The looming global food crisis will also significantly impact Latin America and the Caribbean. Failing to address it or tackling it in a disjointed manner will have painful consequences and will endanger the peace and future of our societies, which have been hard hit by the pandemic in the last two years, amidst a decade of low economic expansion and increasingly frequent extreme climate events.
These food security-related problems have particular regional significance at this time, given that, between 2012 and 2019, Latin America and the Caribbean experienced its lowest growth rate since the “lost decade” of the 1980s.
Further compounding this problem of low economic performance and the pandemic is the war in Eastern Europe, which has triggered spikes in the prices of energy, fertilizers and several major agricultural commodities, all of this, amidst troubling climate concerns.
This situation has made food security a priority concern, among other issues such as low economic growth, poverty and inequality, environmental sustainability and macroeconomic conditions.
In May, the World Bank’s Food Price Index was 87% higher than in May of 2020. Although the index is still lower than it was in comparable crisis situations in the 1970s and in 2008, these prior experiences provided valuable lessons on what to do and what not to do to overcome the disruption.
As far as the region is concerned, it bears mentioning that the Americas continues to play a key role as the world’s major net food exporter, and therefore a guarantor of the planet’s food security.
Thus, it is imperative that the region’s countries work together to tackle common challenges; maintain and expand production and export capacity; and avoid trade measures that would heighten insecurity and volatility in international markets.
To this end, several of the major food producing and exporting countries of Latin America and the Caribbean, along with the United States and Canada, signed an agreement at the recent Summit of the Americas.
The countries of the Americas must continue to advocate for an end to the conflict and, in the meantime, must insist that it not be allowed to affect the production and exportation of food or agricultural inputs originating in the areas that are at war.
Despite the fact that the Americas is a net exporting region, overall, it is critical that it introduce intraregional trade facilitation measures, as well as provide humanitarian aid and financial support to its net importing countries, particularly in the English-speaking Caribbean, Haiti and Central America.
In exporting countries, poverty and food insecurity have been aggravated by the pandemic and the pressures of inflation. Policy responses to this situation must consider both consumers and producers.
Regarding the former, it is necessary to prioritize social protection actions and food assistance for the most vulnerable populations, rather than general energy subsidies or restrictions to international trade.
With respect to the latter, short-term efforts should be geared towards minimizing impacts on the 2022-2023 production cycle. One way to achieve this objective is for the public and private sectors to engage in continuous consultation processes to monitor prices, guarantee an adequate supply of fertilizers and secure funding from the banking system in order to offset the rise in production costs. This certainly does not exclude the possibility of applying targeted fertilizer subsidies in special cases.
It is also crucial to undertake medium-term efforts aimed at increasing resilience. Possible initiatives include the design, financing and implementation of a new generation of public policies to strengthen agrifood systems. IICA’s recently created Public Policy Observatory for Agrifood Systems (OPSAa), a platform to exchange information and best practices, as well as monitor progress with respect to the food situation, will provide support in this area.
At the current juncture, it is even more important to strengthen work in science, technology and innovation in order to bridge productivity gaps and expand inclusive production in family farming. To this end, it is necessary to foster associative undertakings and cooperative development.
We face considerable challenges, but the Americas, a young, green and peaceful continent, possesses the necessary resources, individuals and institutions to build a better future for everyone.
The current situation need not lead to a humanitarian crisis, provided that countries in the region work together. We need a true hemispheric partnership for food security.
The positive transformation of agrifood systems will yield economic, social and environmental benefits for the region; will have a positive impact on global food and environmental security; and will reduce migration problems.
Urgent action is needed to build a new vision for agriculture in the Americas. Agriculture holds the key to resolving the formidable challenges of today’s world, including ensuring peace and democratic stability.
By Manuel Otero
Director-General of the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA)