Latin America: the Region Most Affected by the Current Food Crisis

By Gustavo A Maranges on January 31, 2023

photo: Bill Hackwell

Today, the high and growing food prices are one of the most worrying issues in the world from families to nations. If 10 years ago, hunger and malnutrition were issues of concern to the international community, today, they are way more urgent than ever before since. They have grown to the point that they are no longer limited to underdeveloped countries, but have also spread to the first world.

European and North American families, especially those in the middle and lower-income sectors, have suffered severely from rising food prices. However,  the worst part of the problem is still reserved for southern countries, assured by the latest report of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). One of the report’s most alarming facts is that Latin America is the most expensive region when it comes to maintaining a healthy diet.

In the region, a healthy diet costs US$3.89 per day per person, the most expensive in the world. Meanwhile, in Europe and the United States, the price is reduced to US$3.19, and the world average is US$3.54. It is apparently an insignificant difference, but the situation turns more complex when featuring it with the abysmal income differences between the two regions. In the United States, the average salary is around $2,500 a month, while in Europe, it is a little higher, but in Latin America, it barely surpasses $500.

It means that 22.5% of the population, some 131 million people, do not have access to a healthy diet. According to FAO parameters, a healthy diet is inaccessible when people have to spend over 52% of their income on it. The figures are even more alarming if you drill down into vulnerable groups such as women, children, and low-income families.

A country-by-country analysis reveals that there are also great inequalities within the region. For example, in the Caribbean, 52% of the population cannot afford a healthy diet (above $4.0 a day), while in South America, the figure is just over 18%. The difference lies in the fact that Caribbean countries import most of the food they consume, making them more vulnerable to speculation in the world food market. Similarly, there are some countries with worrying statistics, such as Haiti (85% cannot afford a healthy diet), Jamaica (66%), and Suriname (58.8%).

However, the most interesting fact in the report is that the FAO establishes a direct correlation between this alarming reality and the unequal distribution of wealth in the region. Therefore, it is no surprise that the most unequal region in the world has one of the highest rates of inaccessibility to a healthy diet. However, this conclusion is still superficial.

While inequality is one of the causes of the phenomenon, the main cause is the subordination of the working class and people’s welfare to large corporations’ interests. As long as the market’s logic continues to prevail in our region, it will be impossible to erase hunger and poverty from the region, for good, it is in fact a built in component of the neo liberal model that dominates the globe

Currently, it is no secret that food prices are established by agribusiness and trade magnates, which has only been possible thanks to the neoliberal governments’ submissive cooperation. So this is the first thing that needs to change before any real improvement would be seen, and neglecting this reality will only lead to ephemeral solutions, at best.

The report itself recommends more public policies to control food prices. It also points out that fostering family farming and supporting small and medium-sized farmers is the most promising way to solve the current crisis. In other words, take the power from big corporations. It is such an obvious conclusion that not even the FAO, which has nothing to do with progressivism or the Latin America left-wing, can deny.

The neoliberal logic behind high and speculative food prices has not only made Latin America the most expensive place in the world to eat healthily, but sank 40% of the population (267.7 million people) under food insecurity conditions. This figure has steadily increased since 2014, corresponding to the end of the first progressive cycle in the region. This is not a coincidence, but further proof of the ominous consequences of the policies dictated by for profit food accumulation and implemented by national oligarchies and their political representatives.

The aforementioned figure is well above the world average, which barely exceeds 29%. However, it is even more shocking if we take into account that Latin America currently exports over 40% of its food production. Hence, it is not a question of underproduction or lack of infrastructure.

It is illusory to think that the solution to a problem caused by decades of colonialism and neoliberalism might be quick and simple. Even more so amid such a convulsive international scenario and a war in Europe that has functioned as a perfect excuse for speculators to increase their profits at the expense of the health of millions. However, neither can we allow the causes that lead our people to live in undeserving conditions to continue. That’s the goal, but we have to start fighting our battles, time is of the essence.

Source: Resumen Latinoamericano – US