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Half of Peru's population is food insecure

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

South America is really feeling the global cost-of-living crisis, and no country in the region has been hit harder than Peru. Half the population is now suffering from food insecurity as a result of rising prices. For NPR, Simeon Tegel has this report from Lima.

MELVA ACOSTA: (Speaking Spanish).

SIMEON TEGEL, BYLINE: It's 10 a.m. in the Nueva Esperanza Soup Kitchen, up a precipitous, unpaved road in this gritty Lima suburb. And Melva Acosta is cooking 150 portions of lunch.

ACOSTA: (Speaking Spanish).

TEGEL: Thanks to inflation turbocharged by the war in Ukraine, this soup kitchen here in the Peruvian capital can no longer afford meat or fish. Instead, today's menu is a soup of vegetables and pasta, followed by a main course of split peas and rice.

ACOSTA: (Speaking Spanish).

TEGEL: Staples such as potatoes and onions have tripled in price, Acosta says. And it is the poor who are being hardest hit. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, half of Peru's 33 million people are struggling to get three meals a day.

EDUARDO ZEGARRA: What we really have is what we call a food emergency.

TEGEL: Eduardo Zegarra is an economist specializing in the agricultural sector. He says Peru is particularly vulnerable to the global inflation crisis. Peru imports a lot of grains, while food distribution here has been hit by the rise in energy prices.

SEGARRA: About 16 million people in Peru are suffering from food insecurity. That is doubling the situation that we have before the pandemic.

TEGEL: The Andean nation is also reliant on fertilizers from Ukraine and Russia. Without it, experts like Segarra expect Peruvian harvests later this year will fall by 30 to 40%, further pushing up food prices.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT PEDRO CASTILLO: (Speaking Spanish).

TEGEL: But Peru's president, Pedro Castillo, a left-wing populist whose first year in office has been marred by corruption scandals and chaos, has been dismissive of the problem, claiming in this recent television interview that the Incas never needed modern fertilizers.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Speaking Spanish).

TEGEL: Back at the soup kitchen, I meet Walter Acaro. He's an 86-year-old retired welder and one of the regulars at Nueva Esperanza, where he picks up three meals a day.

WALTER ACARO: (Speaking Spanish).

TEGEL: He says that if the soup kitchen closes, he'll be forced to collect plastic bottles in the street in order to survive. If that doesn't work out, he will, like thousands of others who rely on these soup kitchens, go hungry. For NPR News, this is Simeon Tegel in Lima, Peru. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Simeon Tegel