Anna Vogt is the Latin America and Caribbean Regional Advocacy and Context Analyst.
The struggle for food security is a struggle that requires solidarity, organization and unity to consolidate strategies for mutual support. Cultivating sufficient food is the greatest challenge of the campesino population.
-Jean Remy Azor, coordinator of the MCC AgroForesty program in Haiti.
When I first arrived to Latin America, I assumed that everything on my plate would be spicy and accompanied by a pile of fresh tortillas. It was a bit of a shock when I first landed in Bolivia, to plates of rice and bowls of peanut soup, with not a tortilla in sight. Throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, there is an enormous diversity of food, served and eaten everyday, from spaghetti for breakfast in Haiti, to black beans in Guatemala, to yes, a plate of tacos with spicy salsas in Mexico.
Food is also an intimate connector with culture and identity. The aroma of coconut rice on the stove and a fish bubbling in a frying pan of hot oil instantly transports me to my days living on Colombia’s Caribbean coast. Besides the smells and tastes, this dish also reminds me of conversations around the table, the way we crunched through tiny bones while planning community activities or laughing by the creek over lunch. The diversity of food reflects the diversity of ways of that people across the LACA region, and the world, live, produce, and share the food that we eat every day.
Along with the emotional connections, food, and access to food, are of course intimately connected to wellbeing and livelihood. Yet, when we examine statics of nutrition in Latin America and the Caribbean, it is clear that many people are not being nourished by the rich diversity of food to be found in the region. According to the World Food Program, 13% of children under 5 year old in Latin America-Caribbean suffer from chronic malnutrition, but the reality varies greatly from country to country. In Guatemala, 48% of children under five suffer from malnutrition and in El Salvador, 21%. In Costa Rica, however, malnutrition impacts only 6% of children under five. An average of 5.5% of the population across the region face hungers, but again with great diversity, with Haiti at 53%, compared to Bolivia, at 16%.
There are many factors involved in the creation of these situations that limit access to food. Here are of the challenges around food security in Latin America:
- Histories of conflict that have suppressed or damaged ancestral knowledge and traditions about food production.
- Economic models that favour extractivism are prevalent throughout the region.
- Wealthy elites control vast swathes of land and often use violence to protect their interests. According to a recent Oxfam report, 1% the population owns more land than the remaining 99% in the region. The 32 richest people in the region hold the same amount of wealth as the 300 million poorest people.
- Many communities are already feeling the impacts of climate change, facing severe droughts and unpredictable seasons that making growing very difficult.
In Haiti, the rural communities that we visited during a recent encounter around food security start each meeting with a song. As they bring their hands together to the beat, they sing about the importance of their work, with lyrics proclaiming their identity is the engine of the countryside, an engine that provides food for the entire nation. As Jean Remy Azo states, “Hunger is a serious problem because it requires urgency. It is possible to wait to receive new clothes, but it is not possible to wait for food.” This recognition of the vital importance of food producers is crucial for a complete understanding of food security, and also points to another area for consideration when we talk about food: the local level work of communities and organizations across the LACA region.
In the light of climate change, land access, and other serious issues, communities, churches and small organizations gather to advocate, educate and engage in different responses to growing and working the land. Through community lead training, reforestation, agro-ecology, and crop diversity, campesinos work together to improve conditions in a way that recognizes their own dignity, as the producers of the food we all enjoy.
In our new blog series on food security and climate change, we want to examine food and justice, with a focus on the connections from the local to the global. We will highlight the work already taking place, as communities struggle to adapt to a changing world. Part of that adaptation is asking questions and thinking about different approaches. How do we approach a changing climate? What role does advocacy play, both in terms of international advocacy around climate change and local level advocacy around access to land? How do free trade deals and multi-national companies, such as Monsanto, impact people’s ability to grow and access food? How are relationships built between the city and the country? What is the place of democratic governance within these situations? And of course, how does the food that we eat everyday, such as our bananas with breakfast or a quinoa salad, connect with the struggle for sustainable food security in Latin America?
As Rebecca Shetler Fast reflects in a blog on the Haiti website, “Food is more than a means to an end—more than just nutrition and filling empty stomachs. Food can be a symbol of who we are, where we come from and the values that define us.” Please join us over the next few months as we explore the connections between food security and the flavours and textures that fill our plates.