Q24N (La Estrella) In order to solve some challenges that Latin America and the Caribbean still faces in terms of agri-food trade, FAO together with the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and the Inter-American Institute for Agricultural Cooperation (IICA) will be holding May the first Regional Network of Experts in Agri-food Trade.

The idea of this meeting is to discuss ideas and exchange experiences on such an important issue for the region as agri-food trade.

Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) today has enormous potential to increase its intraregional trade, since it produces more food than it requires to satisfy the food needs of all its inhabitants, however, it faces great agri-food challenges, highlighted in an interview Pablo Rabczuk, Agri-Food Systems and Trade Officer, and Coordinator of International Trade at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

“Latin America and the Caribbean play a relevant role in achieving food security in the region and globally. It is a major player in the production of agricultural and fishery products and is currently responsible for 13% of world agri-food production, as well as 17% of the total value of world exports. This means that as a region we have a very important commitment regarding food exports and trade,” Rabczuk explained.

The expert added that currently 41.6% of what is produced in the region is exported, with an annual agri-food surplus of more than US$174 billion.

Despite the fact that Latin America is a region that has a high agri-food surplus (it exports more to the world than it imports), there is great concern and that is that almost 9% of the population suffers from malnutrition (it cannot buy enough food to meet the minimum daily dietary energy needs), so you have to look at what is failing.

“If we analyze this situation by subregion, we see that it is quite dissimilar among them, with a region that is a net importer of food like the Caribbean, in a mixed scenario like Central America, where there are spaces for intraregional agrifood trade to grow for the benefit of security food”, explained the representative of the FAO.

According to Rabczuk, LAC has enough availability to be self-sufficient and supply the world, but the vast majority of the countries in the region are exposed to problems of production, marketing, and price increases, since they are net importers of wheat, corn, and vegetable oils. Without considering that almost 85% of the fertilizers used are imported.

“We have developed this space on May 3 and 4, inviting experts from the academic and private sectors, and subregional organizations of which Panama is a part, such as the Central American Economic Integration System and the SICA Secretariat of Agriculture, to that together we can develop lines of work and research so that this region continues with that agro-export vocation and continues to generate sources of employment in times of post-covid economic recovery,” he emphasized.

Regarding Panama, the expert said that the main agricultural products exported are pineapple, banana, melon, watermelon, cassava, coffee and cocoa, among others. The main export destinations are the United States and the European Union. While the main imported agricultural products are corn, wheat, rice, powdered milk and meat, among others.

Panama is a key point due to its strategic position for agri-food trade

“Although Panama has a negative trade balance (it imports more than it exports), it is not necessarily negative, but a reflection of the type of economy highly concentrated in services and logistics. So the isthmus is making efforts to strengthen family farming and to be able to increase national production to meet national demand and guarantee food security,” explained the FAO official.

At the same time, he pointed out that Panama has high-quality export products with great potential for expansion, such as pineapple, coffee, cocoa, bananas, fish, and crustaceans, among others.

“From the FAO we consider that it is key in times of crisis such as the one experienced in the pandemic, and later, the war between Russia and Ukraine, that governments react strategically and keep trade flows open, without putting up barriers or trying to to close them because in the medium and long term they complicate the country’s economy,” he said.

He added that both the consumer, governments and exporters must have access to transparent and real information in order to make informed decisions. “Transparency in price information in the markets is very important.”

Hunger in Latin America

According to data from the FAO, Latin America and the Caribbean reached its highest prevalence since 2006, with 8.6% of people suffering from hunger in 2021, which corresponds to 56.5 million people. The figure grew by 13.2 million since before the outbreak of the pandemic in 2019.

Rabczuk also highlighted that the number of people experiencing severe food insecurity in Latin America and the Caribbean increased from 9.9% of the population in 2019 to 14.2% in 2021.

In addition to the fact that Latin America and the Caribbean have the highest cost of a healthy diet compared to other regions, and the prevalence of overweight and obesity are above the world average.

“In Latin America, it is also more expensive to eat healthily and at the same time we have a very worrying obesity crisis due to the high risks to health and therefore it becomes a burden on the health system of the States”, he said.

The FAO Food Price Index, measured in real terms, rose 64 points between May 2020 and March 2022, reaching its all-time high of 156.3 points in March 2022.

It then fell back, reaching levels similar to those observed between November 2021 and February 2022, prior to the start of the war, but continuing at a level above the maximum of past decades.

In health crises such as the one experienced in the pandemic, the expert applauded social projects such as “Estudiar sin hambre” and “Plan Colmena”, since with them the food problem could be solved for many communities, especially the most vulnerable in the country.

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