By Maria Teresa Nogales, Executive Director, Fundación Alternativas
and 2012 Americas Project fellow
In Latin America and the Caribbean, rural to urban migration over the past few decades has led to an important demographic transition. In 2010, the urban population was estimated around 79.4 percent and is expected to reach close to 90 percent by 2050.
As people concentrate in urban areas, cities will have to manage and deal with increased social, economic and environmental pressure. Already, food security presents itself as a priority, given that millions of people in the region face hunger and malnutrition.
To date, Latin America has been at the forefront of adopting regulations and legal instruments that guarantee an individual’s right to food. However, the vast majority of these initiatives have not yet translated into concrete actions or adequate investments, which is why guaranteeing the right to food continues to be a challenge for the region.
The number of people living with food insecurity today reinforces the need for the region’s growing cities to adopt mechanisms that would guarantee one’s ability to access healthy, nutritious foods while generating greater awareness of how to make healthier food choices. To date, several cities have taken proactive measures and are adopting several promising strategies to guarantee food security. These experiences can serve as references and models for other cities around the world.
The metropolitan city of Belo Horizonte, Brazil, has adopted nutrition initiatives, including a subsidies program that reduces the cost of fresh fruits and vegetables for low-income families. The local government also distributes healthy food to public schools and works with local restaurants to offer nutritious food to citizens.
Similarly, the city of Rosario, Argentina, is supporting local food production, transformation and commercialization projects primarily through the adoption of urban agriculture. In addition, the local government is designating public land (i.e., sidewalks, underutilized green spaces and parks) for citizens to grow food.
In San Cristobal Totonicapan, Guatemala, specialized instructors visit schools to teach students, teachers and parents how to grow vegetables as well as about food security. This initiative, which is supported by the central government and a handful of cooperation agencies, has been an effective way to incorporate technical education into the curricula.
In Bolivia, Fundación Alternativas and the local government of La Paz are working together to lower the indices of food insecurity as well as generate mechanisms that can guarantee the right to food to all citizens. As a first step, we have formed the Municipal Committee on Food Security, a multidisciplinary entity dedicated to generating food policies and strategies that can mitigate and decrease food insecurity. Committee members have made it a priority to create strategies that are responsive to the local culture and the metropolitan idiosyncrasies of the city, and these efforts have led to important results. The committee has also chosen to develop comprehensive policies that recognize food insecurity as a challenge faced by the population at large, not just the most vulnerable sectors of society. Using the experiences of other cities as a reference, the committee has begun generating local solutions that directly address and respond to the city’s specific challenges. We anticipate the regulations and programs that result will serve as a model for other cities in Bolivia as well as for other countries.
Additionally, the local government of La Paz and the Fundación Alternativas are working closely with citizens in impoverished neighborhoods to transform underutilized public spaces into community gardens to generate fresh, nutritious food that is both economically and geographically accessible to residents. These pilot projects will also serve as a model for other neighborhoods in the city of La Paz, other urban municipalities in Bolivia and neighboring countries.
There are many other examples throughout Latin America that demonstrate great potential and promise for ensuring food security. Importantly, the diversity of adopted initiatives demonstrates there is not one single model to follow. Success depends, therefore, on the ability to be innovative and to generate models that respond to the unique challenges, characteristics and cultures of each population. Given that success will ultimately depend on the ability of citizens, government, local organizations, academia and the private sector to work together, it is also highly recommended that cities adopt participatory processes.
Voices of the Americas is a space for Americas Project fellows to share their insights into events unfolding in their home countries and in the region as a whole. The fellows' essays will also focus on economic development, institution building, democracy and the rule of law.