Food security is critical

Despite the fact that the Caribbean states make negligible contributions to global greenhouse gas emission rates (0.17 per cent), they find themselves facing the front-line of climate change impacts as they are susceptible to natural disasters and climate vulnerability.

Hurricanes have not just threatened the viability of the social sectors like housing stock, health, education and infrastructure; but also decimated economies. Areas such as the agriculture, tourism, and manufacturing as well as commercial sectors have all been adversely affected.

The topic of food security was brought sharply into focus during this year’s hurricane season, as we witnessed the devastation in many of our sister islands, and consequent disruption of their food supply.

This has implications for the complex food matrices, livelihoods and, ultimately, the ability of Caribbean people to produce and access safe and nutritious foods that meet their dietary and cultural needs. Islands such as Dominica, Anguilla and Barbuda witnessed almost complete disappearance of their agricultural sector.

Food security has long been an issue of concern in Barbados where a meagre 17 per cent of our food is locally grown or produced. Our agricultural sector seems incapable of transcending its history of concentrating on commercial mono-crop culture, where cultivation coalesced around building the wealth of the colonizer, and agricultural production was typically synonymous with the production of sugar.

Non-commercial land use focused on cash crops that required little care but which provided staple meals with incomplete nutritional value, such as potatoes and yams. Little early investment was made to support farming at the family and community levels.  There has generally been little regard for the diversification of crops and food processing.  As a result, we now rely heavily on the imported food.

Moreover, public education and government policy have not adequately addressed the links between improper food choices and non-communicable (NCDs) diseases such as diabetes, which have become national health crises.  We are in the midst of a national public health emergency, a fact which should be a top priority of any political party. Emphasis must therefore be placed on reducing the incidences of premature death and poor quality of life caused by NCDs.

Currently, food security, the national diet and climate change have disconnected policy agendas. However, in the face of a limited and unstable local food supply, prevalence of NCDs, and the environmental concerns that clearly threaten, careful consideration must be given to harmonising the policies that will inform proper land use, building the resilience of agriculture, and the availability of nutritious food to address food security in a time of multiple crises and risks.

Our personal and national progress will depend on the ability to integrate a renewed approach to food production and security into our re-imagining of our cultural and national heritage. We must reassess our relationship with the soil, seeds and the land.  A movement towards food security is an essential step towards true independence, which requires a healthy population. Leaders must prioritize and support citizen’s access to nutritious and sustainable food supplies. This is a core component of a progressive nation.

The United Progressive Party aims to invest heavily in risk reduction, with a focus on public education through community programmes, community farming projects and developing cooperatives and buying clubs. We will facilitate cooperative movements at the local level to ensure the availability of healthy food, with a focus on the most vulnerable populations. We support the use of sustainable practices relating to agriculture to improve food and nutrition security while ensuring the sustainable management of our resources.

Limited resources encourage reliance on overly processed and packed food-like items, which meet consumption needs, but do not nourish bodies. The importance of healthy, fresh foods cannot be overstated. Our cooperative model enables communities and families to purchase in bulk from farmers and producers. They get the benefits of cheaper prices, while supporting domestic markets and safeguarding rural jobs.

The public education aspect includes teaching citizens to prepare foods and preserve them for use out of season or in the case of a natural disaster that disrupts the food supply. The storage of food to assist vulnerable families must happen at the community level. We cannot wait until disasters strike to implement such strategies, and so governments and communities alike must plan ahead to process and stock local agricultural produce. Cooperative gardening, planting and the sharing of food are central in this approach.

Changing national consumption habits is a long and uphill road, but it is well worth the time invested. Incorporating a cooperative community model creates an important space for the empowerment of community organizations. The UPP promotes the production of food first at the community level, with links to wider policies such as support for agricultural innovation, organic farming and sustainable food production.

As we rethink notions of food security, the UPP underscores the role of the individual citizen and the wider community to develop sustainable models to meet, and surpass our needs and goals as a strong, developing nation.

Source: (The author, Everton Holligan, is the UPP candidate for St. George North. Email:voteupp@uppbarbados.org. Website: www.uppbarbados.org)

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