Nature and Biodiversity

Why Latin America is vital to solving the world’s food crisis

Latin America is strategically positioned to address global food scarcity.

Latin America is strategically positioned to address global food scarcity. Image: REUTERS/Imelda Medina

Pablo Borquez Schwarzbeck
Founder, ProducePay
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Climate and Nature

This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting
  • The world faces a significant challenge in ensuring nutritious, sustainable food for a growing population.
  • Malnutrition and supply chain disruptions from climate change have created an urgent need for reliable food supply, hastened by geopolitical instability.
  • Latin America is strategically positioned to address global food scarcity, offering three vital ingredients: massive production potential, a neutral geopolitical position and a strong labour source.

Humankind is facing unprecedented threats to food security. Climate change and increasing supply chain disruptions threaten the world’s ability to meet a global population’s exploding demand for nutrient-rich foods.

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Countries competing to meet their own population’s nutritional needs is leading to increased geopolitical conflict, putting those countries and regions who produce a surplus of healthy foods at a distinct advantage.

With massive production potential, established trading ties with the world’s largest economies, and a strong source of labour, Latin America is poised to play a pivotal role in addressing global food scarcity.

Scarcity and supply chain disruptions drive geopolitical upheaval

The statistics are alarming: nearly 900 million people faced severe food insecurity in 2022. With the UN projecting that the global population will reach almost 10 billion by 2050, it is estimated that we will need a 60% increase in food production to meet demand.

Moreover, there is feeding the world and there is feeding the world in a way that maximizes positive health outcomes. Malnutrition is a serious global issue. What we truly need is to address global food scarcity with food that is of the highest nutritional value.

Malnutrition is a serious global issue
Malnutrition is a serious global issue Image: World Bank

Growing an abundance of nutritional food is becoming increasingly challenging owing to climate disruption. We live in a world already dealing with reduced arable land and climate change impacts. Global food production is expected to grow 8% less with climate change than without. Yields for fruits and vegetables are expected to decrease by 6% under a climate change scenario.

Challenges around both climate-caused supply chain disruption and malnutrition result in increased geopolitical unrest and instability. During the pandemic we saw countries hoard food supplies to fight pricing inflation, ignoring long-standing trade agreements and threatening geopolitical alliances. Since the pandemic, global supply chains have been marred by volatility as a result of shifting international relations: the US-China trade war, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and now renewed hostilities between Israel and Hamas.

The combination of these factors – malnutrition and supply chain disruption from worsening climate change – have created an urgent need for a more reliable food supply and a more volatile political situation.

Latin America’s role and opportunity

Latin America is uniquely positioned to further its status as a leading global supplier of fruits and vegetables. The region is already an agroindustrial superpower, accounting for about a quarter of global exports in agricultural and fisheries products. For perspective, another agricultural superpower, Asia, exports only 6% of its production.

The region possesses the greatest agricultural land and water availability per capita: with just 15% of the world’s land area, it receives 29% of global precipitation and has 33% of globally available renewable resources. It stores 40% of the world's fresh water.

With a total labour force of more than 300 million people, everything is in place for the nations of Latin America to catapult the region’s growing capacity. By 2050, Latin America could supply two to three out of every five fruits and vegetables globally (based on data of Latin America and the world’s historic production and export performance from 2010-2020).

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The production capacity is there; so too is the geopolitical advantage. Much of the fruit and vegetables the region produces are exported to other critical geopolitical markets including the US, the EU and China. In fact, more than 60% of all of Mexico’s produce is exported to the US. In other words, in a world with more people and food insecurity, Latin America already serves as a fruit basket to the world’s most powerful trading partners.

Latin America holds no particular allegiances, treaties or favour with any of the major economies currently jostling for global dominance. To quote Mauricio Cárdenas, Global Senior Research Fellow at Columbia’s Center on Global Energy Policy, Latin America is “a safe and reliable partner that neither has interest nor capabilities to start international wars.”

If managed well, this neutrality creates bargaining power and an opportunity to take advantage of the world’s largest economies’ dependence on Latin America in the broader geopolitical context. In a world challenged to meet the growing nutritional needs of its people, Latin America is very well positioned.

Furthermore, many Latin American nations have a good level of spoken English – another boost that enables them to tap international markets with ease.

How does Latin America fulfil its potential?

The next few years are critical for Latin America to cement itself as a crucial global food provider.

The region must continue growing its capacity to feed the world with nutritious food by investing in infrastructure, increasing access to technology and knowledge across the region, enhancing financial sustainability for produce businesses and raising global awareness of Latin America's agricultural potential.

Latin America must also continue to maintain strong but neutral trading relationships with the world’s largest economies. National governments across the region can facilitate continued trade growth by implementing policies that create greater transparency and efficiency by replacing uncertainty with market predictability and stability.

With its vast potential for agricultural production, deep trading ties with the world’s largest economic powers and emerging status as a global nutritious food provider, Latin America is poised to play a vital role in feeding the world. In doing so, the region has the potential to increase its geopolitical relevance, lifting the region and its people.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

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Nature and BiodiversityForum InstitutionalFood and Water
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