One Government department is on a mission to reduce the high levels of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and prevent new cases from popping up in Barbados while seeking to lower the island’s massive food import bill.
Through its Grow What You Eat campaign, the Rural Development Commission (RDC) has embarked on an empowerment and education programme, to encourage residents to grow various fruits, vegetable and root crops in their homes using various techniques.
Deputy Director of the RDC Annette Clarke told Barbados TODAY that the programme, which was officially launched in February this year at the annual Agrofest showcase, has been going very well.
Besides having workshops on the growing of bananas and lettuce, the RDC also held an information session and lecture on April 20, which saw a number of students and residents taking part.
“The most [important] thing that we want to push… is to get people to recognize that growing your own food provides an opportunity to have cheap and healthy food,” Clarke told Barbados TODAY in a recent interview.
“We started the programme because of the non-communicable diseases in Barbados and the high level of obesity. We learned from our clients, which are mostly the poorer people in the rural areas, that they were not eating healthy because they felt they could not afford the food. We are trying to show them that they can eat healthy. By going into the communities, [we] encourage them to have the seeds and seedlings to grow something,” she explained. She added that individuals who did not have the land to grow the food they consume could use pallet or tire gardens.
It is estimated that while only about five per cent of the Barbados population is considered under-nourished, the country has one of the highest levels of obese and overweight population. A 2016 World Health Organization study indicated that about 64.9 per cent of people in Barbados were considered overweight and 33.2 per cent were obese. A break down showed that the problem is more severe among women, with approximately 70.6 per cent of them being overweight, compared to 59.2 per cent of men. Meanwhile, 40.7 per cent of women were considered obese, compared to 25.6 per cent of men.
There is a direct link between being overweight or obese and NCDs, including strokes, heart disease, hypertension and diabetes. Besides the health issues, it is estimated that over 80 per cent of the food consumed in Barbados is imported. The country spends in the region of $500 million on food imports each year.
Clarke told Barbados TODAY she believed the Grow What You Eat campaign could play a role in reducing the island’s food import bill while impacting positively on the population’s health.
She suggested that one reason more individuals don’t grown their own food is because they do not see the need to since the items can be purchased at shops.
“Of course, the more individuals we can get to grow their own food and eat healthy, it will help reduce the non-communicable diseases; reduce the cost of medication which we have to import; it would also bring down the food bill of the individuals who are eating the food. It will also help with food security. So you really cannot lose by growing what you eat and we want to encourage every single man, woman and child to grow what they eat,” said Clarke.
She said it’s also critical that Barbadians get more active and tending to their fruits and vegetable gardens could help with some level of exercise.
“You may not be able to afford to go to the gym, but if you are bending down and doing your agriculture, you are planting and watering and you are getting fresh air, that is a part of healthy living,” said Clarke
“Other people might be more inclined to think about food security. So if you care about food security, grow what you eat. If you care about your health, grow what you eat. If you care about the import bill, grow what you eat,” she stressed, while lauding the RDC staff for their role in encouraging the population to lead healthier lives.
The Grow What You Eat initiative has received a number of donations so far, including pallets from the Barbados Port Inc. and tyres from Quality Tyre, which have been given to individuals who want to grow their own food.