As stated in the first part of the article, the Overview of Food and Nutrition Security in Latin America and the Caribbean presents a food system that seeks to reduce malnutrition by increasing food availability, access and utilization, as well as its stability. In this second part we will take a look at food utilization and stability of food and nutrition dimensions.
Food utilization refers to the impact food quality and life conditions have on both nutrition and health of individuals. Nutritional state of the population has been affected by an increased overweight and obesity among all ages and sectors of the population, which coexists with undernutrition.
An obesogenic environment persists in Latin America, which favors overweight and obesity. This situation is observed by the widespread presence and low cost of ultra processed products, which enhances their excessive consumption. These products that are ready-to-eat usually have less nutrition quality, so in excess they might affect health. Ultra processed products purchase is five times higher in low and medium income countries, in comparison with high-income countries. Low purchasing power of the population makes difficult and displaces a diverse diet that includes fresh and healthy foods such as vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts and whole grains, as well as homemade dishes.
Latin America is the fourth region in the world on ultra-processed products sale, with 129.6 kilograms per capita per year. Mexico surpasses the region average (214 kg/capita/year), being 1st in the region and 4th worldwide on this matter. It is worth mentioning that Chile has the 2nd place of the region and 7th worldwide, followed by Argentina and Uruguay that also exceed the regional average. In Mexico there has been an increase of 29.2% on ultra-processed products sale in respect to 2000, which translates to a 2% annual increase.
It is recommended that food systems, which mean, food processing, distribution and sale have a higher presence on public policy making. These policies may be focused on better food utilization, promotion of a healthy diet, discourage the consumption of high sugar, fat and salt products, as well as to improve access to clean water and provision of medical care, food and nutrition education.
On the other hand, it is essential that food and nutrition dimensions are stable in order to guarantee food availability, access and adequate utilization at all times. Nevertheless, agro-alimentary systems are exposed to crisis and financial difficulties, politic and social conflicts, as well as environmental impact, such as natural disasters and those caused by human action.
Patterns of food production and consumption have an important environmental impact, by increasing water extraction, soil degradation, biodiversity loss, and deforestation persistence. Natural disasters have also increased, which affect the rural population because their livelihood usually depends on the weather, and there is a low preparation and recovery capacity against them. A third of the Latin American and the Caribbean population live in areas susceptible to natural disasters. Beyond these phenomena, climate change would also reduce productivity and farm incomes by changing temperature and rain patterns on the crop yield, increasing population’s vulnerability.
Furthermore, food waste and loss is alarming. A third of the food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted in Latin America and the Caribbean (34%), that is, around 1300 million tons per year. Most wasted food groups are fruits, vegetables, roots and tubers, with a 45% waste rate. This is followed by fish and seafood (35%), cereals (30%) and dairy, meat and legumes (20%). Likewise, several resources are wasted when producing food, such as water, soil, energy, labor and capital. Besides, greenhouse gases are unnecessarily emitted, and contribute to global warming and climate change which in turn affects agriculture. It is a hard cycle to break, which decreases even more the possibility for an adequate diet.
In order to avoid these losses, it is recommended to take action at the level of small farmers, because the greatest loss occurs in food production. It has been observed It is not efficient, there is a lack of technical and maintenance assistance, as well as inadequate storage and refrigeration areas persist. Besides, it is recommended to improve transport routes of agricultural production to other sites of processing or distribution, to support infrastructure, to enable farmers to efficiently deal with emergencies, to prepare, adapt and mitigate climate change, and to manage resources to make the system more sustainable.
As food price variability affects the most vulnerable population by forcing them to reduce food quantity and quality, it impacts the countries that import their food. The influence of international prices at a local level is a matter of concern, due to its direct impact on the population.
Finally, Latin America and the Caribbean has enough food, but difficult access to healthy eating and consumption directed towards calorie-dense food, which impacts health and nutrition status, together with a sedentary lifestyle and low-education level. It is requiered to adopt the necessary measures to ensure an adequate eating for the Latin American and Caribbean populations.
FAO/PAHO. Panorama de la seguridad alimentaria y nutricional en América Latina y el Caribe 2016. Available from: http://www.fao.org/3/a-i6747s.pdf