Why Latin America needs sustainable food systems so urgently

The region is one of the biggest food producers in the world, and also the holder of one of the greatest number of hungry people

27 de jul de 2021

Community Garden Vitória | Curitiba Brazil

According to estimates made by the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), at the end of 2020 the drop in gross domestic product (GDP) was 7.7% in the Latin American region, whereas in previous years, between 2014 and 2019, it registered low growth of around 0.3%. Along with an economic contraction, there is always a social crisis and the one that originated with the Covid-19 pandemic will certainly be the strongest in the last 100 years, raising the number of people in poverty to more than 190 million Р72 million of whom are in extreme poverty. In this context of rising social inequality, increasing unemployment rate and declining population’s income, there is a serious escalation of food insecurity in the region’s urban centers that must be tackled with public policies. 

But even as the food crisis is deepening, the OECD-FAO Agricultural Outlook 2019-2028 foresees that Latin American and Caribbean will account for over 25% of global agricultural and fisheries exports by 2028. 


In 2020, the rise in hunger in Brazil, as in other countries, was also affected by the pandemic. However, it is not just the effect of Covid-19 that explains the worsening of food safety among Brazilians. According to 2020 data from the Brazilian Food and Nutrition Sovereignty and Security Research Network (Penssan), 19 million Brazilians live under the threshold of hunger.


In the context of the global pandemic and climate emergency, ICLEI ‚Äď Local Governments for Sustainability in alliance with FAO ‚Äď Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations jointly organized the event ‚ÄúIndependent Summit Dialogue on Food Systems in Latin American Cities‚ÄĚ. This dialogue is a contribution to the process of preparing debates for the United Nations Food Systems Summit 2021, that will bring together different sectors of society (subnational governments, representatives from the areas of science, business, politics, health and academy, as well as farmers, indigenous peoples, youth organizations, consumer groups, environmental activists and other related actors) to share their perspectives, challenges and solutions to the food security schedule.


The discussion rooms of the ‚ÄúIndependent Summit Dialogue on Food Systems in Latin American Cities‚ÄĚ were attended by around 140 participants, 40 local governments across the Central and Latin American region as well as 27 partner institutions (organizations from civil society, national and international organizations and Cities Networks) and 10 universities from more than 50 cities in 11 countries of Latin America.¬†


During the opening of the event, the city of Belo Horizonte (Brazil) made a presentation on the city‚Äôs 27 years experience of the Municipal Food and Nutrition Security Policy that significantly strengthened metropolitan food systems and emergency actions to support the cities in effectively addressing the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. Darklane Rodrigues Dias, Undersecretary of Food and Nutrition Security, affirmed that ‚Äúit is not about promoting any food systems, but about carrying out a great task force to put into practice food systems that guarantee food sovereignty and governance in a healthy and agro-ecological way‚ÄĚ.


The event also had four thematic discussion rooms, each hosted by the cities of Curitiba, Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, from Brazil, as well as Lima (Peru), where representatives of municipal governments, states, civil society and the private sector could discuss the importance of subnational governments in global food systems and the need for cities and states to have access to public policies and financial resources. 


Curitiba Brazil:

The city of Curitiba showcased their programs of Urban Farm, ‚ÄúSolidary Table‚ÄĚ, and the Metropolitan Common Market in their discussion. Felipe Thiago de Jesus, Director of the Department of Food and Nutrition Security Strategies highlighted the role of the capital in promoting Metropolitan Family Farming, the importance of intersectoral efforts to combat hunger. These are some of the efforts that the City of Curitiba highlighted in particular:

  • Project for the proper destination and separation of organic waste to promote urban agriculture;
  • Conservation and guarantee of water quality in food production (gardens, urban farms);
  • Review of master plans and zoning of municipalities.
  • PRODAM – Agrifood Development Program for the Metropolitan Region of Curitiba.


Rio de Janeiro, Brazil:

The city of Rio de Janeiro addressed the increasing role of  urban agriculture in improving food security during and after the global Covid-19 pandemic. The city emphasized the importance of public policies of agro-ecological production as a strategy for economic recovery and combating post-pandemic poverty as well as the importance of traditional knowledge and practices in public food policies. During the explanation, Eduardo Cavaliere, Environment Secretary of Rio de Janeiro, highlighted the city’s commitments for the next years:


  • Double the production of the Hortas Cariocas Program by 2030.
  • Increase the arable area in the City of Rio de Janeiro by 30%.
  • Establish a Municipal Urban Agriculture Policy and resume the Rural Development Council, encouraging permanent participation of the civil society in food policies in the City of Rio de Janeiro.
  • Increase purchases by the City of Rio de Janeiro in the School Feeding National Program (PNAE), encouraging sustainable food in schools.
  • Create multi-year food and nutrition security plans to integrate all agendas related to the food system.


S√£o Paulo, Brazil:

As the FAO pointed out, a third of the world’s food production is wasted in the consumption and commercialization phases of food, showing that hunger is not only a matter of lack of resources, but also of mismanagement of available resources. In this regard, Armando Jr., Deputy Secretary of the S√£o Paulo Municipal Economic Development, Labor and Tourism Secretariat who facilitated the breakout room discussion, highlighted the S√£o Paulo City Food Bank program and the Combating Food Waste program.¬†


Both programs work together aiming at better food allocation at the expense of waste in the municipality, and the Combating Food Waste program works to collect input donations in fairs and markets – from 300 to 400 tons collected per year during 2017 and 2019. In 2020, the collection reached 2,264 tons and, until May 2021, approximately 776 tons were collected.


The Municipal Food Bank Program, in turn, aims to purchase food from family farming, collect food from the food industries, retail and wholesale chains that are out of commercial standards, but without sanitary restrictions for consumption. These foods are donated to around 400 charities, previously registered in the program, thus contributing to the fight against hunger and food waste. On the other hand, the benefited entities participate in training activities and food and nutrition education. In addition, the food collected in poor conditions of use is destined for composting centers in S√£o Paulo.


Lima, Peru 

Lima coordinated a debate about the main actions on resilience and circularity and actions that are being carried out during and preparation to post-pandemic like the promotion of composting and the implementation of organic gardens, especially in vulnerable areas of the city, where the situation led residents to organize and form multiple self-sustaining common pots.


Currently, through the training and support of the Metropolitan Municipality of Lima, it has been possible to implement 19 organic gardens in schools, 2 organic gardens in municipal children’s cribs, 525 organic gardens in homes and 8 community gardens. In parallel, there is Ordinance 1629, which promotes urban agriculture as a strategy for environmental management, food security, social inclusion and local economic development in the province of Lima. This instrument will promote urban agriculture as one of the environmental policy guidelines of the Metropolitan Municipality of Lima.


Ximena Giraldo, Manager of City Services and Environmental Management also spoke about the importance of generating articulated actions at a multi-stakeholder level that allow the replicability and scaling of public policies and good food safety practices.


Rodrigo Perp√©tuo, Executive Secretary of ICLEI South America, recalls that of the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), ‚Äúat least ten are involved in food processes, health, gender equity, short market processes, sustainable systems and climate change‚ÄĚ. Perp√©tuo also said that with the consolidation of the circular development area of ‚Äč‚Äčaction, ICLEI South America encourages the exchange of perspectives in cities that are committed to working to eradicate poverty and hunger. ‚ÄúWe are attentive to the recommendations and continuity of processes that make it possible to implement actions with an urgent impact on the aspect of hunger.‚ÄĚ


The dialogue highlighted the importance of sub-national governments in building sustainable food systems 

Given such a situation, it is clear that the challenge will be faced in cities, as they are home to 85% of the people. Also in this context, international commitments are prescribed, such as the Milan Urban Food Policy Pact and the Glasgow Food and Climate Declaration, which are important global milestones that establish commitments of local governments and point out urgent practical actions that encourage the development of food systems aimed at promoting biodiversity, regeneration and ecosystem resilience, circularity, equity, access to healthy and sustainable diets for all, and the creation of resilient livelihoods for agricultural and food sector workers, thus contributing to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.


During the event, the following recommendations to improve food systems in Latin American cities were highlighted:

  • Include the healthy eating and sustainable food production agenda as a mandatory criterion for allocating funds related to the fight against climate crisis.


  • Propose that the final declaration of the conference encourages member states to include local governments in their national policies, especially cities, providing them with financial and technical resources, as well as guidelines for the formulation of their local public policies (impact indicator related to the corresponding SDG and at least 5% increase in the budget transferred to the municipalities for this purpose until 2030).


  • Creation of a cooperation program between cities, with the aim of highlighting best practices and disseminating replicable examples of local policies ( for example: biennial program, covering at least 15 cities in the region per year, with impact indicators linked to the corresponding SDGs).