Thu | Jan 17, 2019

Letter of the Day | Food for thought - hunger and obesity

Published:Wednesday | March 7, 2018 | 12:00 AM


Rising hunger and out-of-control obesity; persistent rural poverty and inequality; degradation of natural resources and climate change - these are the main enemies of food security in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Just a couple of years ago, the region celebrated a historical achievement. In 2015, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) recognised it as the only developing region to reach the hunger target of the Millennium Development Goals.

With 20 million people having overcome hunger in little over two decades, the region became a shining global example, the concrete proof that zero hunger was indeed possible.

But things have changed, quite dramatically, since then.

In 2017, FAO warned that hunger was once more on the rise in Latin America and the Caribbean. Between 2015 and 2016, hunger grew by almost two and a half million people to reach 42.5 million. It has not been that high since 2008.

By itself, this would be cause for great alarm. But, strange as it may seem, hunger is now coupled with an obesity epidemic affecting all countries and social sectors.

The children of this region are the most overweight in the world - almost four million of them. The situation for adults is even worse: a whopping 96 million people suffer from obesity. That exceeds the total population of Colombia, Argentina and Costa Rica, combined!

But while the challenges are many, Latin America and the Caribbean also have many unique traits. The region is extremely fertile and biodiverse, has more water than just about any other corner of the planet, and its vibrant agricultural sector is key to feeding the world.




The programmes and policies that supported the development of family farming, helped women become a key part of the rural workforce, fed millions of children through school feeding programmes and improved access to nutrition for the most vulnerable were not mere handouts to the poor. On the contrary, they were at the heart of sustainable economic and social development, even before the 2030 Agenda.

We must transform our agri-food systems profoundly to make them more efficient and competitive, more environ-mentally friendly and truly inclusive.

That is why FAO is calling on all countries to step up the fight against hunger, malnutrition, rural poverty and climate change in FAO's Regional Conference, which is being held in Jamaica from March 5-8.

Jose Graziano da Silva

FAO Director General