As countries across the world celebrate World Food Day Tuesday, several million citizens across Latin America will have little to celebrate. According to Julio Berdegue, the regional representative for the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), 39 million people in the region suffer from hunger and at least another five million suffer malnutrition.
The data presented also showed 2018 marked the third consecutive year the region regressed in the fight to eradicate hunger, moving further away from achieving the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals.
“It’s very distressing because we’re not making progress. We’re not doing well, we’re going in reverse. You can accept this in a year of great drought or a crisis somewhere, but when it’s happened three years in a row, that’s a trend,” Berdegue told the Inter Press Service.
Signaling an even more worrisome trend, the countries, which have shown the worst results aren't the region poorest, such as those in Central America. The data presented showed South American countries, which are generally considered to have a greater wealth of and access to arable land, have moved backward.
The international anti-capitalist movement La Via Campesina, or Peasants’ Way, have said they will use Oct. 16 as the International Day of Action for Food Sovereignty and Against Transnational Corporations.
La Via Campesina has highlighted the need to recognize access to food as a right while stating that food sovereignty is linked to the promotion of agro-ecological forms of production that go against the prevalence of large monocultures, which are dependent on pesticides, fertilizers, and genetically-modified seeds.
In early October, Rilma Roman of Cuba’s National Association of Small Farmers argued at a forum in Ecuador: "Agroecology, which has the goal to reach the people’s food sovereignty, strengthening and reconstructing local food systems, is political. And for this, it is fundamental to guarantee a popular agrarian reform based on dignity, solidarity, and ethics.”
A 2016 Oxfam report described Latin America as one of the world's most unequal regions in terms of land distribution, several groups have pointed to this fact as one of the causes for the region's overall lack of food security. According to the report, just one percent of the farmers and cooperative estates control more than half of the region’s productive land and small farmers, who account for more than 80 percent of agricultural production, occupy only 13 percent of all productive land.
According to Berdegue, governments must promote the creation of jobs and income, especially for people with fewer socioeconomic resources. However, the current economic policies of South America's largest countries — Brazil and Argentina — have gone against this policy. The governments in those countries are actively applying austerity measures, which have in turn negatively affected employment and productivity.
The FAO has also urged countries to rethink social protection policies to make them more robust. “In Latin America, we are not missing food. We are missing money to buy food,” he said. According to Via Campesina “with neoliberal policies, hunger and malnutrition grow, not due to the absence of food, but due to the absence of rights.”
A general policy the FAO has urged governments to enact for years is the strengthening of family agriculture and sustainable rural development by improving access to resources, such as land, water, energy, infrastructure, and low-cost credit.