Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by this author are their own and do not represent the official position of the Barbados Today Inc.
by Dr Chelston WD Brathwaite
The promotion of household responsibility for food security – The benefits of gardening Psychologist Roger Ulrich demonstrated that hospital patients who are in touch with nature heal faster than those who are not. Gardening, the growing of flowers, fruits, and vegetables in a small plot of land near to one’s home can provide a rich combination of benefits that are therapeutic and curative for those who are afflicted by any disease and can help those who are healthy from becoming ill. Gardening heals the mind and the body. The activity of gardening provides exercise by weeding, planting, pruning, watering, and other acts of caring for the plants. The act of gardening provides relaxation from stress as the activities involved allow one to use parts of the brain that are not normally utilized in the daily routine of the office or other places of employment. The act of gardening provides a connection with nature and the satisfaction derived from seeing things grow from seed to maturity provides a sense of achievement at harvest.
The act of gardening provides a base for conversation, especially among the elderly. It is an opportunity to learn new things about nature, biology, and the wonders of plant growth and maturity. Where space permits there should be a garden in every home as a place to relax, to exercise, to connect with nature, and to produce healthy fruits and vegetables.
Gardens also provide an opportunity to connect with young people and to share new knowledge with the youth of our countries.
A garden could also be a living laboratory for teachers of chemistry, biology, and agricultural science.
Gardening contributes to the food security of the nation by producing fruits and vegetables that are currently imported.
The economic benefits of a health and wellness garden are the savings realized by not paying a gym for exercise not paying for fresh fruits and vegetables and not paying the doctor for medical expenses associated with poor nutrition, stress, and lack of exercise. The quality of life, the peace of mind, the relaxation, and good relationships which result from sharing the products of the garden cannot be quantified.
This paper recommends a garden for each home for the aged to provide those who are in the ‘evening of their lives with something to do, and a place of relaxation and peace where creativity can be explored and the connection with nature maintained. In this fast pace world of the 21st Century where everything is becoming electronic, digitized, and computerized, a garden reminds us that nature and its slow processes are still the basis of life. A garden can provide youth with a sense of purpose, achievement, and an understanding of the wonders of science and our environment.
The most important part of gardening, however, is that it provides the opportunity to share the knowledge acquired and to share the fruits of the garden with family, relatives, and friends. This sharing strengthens relationships and helps to build the community.
In this new COVID-19 environment, given the fact that we will spend more time at home, I recommend the establishment of a garden in every home in the Caribbean as a place of relaxation, sharing, caring, inspiration, happiness, and peace.
Family farms, community gardens, and school gardens should also be promoted.
The Caribbean food plan
In 2010, Member States of the CARICOM adopted a Regional Food and Nutrition Security Policy (RFNSP), with a rights-based approach to food. The RFNSP established four goals:
• Food availability: Promote the sustainable production, processing, preparation, commercialisation, and consumption of safe, affordable, nutritious, high-quality Caribbean food commodities/products;
• Food access: Ensure the regular access by Caribbean households, especially the poor and vulnerable, to sufficient quantities of safe, affordable, quality food at all times, particularly in response to diverse socioeconomic crises and natural disasters;
• Food utilisation/nutritional adequacy: Improve the nutritional status of the Caribbean population, particularly with respect to non-communicable diseases, overweight, and obesity;
• Stability of food supply: Improve the resilience of the national communities and households to natural and socioeconomic crises;
• The Regional Food and Nutrition Security Action Plan (RFNS/AP) operationalizes the RFNSP; the first plan covers a 15year period from 2012 to 2026 (CARICOM Secretariat, 2011).
The RFNS/AP is designed to contribute to improved standards of living, greater social security protection and sustained economic development covering a number of strategic actions under the four food and nutrition security dimensions of the Policy (CARICOM Secretariat, 2011).
The implementation of the RFNS/AP is directly linked to National Food and Nutrition Security Policies and Action Plans that have been prepared with FAO’s assistance for several CARICOM countries;
• Ten years after the proposal, these plans and programmes however have not achieved their objectives;
• In the last meeting of the Heads of Governments of CARICOM held here in Barbados in February 2020, the Chairman of CARICOM and Prime Minister of Barbados, the Honourable Mia Amor Mottley, indicated that food security is an important issue for the region and invited the private sector to present proposals to reduce the food import bill by 25 per cent by 2025;
• The proposals presented identified our current reality and the need for concrete actions to address the challenge. These actions require financial support and therefore I would like to suggest the development of a Caribbean Food Security Development Fund in cooperation with the International Finance Community to finance a Caribbean Food Plan. This fund could be managed by the Caribbean Development Bank in cooperation with the Ministers responsible for Food Security of the Caribbean.
The Caribbean Food Plan would build on recent efforts to deepen the regional integration process through the establishment of the Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME). The plan must promote joint actions to take advantage of national comparative advantages such as land, water, and markets and must be based on a strategic partnership between the governments and the private sector.
The plan should include:
I. Regional enterprises in livestock, poultry, cereals, legumes, tropical fruits, root crops and vegetables should be established within the context of a regional agricultural policy linked to the Caribbean Common Market and Economy;
II. Agro processing industries based on locally produced crops for food and animal feed, should be promoted and these industries should be linked to the local market and the tourist industry;
III. The Ministries of Agriculture should be converted to Ministries of Food and Nutrition Security and they should have the responsibility for food imports, food production, food safety, food utilization and food security;
IV. A regional food security council, within the context of the CARICOM Secretariat, should be established to develop, monitor and guide the strategy on regional food security;
V. A programme of incentives for farmers including access to credit, technology, land, infrastructure and farm machinery should be developed;
VI. We should promote strategic linkages between agriculture and tourism so that locally produce food is used in hotels and restaurants in the region; and
VII. A regional Information system for food security should be established that informs on the availability of products in the community and identify opportunities for intraregional trade.
At this time when Caribbean countries are reviewing their development agendas to cope with the post-Covid-19 world, I suggest that actions should be taken to reposition the Food and Agricultural sector as a strategic sector to increase Food Security, promote employment and address the high incidence of chronic non-communicable diseases.
An important aspect of this repositioning must be a change in the role of Ministers of Agriculture.
The 20th Century Minister of Agriculture was seen as a minister of production and, hence, a minister of the farming community. Today, with the emphasis on health, nutrition, food safety, and food security, the Minister of Agriculture of the 21st Century is also the Minister of Consumers: A Minister who must ensure that the nation’s food supply is adequate, safe, and reasonably priced. The Minister of Agriculture of the 21st Century must therefore have a global multisectoral vision and must lead a sector that has the following objectives:
i. Promote a regional agricultural sector to reduce our vulnerability and dependence on extra-regional food import;
ii. Strengthen the nexus between the food and agricultural sector and the tourism and health sectors;
iii. Promote Private sector/ Public sector Partnerships in food production and the processing of locally produced food products;
iv. Prioritise the implementation of climate-smart technologies in the agriculture sector;
v. Use technology as a transformation tool towards digital agriculture;
vi. Use of education and other strategies to promote greater responsibility among Caribbean people for the production and consumption of healthy food;
vii. Implement the Regional Food and Nutrition Strategy developed approved in 2010; and
viii. Develop and implement the Caribbean Food Plan and the establishment of a Caribbean Food Security Fund that would finance regional actions such as transport and agricultural insurance and facilitate the capacity of Caribbean countries to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.
The IMF indicates that the “sudden stop” in tourism and the decline in oil prices are sharply slowing economic activity in the Caribbean, and growth in the region is projected to contract by 6.2 per cent in 2020. This would be the deepest recession in more than half a century.”
The failure to address food insecurity in the region, at this time, would be a lost opportunity.
Dr Chelston WD Brathwaite is former Director General of the Interamerican Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) and former Barbados Ambassador to the People’s Republic of China.