Latin America, Caribbean countries collaborate to eradicate hunger and malnutritionTuesday, March 13, 2018
BY ERNIE SEON
MONTEGO BAY, St James (CMC) — A much more concerted effort is underway to stem rising hunger and food security and eradicate all forms of malnutrition in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC).
The 33 member countries of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), at the end of their four day meeting here, have agreed to collaborate more in an effort to end the scourge and reverse a trend which had resurfaced in 2016, for the first time in the last two decades.
Some delegates did admit it was something of an embarrassment to be discussing hunger in the Caribbean in 2018.
But given the reality of the crisis, government ministers, including those with the portfolios of agriculture, social development, environment, education and health, have all praised the FAO for its commitment to focusing on hunger and the plight of the poor, while acknowledging that the region has missed the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) of eradicating poverty and hunger by December 2015.
Data presented at the conference pointed to an unacceptable increase in hunger in the LAC compared to advances made over recent decades.
The number of people who are undernourished in the region increased by 2.4 million between 2015 and 2016, totalling 4.2 million — the equivalent of 6.6 per cent of the population.
At the same time, estimates based on data collected on adults from all over the world, showed that 38 million people suffered from severe food security in the region in 2016.
At the subregional level, the trend of undernourishment between 2000 and 2016 shows that from 2013, in both Meso-America and the Caribbean, hunger maintains a downward trend, while in South America there is a significant upturn.
The main reason for this increase, according to the FAO, are the economic downturn that has affected the region since 2015, as well as a drop in the price of raw the materials which are the region's main export products, in addition to instability and political uncertainty.
In terms of chronic malnutrition, which is measured by the prevalence of children under five years of age with stunting, LAC subregions have an indicator that demonstrates a downward trend over the last 26 years. In 2016, Meso-America had a prevalence of 15.4 per cent, South America 9.5 per cent, and the Caribbean 5.3 per cent.
The FAO study noted that the trend of excess weight and obesity can be seen increasingly in all of the region's countries and in all age groups, regardless of levels of wealth or geographical location, adding that in 24 countries the prevalence of obesity in the adult population is close to or over 20 per cent of the population.
The FAO warned that if no changes were made to this trend or the speed of growth, the region would be unable to eradicate hunger by 2025, which was part of its commitment to the hunger-free Latin American and Caribbean initiative, outlined in the CELAC Plan for Food, Security, Nutrition and Hunger Eradication 2025.
“Nor will it be able to achieve this by 2030, a threat to the progressive realisation of the human right to adequate food in the region, especially for the poorest and the most vulnerable.”
The FAO advised that the task of eradicating hunger will require a redoubling of effort aimed at the least-developed and backward population centres.
FAO regional representative Julio Berdegué said these problems are concentrated mainly in rural areas that lack public services, are difficult to access, and are extremely vulnerable to climate events, which are increasingly recurrent and severe.
“This fact is especially noticeable in the poorest families who can earn their livelihood from farming or other activities related to the management of natural resources, and affects women, children and indigenous people with greatest severity,” he noted.
Berdegué said it was, therefore, necessary to implement and evaluate new policies and instruments designed to take action in the most vulnerable territories and communities, to make efforts more effective and efficient.
FAO Director General Dr Jose Graziano da Silva named conflicts, climate change, and economic slowdown as contributory to the increase of hunger in the LAC, adding that the importation of cheap foods is responsible for the increase in malnutrition and obesity in the region.
He posited the view that it might be necessary for regional governments to legislate against cheap food imports, which are loaded with salts, fats, and sugar.
With delegates focusing on the increase in hunger and obesity in the region and how to combat the phenomenon, the FAO director general commended the record attendance at and participation in the conference, which had representatives from all 33 member countries in the region for the first time.
“Obesity or malnutrition is something new that we are now starting to look more deeply into… there is a tendency for the islands, especially the smaller islands, to have a high level of obesity,” da Silva said, adding that statistics have shown that whereas in some islands up to 50 per cent of the population is obese, the incidence rises to 65 per cent of the population in some instances.
Da Silva has blamed the problem of obesity on the fact that budgetary restrictions in some of those islands, result in a tendency to seek the cheapest foods to import.
“The cheapest foods are those that are intense in fats, sugar, and salt — the three main causes of overweight and obesity.
“We have, in some sense, outsourced the responsibility of feeding ourselves. We need to recover the responsibility for feeding our people. This is a question for the governments as well — we need policies from them. It is not a private issue, this is an epidemic issue.
“We need a complete review of the role of the governments, of the consumers, and of the families, on this nutrition issue. We need to think about it in a responsible way and implement policies that we know are efficient,” da Silva said.
The FAO official said that funding was now in place to assist in the formalisation of projects to alleviate the major issues.
“Everyone is crying out for more resources, particularly from the Green Climate Fund, and the FAO has built the capacity in the organisation to assist member countries to access these funds,” da Silva said, noting that Mexico had announced at the conference that it had set up a fund to assist English-speaking Caribbean countries, specifically, to prepare projects for climate change funds such as the Green Climate Fund.
“These funds are there in abundance, but it takes particular skills, frankly, to be able to prepare projects based on their stipulations,” he responded when asked to explain why the small island states were still complaining of difficulty accessing the Green Climate Fund.
The FAO director general said the delegates attending the conference here had called on the United Nations agency to support member states in developing a programme, especially for those with a greater concentration of hunger, extreme poverty and vulnerability to climate change.