Food Security A Top Priority For Jamaica
It is well known that Jamaica is heavily dependent on food imports.
The agricultural sector is also faced with threats from severe weather conditions, plant diseases, pests and cheap food imports. Knowing this, have you ever wondered if the country is able to provide and supply adequate, safe and nutritious food at all times for its growing population?
This question relates to food security. What is food security? The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) describes food security as, when all people, at all times, have the physical, economic and social access to adequate, safe and nutritious food to meet their food preferences and dietary needs for a healthy and active life. This meaning captures the dimensions (pillars) of food security and include food availability, food access, food utilization and food stability. These pillars are as follows:
Food availability – having sufficient quality food whether from imports or local production
Food access – individuals having access to adequate nutritious food
Food utilization – the body using the food to meet physiological needs through proper diet, clean water, sanitation and health care
Food stability – having access to sufficient food at all times.
Based on the meaning of food security, do you think Jamaica is food secured? I would say that we are on the path but a long journey still remains. To support this claim, there has been a major deficit in food production and exports over the years, therefore; the country’s food supply is heavily dependent on food imports. This makes our food supply unstable because of its vulnerability to external shocks such as market prices, wars and climatic changes.
This situation is worsened by the increasing obesity rate and the high death toll from heart/circulatory diseases (the leading cause of death in Jamaica between 2008-2009). These diseases are due to the increased consumption of imported processed foods rich in animal fats, salts and sugar which results in the change in diet from our traditional foods (ground provisions, fruits and vegetables and home-grown grown meats/poultry). Other factors that make the situation dire are the increase in reported cases of food-related disease outbreak, undernourishment (trending downwards), poverty levels, unemployment and sluggish economic growth.
Where do we go from here? Some efforts have been made to address some of these issues but there is room for improvement. These actions are outlined as follows:
Government programs and policies
- National Food and Nutrition Security Policy (2013)
- National Strategic and Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of Non-Communicable Diseases 2013-18
- Jamaica Food Based Dietary Guidelines
- National Food Safety Policy
- Food Safety campaign
- National Strategy for the reduction of food losses and wastes
- Rural Economic Development Initiative drip irrigation project
- Eat Jamaica campaign
- Import Substitution Programme
Suggestions for improvements
- Enact the Food Security Law (alluded to in the National Food and Nutrition Security Policy) to boost local food production/supply and self-reliance
- Coordinated approach required between Ministry of Agriculture and Ministry of Health in planning and delivering programs to address food security issues
- Poverty alleviation measures should be a part of initiatives targeting food security
- Use an evidence-based approach in policy making decisions and program planning
- Incorporate household food security and individual dietary intake studies into population-based surveys
- Improve data collection and analysis methods to determine food production and food-related disease burden
- Monitor and evaluate programs and policies to identify the gaps, progress and outcomes/impacts
Food security is a complex issue that touches various sectors in the country (e.g. agriculture, health, economic development and the environment), therefore; it is important that food security be a top priority for Jamaica.
By Althea Reid
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