Part 2: Linking Food Security and Consumption
THE socio-economic strain of COVID-19, now being compounded by the conflict in Ukraine, has opened up new possibilities for new approaches to Caribbean food production and consumption.
A recent survey conducted by the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) found that Food Insecurity has affected nearly 40 per cent of the population in the English-speaking Caribbean (an estimated 2.8 million people), one million more than in April 2020 – and now 72 per cent higher.
The survey showed deteriorating food consumption and diets with 25 per cent of respondents eating less preferred foods, 30 per cent skipping meals or eating less than usual and five per cent going an entire day without eating (in the week leading up to the survey).
According to Shaun Baugh, Agriculture and Agro-Industrial Development Programme Manager at the CARICOM Secretariat, the survey of more than 20,000 respondents across the past two years “has provided the CARICOM Secretariat with invaluable data that is being used to inform regional priorities in the short and medium term”.
The data suggests all is not over — or even well.
According to Regis Chapman, WFP Representative and Country Director for the Caribbean Multi-Country Office, “With most COVID-19 assistance programmes having concluded, many families are expected to face an even greater challenge to meet their basic food and other essential needs in the months to come.”
This is already a stark but understated reality region-wide.
But apart from the links between COVID, the Supply Chain Crisis and the Ukraine War’s impact on world food prices, there’s also the matter of necessary adjustment of consumption patterns.
In an oceanic region where most people can’t swim but will die fighting for their right to access to beaches, it is important that enough attention is paid to Caribbean people’s consumption habits and encouraging adjustment to Eat What We Grow.
The messaging in this regard has to be all-round, including highlighting the unhealthy aspects of substituting local poultry for imported chicken parts and the foolhardiness of people refusing to use Caribbean-made banana ketchup ‘because it’s yellow, when ketchup is supposed to be red…’
More research has to go into taking the historical findings of the nutritional benefits of home-grown Caribbean foods and fruits already found by the Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute (CARDI) to the next stage of popularising them in more meaningful and direct ways.
Take banana and coconut, soursop and pawpaw (papaya), mango and guava, dasheen and yam, breadfruit and cocoa, oranges and limes and lemons – all found everywhere across CARICOM and the wholeness of each tree having dozens of uses, from roots to fruits.
But we still mainly only eat the ripe banana and cook the ‘green fig’ and don’t care or know about the multifarious other uses of the stem, leaves and fruit in producing everything from health products to healthy foods.
We know banana is so high in nutritional content that it’s held that every Olympic athlete must have at least two bananas per day, every day, including during The Games – yet, banana farmers have gone into ruin in the Windward Islands (Dominica, Grenada, Saint Lucia and St. Vincent & The Grenadines) for loss of preferential treatment on the European, while no government has yet decided to create a home market by ensuring every student — from Infant and Primary to Secondary and Tertiary levels (and teachers) — get at least one banana (if not two) per day.
Our hostility to local foods can be so base that when Saint Lucia’s Prime Minister, Philip J. Pierre, soon after taking office, urged citizens to adjust consumption habits and ‘Eat More Bananas’, partisan political opponents claimed he was ‘lowering people’s tastes’ and discouraging Saint Lucians from ‘appreciating better quality foods’ (meaning imported foods).
But Pierre’s message did get home: two days before the Ukraine War broke out on February 24, the Holy Trinity Anglican Church and collaborating entities hosted an Independence Day Banana Festival (February 22), which featured many extraordinary banana products, from paper and pastries to body soaps and hand sanitisers.
This past Mother’s Day weekend, another Banana Festival was hosted by the Ministry of Agriculture in downtown Constitution Park in central Castries, with wider participation by mainly budding entrepreneurs already creating banana-based products.
Now there are plans for a Breadfruit and Breadnut Festival for Emancipation Month in August (Breadnut also being known in Guyana as ‘Katahar’).
Such activities have to be consistent and nation-wide in scope and the message also has to be clear about making choices, by identifying and highlighting foods with capabilities of producing high levels of body immunity, as already being done in Saint Lucia and St. Vincent and the Grenadines with respective related ‘Seven Crops’ and ‘Nine Crops’ projects being pursued by their respective Agriculture Ministries.
Jamaica has gone quite some way in planting, growing and profitably marketing and exporting Dasheen, seen and treated as a ‘blue diamond’ alternative to bananas.
Exploration of the medical potential of the age-old cannabis plant is also way ahead in St. Vincent & The Grenadines, where, this past weekend, its first legal and public government-approved Cannabis Lounge opened, where licensed persons can consult a group of different medical doctors for advice before making the correct or desired choice of medical or recreational cannabis.
Hooking chefs and dieticians, nutritionists and related persons at home, community, town and village, city and national levels, is a good way to go to help Caribbean people make that link between the healthiness of what we produce and its helpfulness in building our immunity to infectious and other diseases, naturally refreshing our bodies and its potential as a new revenue stream for not just attracting youth to agriculture, but also providing a basis for them to turn hobbies into paychecks.
Challenges always bring opportunities and this is one of those times; it all depends on if, when and how the old and new challenges are turned into fresh opportunities.