment. On the other side of the coin, Nicaragua, Honduras and, most notably, Panama have all improved their food security indexes, especially the latter, which has reduced hunger by more than half (from 23.1% to 9.3%).

The greatest increase in undernourishment in the LAC region occurred this past year in South America, rising from 5% in 2015 to 5.6% in 2016. As compared to 2004-2006, hunger has only increased in Paraguay and Venezuela, while Bolivia, Brazil and Peru made some of the most significant advances in reducing hunger. 

Preventing food waste

In a striking contrast, one third of all food is wasted before it can be consumed. This factor is persistent in some of the countries that are most affected by hunger, as they do not have a system for preserving food, and the handling, transportation, processing, and refrigeration systems in the post-harvest stages are very limited. 

In a recent meeting in New York, FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva made a call for “zero tolerance for food loss and waste.” According to Graziano, it is necessary to reinforce agri-food systems in order to effectively fight hunger. “Investing in measures to prevent food loss and food waste also means making investments in pro-poor policies as it promotes sustainable food systems for a zero hunger world,” he added.


Author: Jordi Vaqué
Photo Credit: Image from the Pan American Health Organization - PAHO (CC BY-ND 2.0); Gráfico © FAO

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