The Garden of the World is Hungry: How Did Latin America Get Here? , future america

Shoppers at a food market in Riohacha, Colombia in August 2022.nicollo filippo rosso

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If tomorrow an international conflict cuts off trade with Canada, as it did with Ukraine in March 2022 at the start of a war with Russia, Latin America could be “very stressed” due to shortages of essential foods, in the words of experts. Will happen.

For example, Colombia would be left out of its mix, as more than 67% of the wheat consumed in this country is imported from that northern country. For Chile, this hypothetical contingency would be a definite blow to the supply of pulses, an essential food to make up for the lack of animal protein in the diets of many of the poorest households, and which comes almost entirely from Canada. It is estimated that only 25% of the beans they consume are grown in this country.

This practice can be repeated with many other producing countries, or as journalist Martin Caparos calls them in his book Baptized appetite, “Food Exporter”. And the threat of the day could be replaced by an environmental catastrophe or, to be less pessimistic, by a ship jam in a sea channel strategic to trade as happened in 2021. In the end, the result is the same: “we ran into an extremely fragile global food system,” explains Felipe Roa-Clavijo, PhD in International Development from the University of Oxford and author of the book. The politics of food provision in Colombiawho states emphatically: “This system is also causing hunger, inequality and environmental instability in the global south”.

With the pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the vulnerability of the food system was exposed like never before. The closure of Ukrainian ports has disabled Ukrainian exports and left far-flung countries without basic food items. North Africa, the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa were particularly affected by grain shortages.

But it is not necessary to resort to hypothetical cases and what has happened to Ukraine to demonstrate for Latin America the devastation of a system that has undermined food sovereignty and left the entire region dependent on others. given, almost entirely, to be able to. Supply the necessary food for your population.

According to the most recent report from the United Nations Food Agency (FAO), with figures for 2021, 34 million South Americans are hungry. “Within South America, in Peru, nearly half the population experiences moderate or severe food insecurity. In Argentina, Ecuador and Suriname, it affects about 37% of the population. But in the world’s pantry , one of the largest food exporting regions, how many people go to bed empty stomach?

A farmer from the vicinity of Puno (Peru).

“Latin America is a food export powerhouse, mediated by high production of soybeans and grains produced in Brazil and Argentina to feed Chinese cows. But at the same time, it is a region beset by deep food insecurity and worrying levels of malnutrition. is, as FAO has recently warned”, emphasizes Roa-Clavijo.

Fewer farmers and more monoculture

Daniela Paola GAC, researcher at the Department of Rural Management and Innovation of the Faculty of Agricultural Sciences of the University of Chile, details her country’s case to highlight this worrying paradox: “In Chile, our production of food for domestic consumption is almost entirely is in the hands of small producers, but we have a very sad social fabric in the agricultural sectors, we do not have an active farmer, but one who no longer wants to work in the fields and who, moreover, cannot access water, which is a private good. If there are fewer and fewer farmers, our food security is becoming increasingly vulnerable.”

To the complex panorama, according to the academic, we must combine the millions of hectares dedicated to forestry, fruit, grape and berry monocultures hand in hand with an agribusiness that has sought and monopolized each area for a productive business. has allowed for diversification of the food grown without it, nor is there room for small producers.

“For example, cherry production is so important and the value of land has increased to such an extent that it is unprofitable for small growers to insist on cultivation, which is why they choose to sell their plots for production. ” Jamun for Chinese market. I know rural places where they do not have fresh food production for consumption, most of what we produce goes for export and we have to import the food we need at international market prices is”, explains the GAC.

In Colombia, the dependence on wheat and corn coming from Canada and the United States and which today makes products from the local origin basket more expensive in historical data, was cooked under similar factors. “During World War II, with the Marshall Plan, the United States began sending wheat and grain to rebuild Europe. Faced with this contingency, Colombia was left without wheat and grain, and was forced to become self-sufficient in grain. You saw crops of all colors in the savannah. But it was short lived. When this plan ends, all surplus grain in the United States goes back to our countries as donations and this weakens the grain economy”, explains Felipe Roa-Clavijo.

With the opening up of the economy in the 1990s, the result of the Washington Consensus, this situation became extreme and ended up in favor of the United States since it did not have a good national supply. In 2021, according to July figures, more than five million tons of corn were imported into Colombia, while local production barely exceeded 1.5 million tons.

A man holds boxes of avocados for export at a distributor in Periban, Michoacan state on April 28.Juan Jose Estrada Serafin (The Dark Room)

latin american paradox

The promise of the so-called “Green Revolution”, a model implemented between the 1940s and 1970s with the intention of meeting worldwide food demand, did not calculate the social and environmental damage it would cause (Food Systems Today produces) a third of greenhouse gases) and made it clear that increased agricultural productivity does not necessarily mean greater access to food. For their part, the region-wide conundrums with the signing of free trade agreements highlight the destruction of a model that has gone from eliminating hunger for many to even thinking about raising the incomes of a few. Changed my focus.

“We have arrived here because of a deregulated system, with very vague rules of the game, on important issues like pesticides, transgenic seeds, regulation of employment contracts, entry of migrants without basic minimums, and when this model is at its peak, a lot is permissible. , we reach a limit. We are hungry. I see areas in Chile where there is no access to fresh food, there is no water, and they prefer processed foods or subsidies which lead to more malnutrition and poverty produce,” says study author GAC. Food sovereignty in Latin America: perspectives on a concept in action and controversy,

Given the worrying contradictions that Latin America is experiencing, a regional governance model is called for, which seeks to put different regions and social movements on the table to clarify how much exports What to do and how much to save. local population. “India, which is a big exporter of wheat, has already done this,” says Roa-Clavijo, who decided to reduce its exports of the grain when given the evidence.

One of the pathways analyzed by academia is to work on regional planning, so that countries can decide what business they give to certain regions and thus export agribusiness, small producers and, for example, Let’s ease the tension between a new player. Entered into the equation: Energy projects that are being set up in rural and potentially cultivable areas.

“It is imperative that the issue of food is taken up as part of social security, just as access to water, education and health is included. Social security is related to food security. The state has to ensure access to food”, says the GAC.

“If we want to change these figures, political will will be necessary,” he said. Some public policy bets show us possible paths. In Colombia, for example, there is a law that I find revolutionary, to say the least, which is the Public Procurement Law, which binds all public entities that work or contract with the state, and who distribute food to military bases, schools, etc., to buy at least 30% of their food from small producers, to create a short marketing circuit”, says Professor Roa-Clavijo, who concludes: “Thus By this we are making sure that these small producers will have someone to sell their products to and that what is produced in a country is not solely decided by external demands.

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