Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the author(s) do not represent the official position of Barbados TODAY.
by Dr. Chelston W D Brathwaite
The recently published Charter of Barbados sets out the vision for a Barbados that is “truly free, independent, fair and just for all”. I was particularly pleased that the Charter recognises the need for equitable development and the need for “access to food and nutritional security” and promises a commitment to “eliminating poverty through policies
of social inclusion, equality of economic opportunity, ensuring access to essential services and the provision of social protection for the most vulnerable in our society”.
These goals while noble in intent can only become a reality if we, as a people, take appropriate actions for their realisation. In this context, I wish to propose that just as we have set out a development goal and appropriate strategies for a sustainable energy future by 2030 that a similar goal should be set for food and nutrition security and that clearly defined policies and strategies should be implemented to reach an acceptable level of food security by 2030.
This strategic approach would include the establishment of appropriate institutional structures, programmes and projects designed to promote a green revolution in Barbados.
The promotion of a green revolution would take into consideration the fact that climate change is a defining issue of our time. Rising sea levels and more frequent occurrence of extreme weather events, such as droughts, floods and violent storms have been occurring. Severe water stress in the arid and semi-arid land areas in southern Africa, the Middle East and southern Europe is a reality.
Decreased agricultural production is occurring in many tropical and subtropical countries, especially countries in Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean.
Higher worldwide food prices are predicted as supplies fail to keep up with the demands of a world population that is increasing by 78 million per year.
Major changes in productivity and composition of critical ecological systems, particularly coral reefs and forests and the fact that tens of millions of people are at risk from flooding and rising sea levels in coastal areas all point to the need for urgent action to address climate change and food security in small island developing states such as ours.
The scientific evidence on global warming points to an expected rise in temperatures ranging from of 1.4 degree C to 6 degree C over the next century, higher than what was earlier predicted.
Given the COVID pandemic, climate change and recent threats to global food security, it is in Barbados’s strategic interest to pursue a new green revolution in order to achieve a higher level of food security and a sustainable future.
Over the past 25 years, notable changes have occurred in the Caribbean region with respect to food and nutrition.
The dependence on imported food has increased and a diet typical of developed countries has largely supplanted the traditional diet in the region.
At the same time, nutritional problems have resulted in high levels of obesity and increasing levels of chronic non-communicable diseases. In some countries, more than half of the adult females and over a quarter of males are reported to be obese.
It is not surprising that these countries also report high mortality due to nutrition-related chronic diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, stroke, and cancer.
Recent health reports for the region showed that about 30 per cent of all adults, 35 years and over are hypertensive and 12 per cent to 15 per cent suffer from diabetes mellitus.
Available evidence indicated that chronic disease problems are growing rapidly in the region. Daphne Ewing-Chow, in a recent article published in Forbes Magazine notes that Barbados has the highest prevalence of diabetes in the Americas and double the world’s affliction rate.
In 2011, a high-level meeting was held at the United Nations in New York to discuss the need for a global attack on the incidences of chronic non-communicable diseases.
According to the UN documents, cardiovascular disease, cancer, chronic lung diseases, and diabetes are responsible for 60 per cent of all deaths in the world today.
The conference concluded that one of the risk factors that contribute to the incidence of these diseases is the increased consumption of processed foods and ready-to-serve meals that are rich in trans-fats, saturated fats, salts and sugars.
Furthermore, the meeting indicated that chronic non-communicable diseases are a threat to development as these diseases contribute to high health care costs, low productivity and increasing levels of poverty. According to one UN expert “If we are serious about tackling the rise of cancer, diabetes and heart disease, we need to make ambitious and binding commitments to tackle one of the root causes – the food we eat.”
The COVID pandemic has resulted in increased awareness of the vulnerability of the region to food insecurity and at a recent meeting of the Heads of Governments of CARICOM held in Barbados in February 2020, The Honourable Mia Amor Mottley in her capacity as the Chairman of CARICOM and Prime Minister of Barbados, 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.
More recently, a CARICOM Special Ministerial Task Force has been established to focus on maximising the region’s food production and food security.
The Task Force held its first meeting in April, 2021. The fundamental objective of the task force is to guide the regional position towards transformation of the agri-food systems allowing for significantly more resilient, wealth-generating and a more food secure region.
If better quality food can assist in helping to resolve a major health crisis in the region, it seems plausible to suggest that agriculture in the Caribbean should now focus on the production of healthy food to reduce the incidence of these chronic non communicable diseases, while at the same time strengthening the immune systems of the population to withstand COVID-19 or any other disease or infectious virus that threatens the health of the Caribbean.
A green revolution should recognize that the food and agricultural sector is a strategic sector of our economy and that sustainable development is not possible or sustainable in a food insecure economy.
Development is difficult if the productive sectors of the economy are underfinanced. For increased food security in any nation, we need farmers. Farmers who are entrepreneurs, farmers who recognise that their farm is a business enterprise and that they as business managers must acquire management skills, knowledge and technology to become competitive and to make business decisions about investments, the market and prices.
Susan George of the Institute of Policy Studies writes: “Food dependency conditions other kinds of dependency and so long as a nation has failed to solve its own food problem, there is little chance that it can practise any truly independent policies, whether domestic or foreign.” Given these realities, new agricultural development strategies should be developed and implemented to reposition the agricultural sector and to boost food security. I recommend the following actions.
I. There is need to reposition the agricultural sector and to recognise it as a strategic sector for development and we should promote a Ministry of Food and Nutrition Security;
II. There is need to allocate more resources to agriculture, especially for investment in new technologies and market information systems;
III. There is need for more research and developments of agricultural technologies for production and processing of locally produced products;
IV. There is need to change the consumption patterns of the population from a focus on imported food to a focus on consumption of local
foods by promoting nutrition education and implementing appropriate policy measures;
V. There is need to review our policies on importation of food items and provide incentives for the production of food locally and regionally;
VI. We also need to review our land use policies, promote new trained human resources, strengthen agricultural extension services,
VII. Make agriculture and food security a compulsory subject on the curriculum in our schools, strengthen the fisheries subsector and promote Climate Smart Agriculture by the incorporation of climate smart technologies in production.
VIII. We must promote private sector/public sector partnerships in food production and processing. The private sector is the major importer of food in the region. Any progress in addressing food security must therefore involve a partnership between the public and private sector.
IX. The private sector importers of food should be encouraged to invest in the local agricultural sector. They should contract local farmers to produce selected food commodities.
Governments should support the farmers with technological inputs and other services and private sector players can be given tax incentives to cushion the risks of investment in the sector.
The private sector would use its marketing and distribution channels to distribute farmers produce. A system of agricultural insurance should be developed to support this initiative.
X. There is also need for a regional agricultural information system that would inform on the availability of food supplies in various countries of the region during the year. This would strengthen initiatives to promote regional trade and create the enabling environment to move food from countries and areas with excess to countries and areas with deficits.
A system for payments for regional food trade in local currencies should also be considered.
Some years ago, 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 utilised in the daily routing of the office or other places of employment.
The act of gardening provides a connection with nature and the satisfaction derived seeing things grow from seed to maturity provides a sense of achievement at harvest.
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.
Gardening can contribute to the food security of the nation by producing fruits and vegetables that are currently imported. Individual citizens can therefore contribute to the food security of the nation by
1. Investing in the food and agriculture sector
2. Consuming more locally produced food.
3. For those with appropriate space, developing a home garden.
National Sovereignty and National independence are not only political issues as true independence cannot be achieved in a food insecure nation. A firm commitment to action is necessary; we will become a successful republic when the welfare of our farmers and the food security of our nation are priority issues on our development agenda.
Dr. Chelston W D Brathwaite is Director General Emeritus of the Interamerican Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture and former Barbados Ambassador to the Peoples Republic of China.