Family farming key to Caribbean food security

A new report released in Buenos Aires, Argentina on Sept. 26 says family farming has key role to play in food security in the Caribbean and Latin America.

The report, “The Outlook for Agriculture and Rural Development in the Americas 2014: A Perspective on Latin America and the Caribbean,” presented at the 2013 Meeting of Ministers of Agriculture of the Americas, says Latin America and the Caribbean can produce more food by increasing the sector’s productivity in the face of restrictions on using new land for agriculture.

The document is jointly produced by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), the Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA).

The publication includes a special chapter on the situation and expectations of family farming in Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as analysis of the macroeconomic context; crop, livestock, forestry and fishery sectors; rural well-being; and agricultural institutions.

According to Alicia Bárcena, executive secretary of ECLAC, despite the region’s agricultural slowdown in 2013, 2014 is expected to see economic conditions conducive to economic growth and regional agricultural growth.

“These trends should be underpinned by policies aimed not only at increasing yields in commercial farming but also boosting the successful inclusion of family farming in value chains,” she said.

Víctor M. Villalobos, IICA director general, noted that family farming is the economic activity with the “greatest potential for increasing food supply in the region, reducing unemployment and saving the most vulnerable rural population from poverty and malnutrition.”

The Regional FAO Representative for Latin America and the Caribbean, Raúl Benítez, agreed, adding that achieving this “requires promoting innovation and technology generation, as well as the inclusion of family farming in value chains and retaining young people in the countryside”.

ECLAC, FAO and IICA state that, in order to increase connections with the market, family farming must adapt its production methods to new demands, for instance by using increased telecommunications coverage in rural areas to access more and better information and improve their production, management and bargaining capacities.

Following the slowdown in the previous year, ECLAC said the growth rate of Latin American and Caribbean GDP is expected to stabilize at around three percent in 2013, before rising to between three and a half percent and four percent in 2014.

Cereal production, the main food group in the human diet, is expected to produce record harvests in the north and south of the hemisphere, ECLAC said, adding this will partially offset the negative impact that climate variability had on these and other crops in 2012.

From 2014, ECLAC said the region’s agricultural production and exports are expected to boost by the recovery in world demand.

This in turn will be the result of growth in developing countries and the expansion of their middle classes, provided there are no adverse effects due to extreme weather conditions or a weaker dollar, ECLAC said.

The three agencies estimate that the next decade will see agricultural prices fall in real terms.

“Measures must, therefore, be implemented to increase investment, productivity and efficiency, so that the agricultural sector is in a better position to handle climatic and economic risks (as these take a longer toll on prices,” the statement said.

ECLAC, FAO and IICA recommend three types of policy to guarantee growth expectations for regional agriculture: adaptation of production to world demand and climate; food health and safety; and market functioning and trade.

In the first case, the agencies suggest that Latin American and Caribbean countries attempt to make use of the opportunities offered by growing world food demand, as well as supporting policies to mitigate the impact of climate change and variability on rural populations and production.

As part of the second group of policies, they urged the strengthening of the training of human resources and the modernization of national systems for food health and safety.

In the third case, the agencies emphasized the need to promote coverage of and access to agricultural insurance as a risk-management tool.

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