New reports say that Latin America can play a critical role in feeding much of the world’s population

Jul 18, 2014

By Margaret Zeigler and Ginya Truitt Nakata

Population growth and dramatic diet changes are placing agriculture and the natural resource base under great stress worldwide.

As the largest net food exporting region on the planet, Latin America and the Caribbean appears poised to play a critical role in feeding a global population of over nine billion people in 2050 — but to meet expected demand, governments and producers must work together to create sustainable, market-driven systems of food production.

With more than a third of the world’s freshwater resources, and more than a quarter of medium- to high-potential farmland, the region has a tremendous opportunity to increase agricultural productivity while sustaining these natural resources through innovation and conservation practices. The role of Latin America and the Caribbean has often been overlooked until recently, and a campaign to advance the potential of meeting global food, feed, fuel and fiber needs with support for and from the region is finally underway.

To fulfill this critical role, the region must implement key policy actions. Our recent collaborative report, launched by the Global Harvest Initiative and the Inter-American Development Bank with contributions from more than 30 other partner organizations and companies, makes specific policy recommendations for how Latin America and the Caribbean can harness its potential and create the right enabling environment to attract investment.

The report recommends increasing public investments in agricultural research and development, reinvigorating agricultural extension services, modernizing rural infrastructure, and advancing agricultural financing, and risk management services for smallholder farmers. It also outlines important steps that governments must take to harness the power of regional and global agricultural trade.

Improved trade can help efficiently move food from regions where it is produced more sustainably to regions that will have high food and agriculture demand in the coming decades. Trade liberalization through multilateral, regional or bilateral agreements can be a major contributor to farm income and economic growth by expanding market access for smallholders, improving efficiency and stimulating investment in food and agriculture. The report provides practical case studies of how these recommendations are being adopted in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Multilateral institutions such as IDB and IICA can play a special role in providing critical additional financing and technical support, and an effort is underway to harness this support through public-private partnerships.

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