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Food Security and Nutrition

“I’m More Optimistic than Before Regarding the Goal of Ending Hunger in Latin America”

Orlando Milesi interviews MARIO LUBETKIN, FAO regional representative for Latin America and the Caribbean

Mario Lubetkin is FAO Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative for Latin America and the Caribbean. CREDIT: Max Valencia / FAO Lac

Mario Lubetkin is FAO Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative for Latin America and the Caribbean. CREDIT: Max Valencia / FAO Lac

SANTIAGO, Apr 2 2024 (IPS) - “I’m more optimistic than before” about the goal of ending hunger included in the 2030 agenda for Latin America and the Caribbean, said FAO regional representative Mario Lubetkin in an interview with IPS.

Lubetkin, who is also Assistant Director-General of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), warned that it is still difficult to achieve this goal, but expressed optimism about the awareness expressed by the leaders of 33 countries that participated in the organization’s 38th Regional Conference, held in the capital of Guyana.

At the meeting, which ended on Mar. 21, the governments agreed to emphasize the fight against hunger and improve agricultural management in the nations of Latin America and the Caribbean.

The four FAO guidelines approved at the Georgetown conference are: more efficient, inclusive and sustainable production; ending hunger and achieving food security and nutrition; sustainable management of natural resources and adaptation to climate change; and reducing inequality and poverty and promoting resilience.

Solving the problem of hunger is a key element of international security and world peace, Lubetkin said during the interview at FAO’s regional headquarters in Santiago, Chile.

IPS: After the 38th Conference, are you more optimistic or pessimistic about achieving the zero hunger targets of the 2030 Agenda and in particular Sustainable Development Goal 2, zero hunger, for the region?

MARIO LUBETKIN: I still maintain that it is very difficult, but that is one part of the equation. The other part is whether I am optimistic about a state of increased awareness and action in Latin America and the Caribbean. Having heard what I heard and from that point of view I am more optimistic than before.

In how many electoral campaigns in the region last year and this year has the issue of no hunger and food security been addressed?… in many. And it was not an issue before.

Celac (the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States), the only structure for political dialogue among Latin American countries, approved at its last summit in St. Vincent and the Grenadines (Mar. 1-2) a new 2024-2030 food and nutrition security plan. This is the way the region is contributing, by rethinking their plans and focusing them in a forceful and clear manner.

Celac does not easily approve issues by acclamation or consensus, but now it has done so and this means that food security is above any conflict or political ideology. This is a source of optimism.

And the Group of 20 (large industrial and emerging countries), the world governance bloc chaired today by Brazil, will launch a major alliance against hunger and poverty.

These are very strong signals to address an issue that has been dragging on for too many years. Today there is a greater level of awareness.

IPS: What is the state of affairs in the region in the fight against hunger?

ML: There are about 43 million people suffering from hunger and more than 130 million have difficulty putting food on the table.

We are talking about a region that was the only one to reduce the number of hungry people by more than three million.

This is a sign that should not be underestimated, since it was reduced because there were policies that are beginning to yield concrete results.

IPS: But the problem is still pressing….

ML: Indeed, we cannot say that with this reduction we are reversing trends. What we can say is that there is a glimmer of hope. But if it continues for a second year, we could say that we are getting closer to seeing a real trend.

Until 2014 there was a net trend of hunger reduction. Then it changed worldwide, including Latin America.

We have seen a situation in which we are coming out of COVID with all the effects that it generated: a regression to a scenario of 20 to 25 percent hungry people. These are very severe numbers that we have gradually been improving, returning to the pre-COVID scenario.

IPS: Moving toward a solution to the problem of hunger requires a very broad social consensus.

ML: Today we cannot assert that all this is going to be tackled by one country, or by an international organization or the private sector. No one on their own is going to solve this problem.

During the Conference, economic, environmental, educational, health and social development components were discussed. No food security is possible without the participation of all these elements, all the actors and all the technicians.

When we talk about the transformation of agrifood systems, we are talking about sustainable land, quality seeds, lines of credit, especially for family farmers, water management, foreign trade, social development policies, education and health.

IPS: You mentioned a “glimmer of hope” in the fight against hunger due to the reduction in the number of hungry people by three million.

ML: I would call for a replication of the same policies applied by governments during the COVID pandemic, when there was no international cooperation or dialogue between countries, but rather local spending efforts to solve a fundamental issue.

At that time, we turned to the basics of survival and there were two main goals: not to catch COVID and to go to the supermarket and not find empty shelves.

There was investment during that period by countries to avoid disaster, and development policies because the machine did not stop. Many presidents understand that they must be at the forefront of food security because it is essential for a country’s socioeconomic stability.

IPS: This region is a major food producer, but overweight and obesity are on the rise. There are severe problems due to the consumption of junk food.

ML: In terms of adults, the obesity figure is over 24 percent. But we have more dramatic statistics. Obesity among children under five years of age exceeds 8.7 percent. This figure means an enormous passive burden for governments, for the rest of these children’s lives.

Another alarming fact is that the cost of eating quality food on a daily basis is the most expensive in the world, even though this is a food-producing region. Here it costs an average of 4.08 dollars a day, while the global average is 3.66 dollars and in Africa the cost is 3.78 dollars.

The cost of quality food is a problem that the region has to be capable of tackling. Education is another aspect.

Of the world’s total food production, 13 percent comes from this region. But far less than 20 percent is exported within Latin America, and that is a serious sign.

Latin America has the capacity to produce food for more than 1.3 billion people, with a population half that size, which means we have a huge margin.

IPS: In Brazil, public purchases are made from family farmers to supply school meals. Can initiatives like this help to solve the problem?

ML: Without a doubt. One of the key elements is for local experiences to expand beyond the borders of the country.

These are aspects of enormous sensitivity because we are talking about 70 or 80 percent of farmers. Large producers do not need us, but small and family farmers do. In addition ….this is where one of the great battles between development and poverty is played out.

IPS: Has the scenario been complicated by armed conflicts?

ML: I am not talking about war, but about wars, which, although they are far away from us, produce economic effects and effects on agricultural production that weigh heavily.

And we have a conflict that is really severe in Haiti, where almost 50 percent of the population of eight million have difficulties feeding themselves.

IPS: Ending the hunger crisis is key to international security and world peace.

ML: No doubt…. it’s very simple: war does not solve the issue of hunger, it can only aggravate it. Only in a scenario of peace can the issue of food security be addressed.

Where there is war, not the most high-profile wars but the ones that fly under the radar like in Afghanistan, South Sudan, Somalia or Yemen, you can be sure that there will be no solution.

It can only happen in a scenario of peace, and if we are going to advance towards food security, it will be because we find ourselves in more positive scenarios, which is fundamental.

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