Latin Amer­ica in Search of Sus­tain­able Food Sys­tems

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Aparadigm shift is needed re­gard­ing how food is pro­duced, con­sumed and mar­keted in Latin Amer­ica and the Caribbean, in or­der to curb health prob­lems re­lated to poor nu­tri­tion.

Find­ing healthy and sus­tain­able food pro­duc­tion sys­tems was the idea de­bated by ex­perts, aca­demics and rep­re­sen­ta­tives of gov­ern­ments of the re­gion and United Na­tions agen­cies, at a re­gional fo­rum held Sept. 5-7 in San Sal­vador.

The chal­lenge is over­whelm­ing: to fight against not just hunger and mal­nu­tri­tion, but also over­weight and obe­sity in Latin Amer­ica and the Caribbean, which are on the rise in this re­gion of over 640 mil­lion peo­ple.

The three-day Re­gional Sym­po­sium on Sus­tain­able Food Sys­tems for Healthy Eat­ing in San Sal­vador was or­ga­nized by the United Na­tions Food and Agri­cul­ture Or­ga­ni­za­tion (FAO) and the Pan Amer­i­can Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion (PAHO).

“This space is an op­por­tu­nity to share ex­pe­ri­ences, be­cause we are work­ing hard to have stan­dards, as a chal­lenge for so­ci­ety as a whole: ur­ban­ism, a seden­tary life­style, changes in eat­ing habits, over­pro­cessed fast foods, end up be­ing a threat,” said Car­los Garzón, PAHO rep­re­sen­ta­tive in El Sal­vador.

In 2012, 38 mil­lion peo­ple died from non-com­mu­ni­ca­ble dis­eases, 48 per­cent of them un­der 70 – “peo­ple who shouldn’t have died,” he said.

“And a good part of these dis­eases, such as di­a­betes and hy­per­ten­sion, are linked to over­weight and obe­sity, and thus, re­lated to diet,” he stressed.

For his part, Julio Berdegué, FAO re­gional rep­re­sen­ta­tive for Latin Amer­ica and the Caribbean, said this part of the world is los­ing the fight against hunger and over­weight.

He said this re­gion had had an im­por­tant lead­er­ship role at a global level, with com­pre­hen­sive pub­lic poli­cies to tackle hunger, and had man­aged to lift 26 mil­lion peo­ple from a state of food in­se­cu­rity since 1990.

“But for the last five years we have not been mak­ing the progress we had been mak­ing. I re­gret to have to an­nounce that the data that FAO will pub­lish next week will con­firm that, for the first time in a gen­er­a­tion, the world, in­clud­ing our re­gion, are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a set­back in the fight against hunger,” he said dur­ing the fo­rum.

And with re­gard to obe­sity, he said that in 24 coun­tries in the re­gion, 20 per­cent or more of the pop­u­la­tion is over­weight.

In Chile, Mex­ico and the Ba­hamas the pro­por­tion is over 30 per- cent, while in Uruguay, Ar­gentina and Trinidad and Tobago it is nearly 29 per­cent.

Ac­cord­ing to FAO, obe­sity is erod­ing the de­vel­op­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties of nearly four mil­lion chil­dren in Latin Amer­ica and the Caribbean. In Brazil and Paraguay, 12 per­cent of chil­dren are over­weight, in Chile, Bo­livia and Mex­ico the pro­por­tion is nine per­cent, and in El Sal­vador, six per­cent.

Some of the par­tic­i­pants in the fo­rum vis­ited the vil­lage of Pepenance, in the mu­nic­i­pal­ity of Atiquizaya, 83 kilo­me­ters west of San Sal­vador, to learn about the ef­fort made since 2013 by the lo­cal school to pro­mote the Sus­tain­able Schools program.

This project is part of the Sus­tain­able School Feed­ing Program of El Sal­vador’s Ed­u­ca­tion Min­istry.

FAO re­gional rep­re­sen­ta­tive for Latin Amer­ica and the Caribbean, Julio Berdegué (right), and other vis­i­tors lis­ten to two stu­dents at the school in Pepenance, a vil­lage in El Sal­vador, as they talk about their school veg­etable gar­den. Credit: Edgardo Ay­ala/IPS

In the program, stu­dents learn to pro­duce food in the school gar­den, and eat a nu­tri­tional daily meal based on veg­eta­bles and other natural prod­ucts pur­chased from lo­cal fam­ily farm­ers.

The Sus­tain­able Schools ini­tia­tive, sup­ported by FAO and fi­nan­cially backed by Brazil, is im­ple­mented in 10 of El Sal­vador’s 14 de­part­ments, and cov­ers 40 of the 262 mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties and 215 of the over 3,000 schools lo­cated in ru­ral ar­eas. It ben­e­fits a to­tal of 73,000 stu­dents. (IPS)

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