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The greening (?) of agriculture in Latin America

John Nash's picture

También disponible en español

For many of us, the word 'agriculture' evokes bucolic images of lush fields of grain and pastures populated by peacefully grazing cows. In this light, the notion of "greening agriculture'' seems almost oxymoronic; could anything be greener than this?

Well, maybe not in terms of color, but in terms of environmental impact, agriculture has a sizable footprint. In many countries, including large areas of the high-income countries, those lush fields of grain used to be forests. And the fertilizer that keeps those fields so green is mostly nitrogen based, generating nitrous oxide, which – kilo per kilo – has an impact on global warming several hundred times that of carbon dioxide. And those cows – how to put this delicately? – have greenhouse gases coming out of both ends! (Methane emitted by livestock is over 20 times as potent a greenhouse gas as carbon dioxide.) And (surprise!) crops and livestock need water –lots of it. Agriculture accounts for around 70 percent of water use worldwide.

Central America: crime and violence eating up small business profits

Marcela Sanchez's picture

Central America: crime and violence eating up small business profits

From any tall building in Guatemala City you have a bird's eye view of a common site in cities across Latin America and the Caribbean: lodged in the alleys and walkways between modern highrises, low tin-roof structures shelter the hard world of the informal economy.

Those are usually the structures of small businesses, such as the one belonging to Cristina Lajuj's, currently feeling the pressure of the spiral of crime and violence that is threatening Central America's own prosperity. For more than 11 years, Lajuj has been making a living selling tortillas and other typical dishes. In a space just off a parking lot and smaller than a Washington DC food truck, five women begin mixing corn flour at 6:30 every morning. By 8AM a basket full of warm tortillas and a small plate of cheese slices await the clientele of office workers, delivery men and other street vendors.

Les prix alimentaires, ou l’ingestion du coût de la logistique

Jordan Schwartz's picture

Du déjà-vu.

Nous voilà de nouveau en train d'essayer de disséquer les causes profondes de la hausse des prix alimentaires qui ont repris leur progression haletante en direction des niveaux record de 2008. Est-ce là le résultat de la spéculation sur les marchés des produits ? de l'envol de la demande de céréales fourragères dans les pays asiatiques ? de la réaffectation de terres jusque là consacrées à la culture de produits alimentaires à la production de biocombustibles ? Pour nos spécialistes de l'agriculture, de l'énergie et des transports, la réponse est claire : « oui, oui et encore oui ».

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Food Prices: Eating the Cost of Logistics

Jordan Schwartz's picture

Déjà vu.

Once again we find ourselves trying to dissect the root causes of food price increases as they bump and grind their way back toward their 2008 peaks. Is it speculation in commodity markets? Is it the booming demand from Asia for feed grains? Is it land use switching out from food crops to biofuels? The sentiment among our agriculture, energy and transport specialists is that the answer to these questions is: "Yes. All of the above."

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Latin America, Africa Partner on Managing Commodity Wealth

John Nash's picture

It's only fitting that a country largely built on mineral abundance has been the venue for a critical discussion on how to manage natural resource wealth.

A group of World Bank experts, including myself, met in Johannesburg last week with high-level policy makers, civil society representatives and academics, to exchange experiences and enhance our understanding of the theoretical and practical issues unique to resource-dependent economies. As a long-standing major commodity exporting region, Latin America has many lessons of experience – positive and negative -- to share with other developing regions on management of the wealth from natural resources.

How resilient really were emerging economies to the global crisis?

Tatiana Didier's picture

Pretty much like in any crisis of huge proportions, the real story of what happened during the global financial crisis is beginning to emerge after the dust has finally settled.

For Latin America and the Caribbean, the story is slightly different than what has previously been reported. Yes, the region weathered the recession well compared to other, emerging and developed, economies and resumed growth faster than many. But it didn't emerge from it largely unscathed as was initially suggested.

Is climate change to blame for high food prices?

John Nash's picture


If you were to throw out the question of what, if any, is the connection between climate change and the current food crisis, I suspect that many people would answer instinctively that global warming is at least partially responsible for the spiraling food prices.  Why? Because –they would argue- it caused the various extreme weather events that disrupted production in major producing regions from Eastern Europe and Central Asia to Australia to Latin America’s  Southern Cone. 

Is the hypothesis of that connection valid?  Well, no and yes.  ‘No’, in the sense that we really can’t attribute specific climatic events to global warming. After all, even without climate change, extreme events happen:  a once-in-a-hundred-year event happens once in a hundred years (duh!).

Does Latin America have the Recipe to End the Food Crisis?

Carlos Molina's picture


In the current food price debate, there's plenty that Latin America can bring to the table.

A newly released World Bank report highlights the region's potential to help solve the food crisis given its huge natural resources -land, water- and agricultural expertise.

On global issues, Latin America is now part of the solution

Sergio Jellinek's picture


When it comes to solving global issues, Latin America is now on the side of those regions that are part of the solution and not of the problem.

This time around the region is not at the center –but rather at the receiving end- of the various crises that have visited us recently, including the global financial crisis, climate change, or the current food and fuel crises.