FAO Director-General addressing the Regional Conference in Montego Bay, Jamaica.
6 March 2018, Montego Bay, Jamaica – A big regional effort to bolster social protection policies in Latin America and the Caribbean is essential to lower rural poverty and reverse the recent uptick in hunger, FAO Director-General Jose Graziano da Silva said today.
“The region can’t remove the support given in recent years to those who are most vulnerable,” he said at an event focused on the Zero Hunger campaign during FAO’s Regional Conference for Latin America and the Caribbean.
Countries should maintain the set of policies, plans and social protection programmes that allowed the region to post a significant reduction in hunger and chronic malnutrition in recent decades, he said.
FAO’s most recent report revealed that, after years of steady and even sharp decline, the prevalence of undernourishment in the region rose by 2.5 million people from 2015 to 2016, reaching 42.5 million in total.
“The increase has been especially significant in South America, due in large part to the economic slowdown, rising unemployment rates and the erosion of social protection networks in some mayor economies in the subregion,” Graziano da Silva said.
Meanwhile, undernourishment continued to drop in Central America and the Caribbean, subregions that maintained the positive hunger eradication trend.
A large share of the regional population still do not have access to formal social protection, especially in the region’s rural areas, which prevents many of the most vulnerable households from breaking access barriers to healthy diets and dignified livelihoods.
“Given all the experience accumulated by countries over time, FAO is convinced that the region is capable of improving the effectiveness of its policies in reaching territories and communities where food insecurity is most concentrated,” the Director-General said.
Time for action on two fronts: hunger and obesity
The 33 countries gathered at the regional conference in Jamaica need to fight two battles at the same time, complementing efforts against hunger with efforts to tackle overweight and obesity, Graziano da Silva said. While that is a global epidemic, it is especially alarming in Latin America and the Caribbean, where one in five adults in 24 countries are judged to be obese, higher than the global average, he noted.
“We need to guarantee everyone’s right not only to food but also to healthy and adequate food,” he said.
Promoting the agricultural sectors is an essential strategy, he said, noting that family farmers too often face limitations in their access to markets, natural resources, finances, insurance and rural extension and advisory services.
Public programmes designed to purchase the output of family farms, as well as cash transfer schemes, are a good example of how social policies can be successfully applied, he said.
It is also time to establish policies geared to transforming the region’s food systems in ways that make them fairer, more inclusive and healthy, Graziano da Silva said.