Bloomberg Línea — Around 3.1 billion people globally are unable to afford a healthy diet, reflecting the impact of higher food prices for consumers during the pandemic and more frequent extreme weather events that are disrupting supply chains, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
The FAO, in its study The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2022, estimates that the number of people who could not afford a healthy diet in 2020 increased by 112 million people compared to 2019.
This increase is mainly explained by Asia, where 78 million more people could not afford to eat this type of diet in 2020, followed by Africa (25 million more), while Latin America and the Caribbean and North America and Europe accounted for eight million and one million more people, respectively.
This study, with input from researchers at US private research institute Tufts University and the World Bank, reveals that Latin America and the Caribbean is the region where a healthy diet costs the most, at $3.89 per person per day in 2020, followed by Asia ($3.72), Africa ($3.46), North America and Europe ($3.19) and Oceania ($3.07).
Within Latin America there are also great disparities between countries when it comes to acquiring healthy food. In Colombia, for example, it costs about $3 per person per day, while in Panama it costs $4.47 and in Jamaica it costs more than $6 per day.
Why is it more expensive to eat healthily?
According to the analysis, high-income and upper middle-income countries primarily support agricultural producers with both customs measures and tax subsidies that are increasingly decoupled from production.
In contrast, in lower middle-income and low-income countries, the fiscal scope for subsidies is more limited; moreover, these countries tend to use trade policies to protect consumers rather than producers.
In general, support for agricultural production is mainly concentrated on staple foods, dairy and other protein-rich products, especially in upper-income and middle-income countries.
Rice, sugar and meats of various types are the most incentivized foods globally, while fruit and vegetable producers receive less support or are even penalized in some low-income countries.
According to the study, trade and market interventions can act as barriers to the marketing of nutritious foods, thereby undermining the availability and affordability of healthy diets.
In many countries, tax subsidies have increased the availability of staple foods and their derivatives and reduced their price, discouraging and making it relatively more expensive to consume less subsidized or unsubsidized foods such as fruits, vegetables and legumes.
More support for agriculture
In low-income countries, but also in some lower middle-income countries where agriculture is essential to economic activity, employment and livelihoods, governments must increase spending on services that support food and agriculture more collectively and prioritize it, according to the study.
“This is crucial to address productivity gaps in nutritious food production and enable income generation to improve the affordability of healthy diets, although it will require significant development financing,” the FAO said.
A key challenge for policymakers in low-income countries will not only be to reach agreements on tailoring food and agricultural support to achieve various inclusive agricultural transformation targets that are fully aligned with reducing the costs of nutritious food, but, given their low budgets, governments in these countries will also need to mobilize substantial funding to accelerate the provision of general service-related support where this needs to be prioritized, in order to effectively address productivity gaps in nutritious food production.