Food Supply and Security


Food security is a pressing issue for Latin American countries. Its primary threat is the physical need for food; however, it relates to a variety of social, agricultural and economic problems. As the following diagram shows, there are three components to food systems.
Food utilization relates to the physical properties of food that sustain life while food access and food availability relate to the ability of people to have access to food. Each component has differing issues that can arise to hinder food security.

Access to food becomes limited through a variety of means including crop production which can be skewed because of climate changes, environmental degradation, insufficient income for production, the influence of large dominating export producers, water availability and sanitation. These issues can cause detrimental health effects, lower productivity, greater income disparity and an overall diminishing food supply and ability to access the food supply.

Many problems arise from these issues; however, these problems also contribute to a worsening of the issues while creating new issues that weaken food security in Latin America. In order to secure a consistent food supply in Latin American countries, these issues must be analyzed in depth in order to begin the process of rectifying the problems so that the detrimental effects of an insecure food supply can be eradicated and a better standard of living can be achieved.

Climate and Environmental Impact

The climate has a direct impact on the food supply in Latin American countries. There are many climatic and environmental strains put on the food supply such as pollution, urbanization, land availability, intensification of crops and temperature variations.

The most immediate concern is temperature variation as this causes many other issues that are detrimental to crop production and food security. “Warming at lower latitudes brings on greater heat and water stress as well as a shortening of the crop cycle, which can be expected to result in large decreases in crop yield.” (Carmona, 2007, para.6). The immediate effect of warmer temperatures will lower production, thereby also decreasing the food supply. This temperature variation comes as a result of pollution and the environmental degradation, particularly through industrialization, that has contributed towards global warming.

Another extension of variations in temperature comes in the form of the El Niño. El Niño is occurring more often and with a greater intensity due to global warming which is creating more climatic changes throughout Latin American countries. “… the effects were being felt across the continent, from dry conditions in northern Brazil and the Pacific coast of Central America, to severe drought over large parts of Mexico, and flooding in Colombia and Peru.” (Ibid. para. 4). These changes to climate impact the food supply by creating conditions that are unsuitable for the crops to grow in that had traditionally been grown in these areas. With the increase of El Niño, there is more destruction of local crops that thrive under the conditions that have presented the norm of those areas in the past and that are now having difficulties with consistent production in the face of increasing climate variations.

Follow this linkfor a video on El Nino:

As this clip shows, the El Nino not only causes problems with the climatic conditions necessary for crops to grow in, but also creates social issues that precede food shortages. Land can be destroyed, displaced labour may occur and various forms of environmental degradation mya arise due to this phenomenon. Each problematic result can extend into further issues of food security as production of and access to food becomes severely diminished.

Similar to these climatic issues in relation to temperature, is the increase in hurricanes. “The Caribbean is particularly vulnerable to such furious acts of nature, with current research on the subject suggesting that the warming of the ocean, an effect of global climate change, increases the frequency of hurricanes.” (Ibid. para. 4). Hurricanes devastate the areas they hit. Not only are crops obliterated, but also homes, businesses and people. The effect is economic, social and agricultural loss. Food supplies are destroyed by both hurricanes and the aftermath of hurricanes. Economic loss reduces the ability of people to afford food, agricultural loss reduces the access to food resources, and social loss reduces the resources used to create food production and food security.

Most of the issues in nature have resulted due to the progress of mankind causing pollution and global warming among other things. Land availability has become a pressing issue in food security as people are using more and more land for urban development, and technological and industrial expansion at the expense of agricultural production and environmental responsibility. Land use is further skewed by crop intensification as producers need to produce more and do so by reducing the crop rotation. By planting crops on the land every year, the soil becomes destroyed through continuous use and leads to lower productivity over time.

These issues are not stand-alone problems. They have further implications within Latin America. Problems with agricultural production lead to employment issues, standard of living issues and issues of the stability of countries. “…heavy losses in the agricultural sector will directly affect regional economies as 30-40 percent of the working population are typically employed in that sector.” (Ibid. para. 6). The climate may present immediate physical problems with securing food supply; however, these problems cause many other social and economical problems with further consequences that relate back to issues of securing food.

Possible Solutions:

The most beneficial approach to food security issues related to the climate an environment is to learn from the past and to make use of modern technology. History shows which crops grow best in what areas and under what conditions while modern technology can predict the effects of humans on both the climate and environment. Given this ability to somewhat foresee the future, people can alter their behaviour to stop degrading the environment which may reduce the tendencies for obscure climate variation.

Also, technology can allow for people to adapt to long-term changes in the environment and absorb these variations better. This will help to secure the food supply since people will have the knowledge of how to deal with the changes when they occur as well as take preventative measures to diminish them from occurring.

Effects of Large Export Producers

Another rising problem in Latin American food security is due to large, export producers. They own large amounts of land, use local labour and export their products for great profit that is not shared within the countries of production. Their emphasis is on exporting since there are greater profits to be had in the international market. Smaller farms are mostly responsible for crop production for the domestic market while larger farms have mostly taken on export production. The presence of the export producers is a contributing detrimental factor to the domestic food supply.

Their presence has led to a decline in domestic production through many avenues. Most notably; though, it has been caused by the role it plays in using the small-farm workers.

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In the example of Costa Rican banana plantations, the large producers caused the displacement of many traditional domestic producers. “A typical family on a small farm could increase its earnings substantially by working in a banana plantation rather than cultivating its own land.” (Dorner, 1973, p.228). Similar cases occurred throughout Latin America in which the benefits of working for the large producers out-weighed the benefits and profit of their own production. This leads to a flow of labour to the attractive export-producers and an abandonment of domestic production which creates a reduction in the availability of resources for food within the countries.

Similarly, the large exporting farms make use of the traditional producers through their land in addition to their labour. An example can be drawn cotton production in Nicaragua and El Salvador. “Many independent small farmers, lacking financial resources or technical know-how, rented out their land or joined the cotton expansion on a modest scale.” (Ibid. p.228). This also contributed to the expansion of the export producers while decreasing the amount of land use for domestic production. The result of the reduction in domestic producing farms is the need for increased imports to supply the countries with food. These countries are now facing two issues: one of instability in the food supply due to decreases in domestic production; and, one of economic instability threats as their money is put towards the attempt to secure a food supply which could be produced within their own country.

Following these interactions between the two types of producers is the social implications that lead to a lack of food security and a lack of accessibility. The primary issue within this is a lack of employment security and the resulting effects of it on labourers. “Large producers can save on overhead costs while meeting their labour needs in peak seasons, especially during harvest, by hiring labour only seasonally.” (Ibid. p.222). Workers do not have permanent employment; therefore, there is economic instability and shortages since they only have seasonal income. The result has been the migration of workers in search of more employment in order to secure an inflow of money necessary for providing for their basic needs. “In Nicaragua, the displacement of small farmers was of such a magnitude that… and estimated five per cent of the cotton crop was lost because of regional shortages, motivating the use of mechanical pickers…” (Ibid. p. 228). By introducing mechanical pickers, the agricultural process has become cheaper while also furthering the problem of unemployment. This affects food security in two ways since more resources are directed towards export production, thereby reducing domestic food supplies while also contributing to social costs that have limited the ability for domestic production due to migration as well as the limited accessibility to food because of a lack of income and uneven income distribution due to unemployment, seasonal employment and migration.

The effects of the large export producers have created a continuing cause and effect progression of issues within food security. They obtain the necessary land and labour to fulfill their needs which creates an increase in earnings for workers by displacing them from their farms only to have this become compromised by using seasonal employment instead of permanent which, in turn, causes these displaced farmers to migrate out in search of income. This causes a shortage of labour that results in mechanization which further causes employment instability due to job loss.

Possible Solutions:

Given that the root of this problem lies within the exportation of domestic products, there needs to be a change in the uneven balance between export production and domestic production. Since the larger farms have, essentially, destroyed traditional farms by taking from them their land and labour, the change must occur within them.
It may be possible to require that these export producers must allocate part of their production to satisfy domestic needs by securing the food supply within the countries.

Similarly, since traditional farming has nearly been abandoned, it must be revived in order to contribute to the domestic food supply. By bringing the land back under the ownership of domestic producers, the problems of displacement, migration, employment and great income disparity that have resulted will be rectified. However, this will also require greater equality in the markets and fair wages in order to prevent the same problems from occurring again.

Latin American Food Supply and it's Detrimental Affect on Health:

Malnutrition is a horrifically common social, economic, health issue that affects 792 million people worldwide (FAO 2000), and the majority of these individuals being children, women, and the elderly. In this assignment I will be focussing on the relationship between food supply/security and malnutrition and its cyclical costs that are leaving huge reversible deficits in Latin American economies.
Three-year-old Antonio, who has the weight of a 6-month-old baby, is being treated at a health center for malnourished children. Guatemala has the hightest rate of malnutrition in Latin America. (Patrick Farrell/Miami Herald)
Malnutrition can be literally translated as “bad nourishment”, it is a vicious cycle being void of the nutrients necessary and the ensuing infections that prolong and create illness, which make it nearly impossible to absorb said nutrients afterwards. The most common form of malnutrition in developing countries is under nutrition, specifically protein deficiency; startlingly, it is responsible for half of the under-five deaths in developing countries. (WHO 2000)
The victims of malnutrition of those that are experiencing high amounts of growth and do not have the ability to satisfy those needs; infants, adolescents, pregnant women and the chronically ill are those that are hit the hardest. Prolonged malnutrition can result in the very minimum: diarrhoea, hookworm, anaemia, malaria and secondary malnutrition; there are also extremely high risks to systemic infections, individuals who suffer with chronic disease due to suppressed immunity and decreased absorption of nutrients are particularly at risk. Malnutrition causes severe growth stunting, marasmus (the chronic wasting of fat, muscle and other tissues) and irreversible brain damage due to iodine deficiency and blindness.
Malnutrition is brought about by factors such as inability to access nutritional food due to literal scarcity, economic, political, environmental factors, and lack of sanitation and of education. With its relatedness to water scarcity and purification in Latin America, there is a lack of proper farming and mining techniques that use water efficiently, decreasing the overall availability of fresh water in many Latin American countries.
What is the relationship between malnutrition and inflation? “The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) has warned that 10 to 15 million more Latin Americans could fall into poverty as a result of food price inflation.” (Estrada D., 2008 ) An often unknown factor of malnutrition is the issue of the high cost of food, primarily agricultural products in Latin America. Although subsistence agriculture is positive in theory, eventually there will be the desire to import more exotic products and export to generate income. However, the problem is that many Latin American countries are lacking the ability to compete on an international market, and eventually it becomes too costly for them to purchase basic foods locally and they must import them at a high cost. This can be portrayed specifically through the example of bananas from Jamaica and the control of monopoly American companies such as Dole and Chiquita; many Jamaicans are forced to import inexpensive agricultural products from the United States such as potatoes, bananas and lettuce which could be easily grown in Jamaica itself. A more recent statistic that has surfaced in light of the earthquake is Haiti’s huge dependency on the import of rice from the United States, a crop that has been historically grown in Haiti.
The costs of malnutrition are sometimes obvious such as the extra medical expenses that are required to be spent on the many nutrition related diseases and are prolonged due to malnutrition. “In 2004 alone, childhood malnutrition cost the economies of Central America and the Dominican Republic 6.7 billion dollars, or 6.4 percent of their combined GDP.” (WBO, 2006) However other implications of malnutrition on a national level are a loss of the work force due to nutritional disease which stunts Latin American countries ability to produce and compete economically. Children being the primary victims mean that there is lower-school attendance, and it puts pressure on schools to provide programming for children that are mentally impaired due to maternal and infant malnutrition; unfortunately a majority of these children drop out of school and enter into a lower-income, low-production forms of employment.
The solutions to malnutrition are as diverse as the problem itself, because it is a multifaceted issue; it requires steps for both the long and short term covering bases economically, socially and educationally. Firstly, it is imperative to implement the correct infrastructure in rural towns and urban centres to ensure that correct water sanitation is implemented, an estimated 1/6 people enjoys adequate water sanitation and it is necessary due to its linkage to malnutrition and poor health overall.
The encouragement and incentive of grassroots and subsistence agriculture is crucial so that Latin Americans are able to affordable purchase locally grown food and they do not need to import agricultural products from highly developed countries. This could be potentially done through government subsidization incentives of fertilizers, seeds and tools given to rural farmers in exchange for opening land for “local market” agriculture.
Education could be the most beneficial and least costly solution to malnutrition and absolute poverty. It is essential that individuals have the tools and knowledge to properly care for their children, create a income for themselves and pressure their government to make and implement the necessary changes. There are movements in Latin America that are community-based educational programs that target women as they are the primary caregivers to monitor their child’s height and weight, teach proper food and water preparation, hygiene methods and most importantly breastfeeding children from 6 months to a year after birth; targeting the prevention of malnutrition in children under two is especially a concerning project in Panama, Honduras and Nicaragua. One improvement that Chile has made is providing nutritional meals at school, this reduces economic losses due to malnutrition and increases school attendances rates and nutritional health overall- so far it has had positive outcomes and if this continues it is hoped that it will create pressure for other Latin American governments to do the same.
Malnutrition is a deeply multifaceted but completely preventable and reversible tragedy. A haunting statistic that I learnt in Peter Adolfo’s DEST 201 class is that, “The world’s 200 richest people have a combined wealth of over $1trillion. Only four per cent of this wealth would be enough for basic education and healthcare, adequate food and safe water and sanitation for the entire world’s people.” Initiatives required to alleviate malnutrition are those that largely must be taken by the national and local governments, NGOS and also, by the countries themselves that are exploiting trade with Latin America.

The Relationship Between Food Security/Supply and Conflict:

Food supply and security and its correlation with war and conflict has a series of historic roots in Latin America; this could be attributed to its long line of dictators, failed reforms, USA inventions and colonial past. All these passages are times of instability, violence and uncertainty that needs will be satisfied. During times of conflict, there are organizations that intervene in attempt to restore basic rights and supply food to those that are affected; however, many times the political strife blocks the aid and it does not reach the individuals that are the most in need. The relationship between food securities and war is both cause and effect, it can causes civil unrest when basic needs are not met and it can also be the effect of political instability, war and conflict between different groups in Latin America.

Food can be used as both a "carrot and a stick" by dictators in Latin America; it can also be used as a weapon to punish and also a reward for those that comply with the power. As a food security example, land tenure holds great influence over what and how much is grown, siding with certain political powers can be beneficial to gaining land titles, being exempted from taxes, gaining private ownership and special rights; oppositely, being a victim to the political power or worse being against it, can result in denial of basic land rights, confiscation of land and overall unjust discrimination that reduces economic autonomy for rural peasants; this is the cause of most peasant revolutions in the 20th century. In Guatemala, historically indigenous farmers were forced off their fertile soils to mountainous refuge zones where they were isolated and growing previous agriculture became nearly impossible. Furthermore, the struggle to regain land by former combatants and non-combatants in former war zones remains an issue in “Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua [as it] remains a threat to political stability and future food self-reliance, as indigenous and peasant communities try to regroup, establish rights over land.” (Derose et al. 1998)

War in Latin America often results in temporary and unstable government systems and the collapse of basic infrastructure such as water sanitation structures and crop development initiatives. In examples of civil, indigenous and paramilitary movements, rural crops are burnt and individuals are forced from their land upon which their livelihood depended; this can be clearly depicted through the film viewed in class, “Alonso’s Dream”. The movie showed families displaced, rarely with more than the clothes on their back, not sure if even their basic needs of shelter and food would be satisfied due to the paramilitary movements.

Another significant issue that links conflict and food supply/security are the economic sanctions placed on violent countries to reduce the outbreak of war. Haiti is a perfect example, as in 1993 sanctions were placed on Haitian military leaders who gained power from then President Aristide. Although humanitarian aid is “provided” to ensure that the sanctions do not harm those who are most vulnerable, that aid rarely reaches those most in need. This results in the loss of indigenous/rural populations and many, many children.

external image Haiti_6_314588a.jpg Conflict can also increase due to extreme poverty conditions, usually in the forms of civil uprisings, revolutions, and guerrilla movements; often as food security and supply decreases; civil unrest and crime increases. In Haiti 2008, high food price protestation reached its peak and protestors burnt tires, clashed with police, looted stores and created overall chaos in Port-au-Prince; fortunately this was only a minor incident leaving five casualties. Food security based conflict will usually occur on a smaller scale, beginning in rural farmers revolting against government officials, land owners and plantation owners which can be seen with indigenous tribes in Guatemala but also Colombia. (Photo Left: 2008 Haiti protestation, link to photo: //

Food security and supply is significantly affected by conflict and will often result in unrest if basic needs are not met. Unfortunately there are few solutions that are available and they are often ambitious and not easily implemented. It is important that measures are taken to ensure that women and children left behind in hostile situations are not displaced and left to struggle in ruin; by this, international organizations and aid relief need to ensure that emergency and humanitarian aid is efficiently and equitably distributed.

Insufficient Income
Insufficient income is an important factor in food security; it has been found that this issue is prevalent in Bolivia and Columbia therefore these countries will be examined in detail. Basic food needs are not being met by half of the Bolivian population due to low and unreliable sources of income. Indigenous displaced people found in Columbiaencounter large problems in acquiring a stable source of income. These people are forced to move frequently and establish their homes in various places; their nomad lifestyle reduces their access to a stable job and therefore income. An individual’s source of stable income is essential in the provision of food.

Possible Sources:

Water and Sanitation
Sewage systems and industrial pollution are leading contributors in the contamination of some Latin American water supplies. The extent to which bodies of water have been polluted is exemplified in Columbia’s Medellin and Bogota rivers where the dissolved oxygen is severely reduced preventing marine and plant life as well as polluting agricultural soils. Clean water is an important component in the growth of food supply, without it crops can not grow and agricultural resources are diminished. Polluted water destroys that which is needed for the healthy development and production of food easing the spread of disease and impacting the population’s health.

Possible Sources:


“Food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.” (World Food Summit 1996) Food security and its supply is a diverse and present problem in Latin America, we have explored factors of the environment, large exports, conflict, insufficient income, and the outcomes being poor water sanitation and malnutrition. Not only is it an economic, educational, political, social problem but it is also morally and ethically wrong that there are thousands of Latin Americans suffering for preventable reasons. As mentioned, food security and supply is a highly complex problem in which countries can be burdened with one or several of these barriers to basic needs, Haiti for example, suffers from environmental factors, insufficient income, malnutrition and conflict. Overwhelmingly the only solution to these problems is through the creation of long and short term goals and through government reform, the aid of the United Nations and other international organizations and the charity of non-governmental organizations. It is hoped that through the acknowledgement and education of the food security issues in Latin America and in correlation with the UN’s Millennium Goals, which touch upon world hunger, income deficit, child and maternal health and the environment, that it will be possible to eradicate these sources of contention for a potentially rich and prosperous country. The following video is a perfect example of some the solutions that were implimented in Central America and they give a realistic voice to a sometimes ambiguous problem that many people in North American have trouble visualizing:


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