By Gillian Smith
FAO Representative in Guyana
Food insecurity affected 40 percent of the total population of Latin America and the Caribbean, higher than the global average of 29.3 percent. This is one of the stark messages that can be found in the Regional Overview of Food Security and Nutrition – Latin America and the Caribbean 2022, a seminal publication recently launched by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations and other UN agencies last week.
It further sheds light on the fact that millions of families in the world lack access to food. The report highlights how rising international food prices and inflation have affected economic access to nutritious food, especially for the poorest. This is because they spend a higher proportion of their income on food compared to those with more resources, deteriorating food security.
Additionally, the report concludes that, throughout the region of Latin America and the Caribbean, there is a link between the lack of economic access or affordability of a healthy diet with the levels of poverty, income inequality, and economic growth of the countries, as well as with the levels of hunger and other forms of malnutrition.
Access to healthy nutrition provides a critical advantage to a productive, healthy life. National development literally depends on it. In 2020, the report notes, an estimated 42 percent (almost 3.1 billion people!) of the global population could not afford a healthy diet due to the increased cost of dietary components.
In Latin America and the Caribbean, the figure was 22.5 percent (131 million people), representing an increase of 8 million over the 2019 figure. Of concern, the report concludes that the region has the highest cost of a healthy diet compared to the rest of the world. The average value was calculated as USD 3.89 per day per person in the region, while the world average is USD 3.54.
Initial estimates for Guyana in the report indicate that the average cost of a healthy diet is approximately USD 4.89. Neighbouring Suriname is noted to have the highest cost in South America, at USD 5.74 per day per person. Like most countries, those of Latin America and the Caribbean have been considerably affected by the global economic slowdown, the climate crisis, the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the recent conflict in Ukraine have had profound effects on agrifood systems and food.
How can this report help?
Guyana continues to make good on its economic progress, including the welcomed news that in 2022, the agriculture sector saw a 12 percent growth, contributing to the non-oil sector. Ensuring that the impact of the global food crisis is minimized, particularly for vulnerable families and small farmers and fishers, requires a multifaceted approach.
The measures that Guyana has implemented in response to the food crisis are helping producers (farmers, fishers, and agro-foresters) to maintain and even increase production, as well as take advantage of emerging market opportunities. Other initiatives that deliver food or transfer support (in cash or in-kind) to the most vulnerable groups can buffer them from the most severe effects.
Food and nutrition education will assist families and communities to make healthier choices with limited resources. It is also vital that support continues for programmes that empower people to embrace new skills and income opportunities which ultimately ensures inclusive development, leaving no one behind.
Regionally, CARICOM’s response to agriculture and food security, the 25 percent input substitution by 2025 initiative, is a relevant response. Producing and promoting more but healthier food within the region can also support affordable healthy diets for all and unlock new opportunities for regional food producers.
One year after the Global Food System Summit, which called on all countries to take action to transform food systems, Guyana has highlighted the national and regional progress being made. The important gains are due to commitment and coordination across sectors and between CARICOM countries.
FAO’s programme of work will continue to support these efforts to encourage increased trade, build resilience of farmers and fishers against risk, improve productive farming and fishing practices, especially with climate-smart solutions, strengthen policy that promotes affordable healthy diets and open new and inclusive agriculture and food systems opportunities for all. Enhancing the marketing of nutritious foods is strongly encouraged.
These and other actions will improve the affordability of nutritious food and improve the quality of life of the 131 million people in Latin America, and the Caribbean who could not afford a healthy diet. The FAO reinforces our commitment to continue supporting countries to create an environment where healthy, affordable diets are available for all and where food producers can maximize their livelihoods.