One lesson the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has taught the Caribbean is that it cannot continue to look to the United States of America as its pillar for food security.
This was the consensus of panellists at Wednesday's Mission Food Possible webinar titled: 'Mobilising Change at a Grass Roots Level to Improve Food Security in the Caribbean'.
“Why are we importing fresh fish from North America?” Professor Alafia Samuels asked as she noted the food industry has spent billions to encourage Caribbean people, particularly the youth, to consume unhealthy products.
“We cannot compete with them for advertising so it means that we are going to have some policy level interventions at the population level,” she said.
Samuels highlighted that childhood obesity has risen significantly over the last 17 years in her home country Jamaica due to processed food.
Samuels said Caribbean people need to remove processed food from their diets and return to the land by eating fresh fruits, vegetables and protein that are harvested within their community.
Meanwhile, Daphne Ewing-Chow said the current food insecurity issues facing the Caribbean are just the “chickens coming home to roost”.
Ewing-Chow, who is the Content Manager for Loop Cayman, noted that over US$6billion is spent by Caribbean countries every year to import food from the United States.
“We are basically placing our nutritional lives on the line. Because if things stop coming from the US, where are we going to get our food?” she asked.
Ewing-Chow noted that the region's over-reliance on tourism has created another problem where farmers in countries such as Jamaica and St Vincent and the Grenadines are producing enough food but the drop in tourist arrivals means there is no one to purchase the excess goods.
She said this issue is another reason why intraregional trade needs to be boosted since other islands, such as Cayman, are finding it hard to acquire certain products to meet nutritional needs.
Loop News asked Jamaica’s Minister of State in the Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Agriculture Floyd Green, who was also a member of the panel, what was preventing Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries from trading agriculture products within the group when it was once a booming industry.
“A number of our distribution channels to the Caribbean, unfortunately, go through the United States and that makes distribution and the cost of distribution significantly uncompetitive, especially if you want to move huge quantities,” Green said.
He added: “There have also been challenges in relation to Caribbean countries historically looking to the North for a number of these deals despite having CARICOM. I think COVID-19 has forced us to again look to each other and we have seen increased regional trade.”
“A number of shipping lanes from the United States into the Caribbean have been cut and we here in Jamaica have been able to use this [as an opportunity] get into markets that we were trying to get into for a number of years. We now supply bleach to the Cayman Islands. We have seen an uptake in our baked products across the region. And now fresh Jamaican milk is on the shelves in Trinidad and Tobago.”
Green noted there is a CARICOM plan to increase regional food security but there needs to be better intra-regional transport and modelling to determine the needs of each country.
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