AS agriculture and food systems across Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) try to recover from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, policy makers must act to unleash the sector’s vast potential to drive sustainable and inclusive growth for decades to come, according to a new World Bank report.
The agricultural sector in LAC plays a vital role in producing food and ecosystem services that benefit not only the region but the entire planet. Today, millions of farmers and livestock keepers throughout the region struggle to overcome the impacts of a global health crisis, an economic slowdown, unprecedented weather shocks, and a crippling migrant crisis. Reforms are needed for the sector to play an even more important role in supporting the region’s recovery from the Covid-19 crisis, the elimination of extreme poverty and the promotion of shared prosperity, according to Future Foodscapes: Re-imagining Agriculture in Latin America and the Caribbean.
“The pandemic crisis leads us to rethink the future of Latin America” said World Bank Vice President for the Latin America and the Caribbean Region Carlos Felipe Jaramillo. “We need an agriculture sector that can satisfy the growing food needs of the region and the world at large while avoiding further damage to our environment. With better policies and new technologies, the region’s agri-food systems can contribute more to growth, reducing poverty and food and nutrition security.”
Agriculture is important for the region’s economies, accounting for 5-18 percent of GDP in 20 countries in LAC, and an even larger share when broader contributions across food systems are considered. Yet despite its record of success, agriculture is underperforming. Impressive achievements reflected in rising production and increasing net exports have come at the expense of significant environmental and health costs. Protecting the region’s environmental wealth and paying attention to food quality and safety, as well as nutrition security are particularly important.
“Latin America and the Caribbean is the world’s breadbasket and lungs,” said Michael Morris, World Bank Lead Agriculture Economist and leader of the team that authored the report. “But the challenge is to ensure it continues to play those roles. Policy makers will need to focus on reducing market inefficiencies, building human and institutional capacity, readying for catastrophic risks and seizing emerging opportunities, while at the same time considering game-changing reforms such as making agri-food systems carbon neutral.”
The report highlights 20 proposed actions that could help unlock the vast potential of the region’s agriculture and food systems. Some of these actions merit priority attention because they are guaranteed to pay off. Examples of ‘no regrets’ actions include measures aimed at modernizing agri-logistics infrastructure (including information and communication technology), improving the skills of agriculture and food system workers, making agriculture and food systems climate smart and deepening rural financial markets. Other proposed actions are also imperative to mitigate against risks and build resilience in the face of multiple threats ranging from climate change, demographic pressures, zoonotic diseases, and other disasters and negative disruptors.
A second group of proposed actions are more strategic in nature and offer a range of options that policy makers can use to address the diverse challenges facing agriculture and food systems throughout the region. As the pace of technological change accelerates, policy reforms and supporting investments can position the region’s food producers, processors, and distributors to seize emerging opportunities. Examples include climate-smart disruptive technologies or supporting the development of biofortified foods and nutraceuticals. At an even higher level of ambition, ‘game changer’ actions could have the potential to fundamentally transform the region’s agriculture and food systems, for example by decoupling all agricultural production support from the production of specific goods, or combatting climate change by committing to full carbon neutrality.
The actions proposed in the report can help to ensure the long-term viability of food production capacity and the sustainability of the natural environment on which agriculture and all life depend. Current practices will need to be replaced with better models that increase production, strengthen ecosystem services, and enhance climate resilience in an inclusive way. If policy makers in LAC can rise to the challenge, the region’s agriculture and food systems will have a decisive influence on the fortunes not only of the region, but of the entire planet. The future of these systems is far too important to be left to chance.