Since 1979, World Food Day has been held every October 16, the day that the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) was founded in 1945. Around the world, events and conferences this week will seek to draw international attention to ways that agricultural development can ease world hunger and malnutrition.
Approximately 1 billion people worldwide do not have enough to eat, in part because the price of staple foods has continued to surge since 2005. According to the World Bank study High Food Prices: Latin America and the Caribbean Responses to the New Normal, food prices have increased more than 43 percent since June 2010. Numerous factors—including drought, high energy and transport costs, speculation in commodity markets, and decisions to replace food crops with biofuels—have driven the surge in food prices.
Many countries in Latin America are major food producers (and exporters), and are thus better positioned to mitigate the rising prices that impact their own populations, as well as those in other regions of the world. However, Latin America’s status as a net food exporter does not mean that access to safe and nutritious food is readily available for all, due to vast disparities in wealth and access to land and water. Recently, the growth of large-scale agribusiness in Latin America has come into violent conflict with policies of environmental sustainability and issues of local and national sovereignty, and the political fallout has been tremendous.
The government of Cuba yesterday restored import tariffs on noncommercial foodstuffs brought to the island by airline passengers travelling to the island as tourists. The decision, announced earlier this month by the Aduana General de la República (Cuba’s national customs agency), ends a four-year moratorium on the tariff imposed following hurricanes Gustav, Ike and Paloma, which hit the island in 2008.
It remains to be seen whether the decision to reinstate the tariff is tied to the growth of unofficial U.S. food exports to Cuba by way of U.S. citizens travelling to visit relatives on the island. But observers have noted that the tariff exemption mainly benefited owners of non-state cafes and restaurants, which have flourished amid the economic reforms undertaken by President Raúl Castro since 2010.
The authorities gave no estimate of how much money could be raised for the restoration of the tax. According to the statement, customs will maintain an exemption for less than 20 pounds of medication, provided they are separate from other luggage.
Local markets are one of the more quintessential Colombian scenes. Strolling through one, a visitor will find colorful and juicy fruits, aromatic species and herbs, fresh produce and diary. Due to its tropical location, Colombia is privileged to be able to produce these goods all year long. But today most of these products come from abroad. In Bogota's Corabastos, the largest wholesale market in Colombia and second-largest in Latin America, it is hard to find the label "Product of Colombia."
Beans, lentils and chickpeas come from Canada and the United States. Canned sardines and tuna are products of Ecuador and Peru. Apples, prunes, cherries, and peaches arrive from the U.S and Chile. Garlic and onions are from Japan and Mexico.
Even bocachico and bagre, two landmark fishes from the Magdalena River, now come from Argentina and Vietnam. Even coffee, Colombia's most famous export and international trademark, is imported.
The picture is worsening for local producers. Last week the government revealed that the country’s food imports climbed 52 percent in the first trimester of 2012 versus the same period last year—from 253 tons to 385 tons. The most dramatic rise in imports included milk, whey and dairy products, skyrocketing 543 percent. Sugar imports jumped by 217 percent.
Why is this happening? Not even local officials seem to know. Luis Fernando Salcedo, head of the Cámara Gremial de la Leche, a local daily producers’ guild, told the Colombian business newspaper Portafolio, “I don’t have any explanation for this increase,” adding, “My guess is that the Dirección de Impuestos y Aduanas Nacionales [Colombia’s customs administration] is not controlling the approved import quotas."