Blog Post

Report launch: The key role of trade in strengthening food security in Latin America and the Caribbean

Recent events such as the war in Ukraine and the El Niño weather cycle have demonstrated how shocks triggering changes in production and distribution of food in one country or region can reverberate around the world, eroding food security for millions if not billions. Efficient, agile, and diverse trade networks can help countries and suppliers to cope with these shocks and strengthen food security. These networks are especially relevant for Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC). While it is the world’s largest net food exporting region, it has lately struggled with increasing hunger and multiple forms of malnutrition.

To combat these problems and promote healthy diets across LAC, a new report, Food Security and Agrifood Trade in Latin America and the Caribbean, produced by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and IFPRI, analyzes opportunities to increase intraregional food trade, promoting growth in the flow of food products among LAC countries. The report was launched at a November 28 virtual policy seminar exploring its implications for policymakers.

María Daniela Godoy Gabler, FAO Senior Policy Officer for Food Security and Nutrition, opened the event by highlighting the region’s food and nutrition security challenges, noting that “Latin America and the Caribbean is the region with the highest cost of a healthy diet around the world, reaching nearly $4 per person per day in 2021. As a result, one in every five people cannot obtain adequate food.” LAC also faces a complicated double burden of undernutrition and overnutrition, she noted, the latter including increasing rates of overweight in children under 5 years old.

Valeria Piñeiro, Acting Head of IFPRI’s Latin America and Caribbean Program and Senior Research Coordinator, said that robust intraregional trade is a key element of a strategy for building resilience in food systems that diversifies risk: “It greatly minimizes [food supply shocks driven by] geopolitical challenges as well as issues related to climate change with respect to natural disasters.” In this context, the new report provides important insights for promoting healthy diets and food security.

What the report says

The report’s main findings were presented by two of its lead authors: Agustín Tejeda Rodriguez, Content Director at the Southern Producing Country Group (GPS) and Nelson Illescas, Director of the International Agricultural Negotiations Institute Foundation (INAI). Two food system features ground the publication’s call for increased intraregional trade, they said: LAC’s advantage in food production compared to other regions, which can be better leveraged to improve regional food security; and strong complementarities across food production systems. “Given the diversity of resources, biomes, and productive systems, there is ample capacity to produce abundant goods and food products, which contribute to more trade opportunities and nutritious diets across the region,” Tejeda noted.

Illescas outlined some specific opportunities for increased intraregional trade, noting that countries have formed subregional trade blocs in Central America, the Andes, and the Southern Cone. However, “there are few connections between these distinct trade blocs and the various trade relationships across the region,” he said. Numerous policy actions could be taken to strengthen these trade networks between subregions, he said, such as establishing new trade agreements, reducing bureaucratic costs of trade, advancing coherence in regulations, and investing in logistics.

Reflections on trade for better livelihoods, nutrition, and resilience

Moisés Mérida, Director of Partnerships for Development of the Guatemalan Exporters Association (AGEXPORT) reflected on challenges and strategies for improving intraregional trade. He drew attention to the idea of competition, noting that the report provides valuable insights into the products and countries with the greatest potential for improved trade. To maximize these opportunities, Mérida noted that greater investment is needed in “productive infrastructure, value chain linkages, irrigation, and roads” across the region.

While the report provides clear and actionable recommendations for improving intraregional trade and food security, this work can also be applied to the broader food systems transformation context. Mônica Rodrigues, of the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (UN-ECLAC), commented: “I would like us to think about intraregional trade as part of a larger policy bundle to develop productivity. These policies can be used to advance more sustainable and resilient food systems that are capable of contributing to food security but also economic prosperity.”

Brian McNamara is a Program Coordinator with IFPRI's Markets, Trade, and Institutions Unit.