COMMENTARY: Towards a hemispheric partnership for food security

Manuel Otero, Director General of the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA)

The looming global food crisis will also significantly impact Latin America and the Caribbean. Failing to address it or tackling it in a disjointed manner will have painful consequences and will endanger the peace and future of our societies, which have been hard hit by the pandemic in the last two years, amidst a decade of low economic expansion and increasingly frequent extreme climate events.

These food security-related problems have particular regional significance at this time, given that, between 2012 and 2019, Latin America and the Caribbean experienced their lowest growth rate since the “lost decade” of the 1980s.

Further compounding this problem of low economic performance and the pandemic is the war in Eastern Europe, which has triggered spikes in the prices of energy, fertilizers, and several major agricultural commodities, all of this, amidst troubling climate concerns.

This situation has made food security a priority concern, among other issues such as low economic growth, poverty and inequality, environmental sustainability, and macroeconomic conditions.

In May, the World Bank’s Food Price Index was 87% higher than in May of 2020. Although the index is still lower than it was in comparable crisis situations in the 1970s and in 2008, these prior experiences provided valuable lessons on what to do and what not to do to overcome the disruption.

As far as the region is concerned, it bears mentioning that the Americas continues to play a key role as the world’s major net food exporter, and therefore a guarantor of the planet’s food security.

Thus, it is imperative that the region’s countries work together to tackle common challenges; maintain and expand production and export capacity, and avoid trade measures that would heighten insecurity and volatility in international markets.

To this end, several of the major food-producing and exporting countries of Latin America and the Caribbean, along with the United States and Canada, signed an agreement at the recent Summit of the Americas.

The countries of the Americas must continue to advocate for an end to the conflict and, in the meantime, must insist that it not be allowed to affect the production and exportation of food or agricultural inputs originating in the areas that are at war.

Despite the fact that the Americas is a net exporting region, overall, it is critical that it introduces intraregional trade facilitation measures, as well as provide humanitarian aid and financial support to its net importing countries, particularly in the English-speaking Caribbean, Haiti, and Central America.

In exporting countries, poverty and food insecurity have been aggravated by the pandemic and the pressures of inflation. Policy responses to this situation must consider both consumers and producers.

Regarding the former, it is necessary to prioritize social protection actions and food assistance for the most vulnerable populations, rather than general energy subsidies or restrictions on international trade.

With respect to the latter, short-term efforts should be geared towards minimizing impacts on the 2022-2023 production cycle. One way to achieve this objective is for the public and private sectors to engage in continuous consultation processes to monitor prices, guarantee an adequate supply of fertilizers, and secure funding from the banking system in order to offset the rise in production costs. This certainly does not exclude the possibility of applying targeted fertilizer subsidies in special cases.

It is also crucial to undertake medium-term efforts aimed at increasing resilience. Possible initiatives include the design, financing, and implementation of a new generation of public policies to strengthen agrifood systems. IICA’s recently created Public Policy Observatory for Agrifood Systems (OPSAa), a platform to exchange information and best practices, as well as monitor progress with respect to the food situation, will provide support in this area.

At the current juncture, it is even more important to strengthen work in science, technology, and innovation in order to bridge productivity gaps and expand inclusive production in family farming. To this end, it is necessary to foster associative undertakings and cooperative development.

We face considerable challenges, but the Americas, a young, green, and peaceful continent, possesses the necessary resources, individuals, and institutions to build a better future for everyone.

The current situation need not lead to a humanitarian crisis, provided that countries in the region work together. We need a true hemispheric partnership for food security.

The positive transformation of agrifood systems will yield economic, social, and environmental benefits for the region; will have a positive impact on global food and environmental security; and will reduce migration problems.

Urgent action is needed to build a new vision for agriculture in the Americas. Agriculture holds the key to resolving the formidable challenges of today’s world, including ensuring peace and democratic stability.

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  1. If we knew better
    July 11, 2022

    And that is why i say Dominica is a waste of time, maybe i should say Dominicans. Because the island is a lovely wonderful place. Its the people who are doing nonsense. After Maria we had the opportune time to ensure our place is food security and production. All our heads were interested in was making money and aquiring assets. wasting donated funds and taking what they could. Dominica can feed the eastern caribbean if allowed to. We can turn our resources into a variety of products the world has never seen but manufacturing and agro processing isnt even understood by these fools. All they want to see is hotel, as if Tourism isnt a fickle industry as seen in COVID times. talk talk talk. sound nice look better. but nothing is going on here as it should. million upon million pass thru here on a daily but we are still poor and wanting assistance. We get assistance but it never reaches the poor man how it should.

  2. Ibo France
    July 6, 2022

    Governments, and highly placed officials are inclined to blame the Covid 19 pandemic and the war between Russia and Ukraine.

    Dominica has all it takes to have a thriving agricultural sector. There is an abundance of arable soil, water and rainfall, sunshine, farmers and potential farmers. The country should have most definitely been the bread basket of the Caribbean long before the pandemic or the war.

    It is entrenched CORRUPTION, gross INCOMPETENCE, and a callous DISREGARD for the economic independence of the citizens has Dominica on an irreversible trajectory to the abyss.

    The forlorn, economic conditions in Dominica are unavoidable as long as the inept and uncaring ruling autocracy continues to corruptly impose itself on the hapless people.

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