Panama City — The purpose of food and agricultural trade should be to safeguard food security and strengthen the resilience of the food system in the face of conflicts, pandemics and extreme weather events, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
Mario Lubetkin, the FAO’s assistant director general and regional representative for Latin America and the Caribbean, said that trade can also help global agrifood systems make more efficient and sustainable use of scarce natural resources, such as land and water, and disseminate modern technologies around the world.
Speaking at the annual meeting of the boards of governors of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and IDB Invest, held in Panama City on the weekend, Lubetkin also warned that Latin America and the Caribbean tend to have relatively few trade links for food and agricultural products.
For Aitor Ezcurra, head of the corporate division of IDB Invest, food security in the region is suffering an “unprecedented crisis”, due to the increase in the price of grains, which has a direct impact on crop cultivation, with fewer crops being sown, and which leads to an increase in food prices.
The percentage of Latin America and the Caribbean’s population living with food insecurity increased from 32% in 2019 to 41% in 2021, while severe food security has increased from 10% to 15% in the last three years, with approximately 35 million people suffering the latter condition.
Dependence on a few trading partners can lead to imbalances and vulnerability to shocks in both importing and exporting countries, said Ezcurra.
The FAO states that the way to meet the challenges of sustainable development, both present and future, is through mutually reinforcing multilateral and regional initiatives, with an eye on global agricultural markets, the resilience of agrifood systems, economic growth and environmental outcomes, bearing in mind that trade policies cannot be expected to fully address all the trade-offs involved and that complementary measures are required.
The FAO states that in most countries agricultural productivity per worker, measured in value added per worker, is much lower than in non-agricultural sectors.
On average, the richest 10% of countries produce about 70 times more agricultural value added per worker than the bottom 10% of countries with the least income distribution.
A report by the UN agency states that many low- and lower-middle-income countries, including in Latin America and the Caribbean, face considerable constraints in the adoption of technology and access to improved agricultural inputs.
Many other factors, such as small average farm size or limited access to insurance, credit and education, especially for women, contribute to lower agricultural yields in developing countries.
In Latin America, according to the FAO, 56 million people suffer from hunger and nearly 268 million live with food insecurity, almost 40% of the population, while globally 828 million people suffer from hunger.