Food insecurity is defined by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) as a situation where “people lack secure access to sufficient amounts of safe and nutritious food for normal growth and development and an active and healthy life.” This is a state that applies to approximately 100,000 citizens of this country—almost eight per cent of the population, according to the latest available data—who are undernourished.
Hunger a very real problem in T&T and it needs to be addressed. World Food Day, which is being observed today, is not only about raising awareness about the problem of hunger but taking action to eradicate it.
It is unlikely that this country can contribute to the global objective of zero hunger in any significant way since the goal of food security and sustainability has eluded us for many years. In a nation with an appetite for imported foods, progress hinges on the revitalisation of the agriculture sector which is still not within sight, not even after Finance Minister Colm Imbert’s announcement, just over a week ago, of a tax-free designation for the sector.
At present agriculture contributes less than 0.5 per cent annually to GDP and while it has been identified as one of the sectors to drive T&T’s economic diversification, many long-standing problems have not been addressed.
For agriculture to thrive, the labour shortages and land tenure issues must be tackled once and for all and real efforts have to be made to develop resilience to the weather and climate change events that have affected production.
Recent figures from the sector are not encouraging. Between 2011 and 2016, this country imported $32.7 billion in food, even while significant declines in coconut, coffee and cocoa production were being recorded largely due to pests, diseases, and inefficient technology. Rice production has declined by 90 per cent since the 1990s due to low productivity and praedial larceny has been a constant plague with other traditional food crops.
To ensure food security and sustainability, T&T must invest in initiatives that will build out its agricultural capabilities and place the local food system on a solid foundation. Budget promises aside, serious efforts must be made to improve agricultural resilience through modernisation, production efficiency, scale and consistency.
Some groundbreaking work has been done at The UWI’s Faculty of Food and Agriculture which points the way for the level of research and technology needed. It is necessary to develop and identify better yielding varieties of food crops and reduce losses due to pests, diseases and poor farming practices. Livestock and fisheries are also in need of technical support for positive outcomes.
There is no quick or easy route out of our current state of food insecurity. However, eradicating hunger requires that T&T becomes a nation that can feed itself.