Filling the breadbasket: Latin America can help feed the world

Andean women farmers market a large variety of Andean potatoes and other native tubers such as oca and papalisa. Photo by: Global Harvest Initiative / Inter-American Development Bank

Population growth and dramatic diet changes are placing agriculture and the natural resource base under great stress worldwide.

As the largest net food exporting region on the planet, Latin America and the Caribbean can definitely play a critical role in feeding a global population of over nine billion people in 2050 — but to meet expected demand, governments and producers must work together to create sustainable, market-driven systems of food production.

With more than a third of the world’s freshwater resources, and more than a quarter of medium- to high-potential farmland, the region has a tremendous opportunity to increase agricultural productivity while sustaining these natural resources through innovation and conservation practices. The role of Latin America and the Caribbean has often been overlooked until recently, and a campaign to advance the potential of meeting global food, feed, fuel and fiber needs with support for and from the region is finally underway.

To fulfill this critical role, the region must implement key policy actions. Our recent collaborative report, launched by the Global Harvest Initiative and the Inter-American Development Bank with contributions from more than 30 other partner organizations and companies, makes specific policy recommendations for how Latin America and the Caribbean can harness its potential and create the right enabling environment to attract investment.

The report recommends increasing public investments in agricultural research and development, reinvigorating agricultural extension services, modernizing rural infrastructure, and advancing agricultural financing, and risk management services for smallholder farmers.  It also outlines important steps that governments must take to harness the power of regional and global agricultural trade.

Improved trade can help efficiently move food from regions where it is produced more sustainably to regions that will have high food and agriculture demand in the coming decades. Trade liberalization through multilateral, regional or bilateral agreements can be a major contributor to farm income and economic growth by expanding market access for smallholders, improving efficiency and stimulating investment in food and agriculture. The report provides practical case studies of how these recommendations are being adopted in Latin America and the Caribbean.

If you want to invest in global food security, if you want to invest in preventing hunger in all corners of the world, then invest in Latin American agriculture.

- Luis Alberto Moreno, president, Inter-American Development Bank

The complex interplay of issues facing sustainable agriculture can only be tackled by harnessing the many viewpoints and experiences of diverse organizations and institutions working in and for the region. From government ministries to country-based and international private sector companies to farmer cooperatives and conservation and food security organizations — it requires a coordinated effort.  

Multilateral institutions such as IDB and IICA can play a special role in providing critical additional financing and technical support, and an effort is underway to harness this support through public-private partnerships.

Want to learn more? Check out Feeding Development's campaign site and tweet us using #FeedingDev.

Feeding Development is an online conversation hosted by Devex in partnership with ACDI/VOCA, Chemonics, Fintrac, GAIN, Nestlé and Tetra Tech to reimagine solutions for a food-secure future from seed and soil to a healthy meal.

About the authors

  • Margaret zeigler

    Margaret Zeigler

    Margaret M. Zeigler is the executive director of the Global Harvest Initiative, a private sector voice for agricultural productivity growth throughout the value chain to sustainably meet the demands of a growing world. Zeigler has dedicated her career to addressing global hunger and food security and has worked in this area for more than 18 years, most recently serving as deputy director at the Congressional Hunger Center.
  • Ginya truitt nakata

    Ginya Truitt Nakata

    Ginya Truitt Nakata is the operations senior speclialist in the Office of Outreach and Partnerships at the Inter-American Development Bank. She developsand implements high-level partnership engagement strategies for food security, trade and integration, and broadband connectivity with those of the fast growing number of NGOs, foundations, private sector organizations and alliances, as well as development actors operating throughout the Latin American and Caribbean region.