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Food Security in Latin America and the Caribbean

The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) is committed to promoting resilient, sustainable and inclusive food systems to achieve food security in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC).

The IDB considers achieving food security fundamental for the region’s development. Food security exists when all people have physical, social and economic access to sufficient safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs for a healthy life (FAO). Food security comprises four dimensions:

  • Availability of food (i.e., food supply)

  • Access to food (i.e., financial resources needed to obtain food)

  • Food stability (i.e., having constant access to and availability of food)

  • Use of food (i.e., having access to healthy, safe, and nutritious food)

Food insecurity in Latin America and the Caribbean has become a structural problem exacerbated by recent crises, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, Russia's war in Ukraine and the current context of climate change.

  • LAC was the only region to achieve the Millennium Development Goal (MDGs) of halving the proportion of people suffering from hunger between 1990 and 2015. However, since then, there has been a significant increase in the number of people facing hunger and food insecurity. 

  • In 2022, 38% of the region’s population suffered from food insecurity (247.8 million people) and 7% (43 million people) faced hunger (FAO).

The main factors associated with food insecurity in LAC are loss of income, inequality and rising food prices. These three factors have restricted access to healthy food.

The COVID-19 pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine war have increased poverty and created inflationary pressures due to increases in food prices, fossil fuels and fertilizers. Since early 2021, the region has experienced a widespread rise in the cost of food. It is estimated that, compared to pre-pandemic levels, the cost of food imports increased by more than 50%. This increase has mainly affected countries that are net importers. In LAC, 10 countries are net food importers, and more than 20 are net importers of corn and wheat.

The region faces significant challenges regarding food use. Around 11% of children suffer from stunted growth and 24% of adults are obese. Additionally, LAC is the region with the highest cost for accessing a healthy diet ($4.08 per person per day vs. $3.60 globally). Consequently, 24% of the population cannot afford access to a healthy diet (50% in the Caribbean, 28% in Central America and 20% in South America).

Climate change poses a threat to food security. Climate events lead to high variability in the region’s food supply and access to healthy foods. Additionally, climate change impacts agricultural productivity, food prices, critical infrastructure and the incomes of the poorest populations.

Food insecurity has adverse effects on all stages of a person’s life and in various spheres. Specifically, it results in reduced physical and cognitive development in childhood, increased chronic diseases in adulthood, lower productivity and employability, more mental health issues, higher mortality, and increased costs for healthcare systems. Therefore, taking measures to create resilient, sustainable and inclusive food systems is essential.


Solutions Proposed by the IDB 

The main objectives of food policy in Latin America and the Caribbean should focus on:

  • (i) Increasing access to food, with a focus on populations vulnerable to food insecurity such as women, children, indigenous peoples and Afro-descendants. Providing specific support to vulnerable populations to meet their food needs through the vertical and horizontal expansion of social-protection networks and cash transfers and increasing the coverage and quality of school feeding programs. All of this, in combination with productive interventions in family farming to improve incomes in rural areas.

  • (ii) Promoting sustainable food production. Generating climate-resilient agriculture to increase agricultural productivity and ensure the sustainability of natural resources through investment in agricultural public goods (i.e., infrastructure, irrigation, agriculture research) and the adoption of climate-smart agricultural technologies and practices.

  • (iii) Improving the availability and access to healthy diets. Addressing the triple burden of malnutrition facing the region (undernutrition, obesity and micronutrient deficiency). To achieve this, social and agricultural policies are needed to incentivize the production of nutritious foods and reduce the cost of access to healthy diets. The following should be considered: investments in food and input price information, actions to access essential micronutrients, investments in water and sanitation, nutrition-sensitive agricultural interventions and strengthening of agricultural safety services.

  • To increase food stability: reducing variability in food availability and access requires investments that promote productive and commercial diversification, adoption of climate-smart agricultural technologies, strengthening of agricultural health systems, facilitation of trade and improved resilience of logistical systems.

In conclusion, the IDB believes that to tackle food insecurity, it is crucial to implement social and agricultural sector development policies that promote resilient, sustainable and inclusive agri-food systems.

It is especially important to promote investments in agricultural research and innovation. For this, it is critical to support agricultural research and innovation networks in the region. The main international and regional agriculture research centers must play a central role, working closely with national research systems and the private sector. This collaboration will foster a robust market dynamic and address the needs of the local population, following a bottom-up approach. Evidence shows that for every dollar invested in agricultural research, between 10 and 30 dollars in benefits are obtained. However, in most countries in the region, less than 1% of agricultural GDP is invested in agricultural research.


Examples of Operations / Initiatives 

  • Between 2020 and 2022, the IDB approved 52 projects that contribute to SDG (Sustainable Development Goal) 2, “Zero Hunger,” generating impacts on more than 800,000 agricultural producers.

  • The Bank generates high added value through the provision of technical assistance and the development of knowledge products. This includes impact evaluations that measure the effectiveness of our projects on food security.

  • During the pandemic, the IDB implemented fast-track processes for processing standardized operations in order to mitigate the immediate effects of COVID-19. This initiative resulted in monetary transfers worth $3.4 billion in 16 LAC countries.

  • Currently, the IDB is promoting evidence-based initiatives that aim to improve food security in several countries in the region, including Panama, Haiti, Peru, the Dominican Republic and Colombia.

  • In Bolivia, the IDB is supporting investments that exceed $300 million in agricultural health, irrigation infrastructure and technology transfer, aimed at women and small farmers. Impact evaluations confirm the effectiveness of these interventions in improving food security.


Salgado Derqui, Javier Jose

Salgado Derqui, Javier Jose
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