Caribbean Region Urged To Overhaul Food System

(CMC) — The Caribbean Policy Development Centre (CPDC) is urging the Caribbean Community (Caricom) countries to immediately overhaul their food system in the face of mounting health concerns and economic challenges.

CPDC said that a recent study itɔ commissioned had highlighted the dire need for transformation, citing the detrimental impact of unhealthy diets laden with fats, sugars, and sodium on the region’s health.

The study, entitled ”A Sustainable Food Systems and Policy Framework” for small and medium scale food producers in selected Caricom countries was authored by Dr Fitzroy Henry and Dr Tigerjeet Ballayram and published by the CPDC. It was launched in Trinidad and Tobago earlier this month.

According to the study, the supply of fats and oils, sugars and sweeteners, coupled with a lack of access to nutritious foods due to poverty and unemployment, has fuelled an alarming rise in chronic non-communicable diseases (NCDs).

These diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease, are increasingly prevalent posing significant public health risks.

The authors pointed out that the region’s food systems have been hindered by more than two decades of slow economic growth, exacerbating issues of food insecurity and inequality.

In response to these challenges, they emphasised the necessity of reshaping food systems and policy frameworks to prioritise food and nutrition security and sovereignty.

“While the concept of food sovereignty has yet to gain widespread traction in Caricom countries, grassroots organisations, farmers’ networks, and regional initiatives are championing local food production and sustainable farming practices.

“Advancing the food sovereignty agenda requires robust leadership from non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and civil society organisations (CSOs), with the Caribbean Policy Development Centre identified as a key player in this endeavour,” they recommended.

The study also underscores the importance of regional and international policy interventions in supporting national development-oriented programmes.

Global mandates such as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) provide essential resources for addressing poverty and hunger, but progress in Caricom countries remains modest, the study pointed out.

To address these challenges, Henry and Ballayram said that Caricom countries should prioritise regional cooperation, production integration, and trade facilitation. A regional food import replacement programme aims to reduce dependency on food imports which they said would be an advisable move.

The study found that a needs assessment of small and medium-scale food producers revealed significant challenges including droughts, pests, and post-harvest losses. Key requirements identified by the study include training, resources, marketing support, and farm management skills.

“In response, a sustainable food systems policy framework has to be developed to address issues of crop production, quality control, and the economic empowerment of food producers. This framework emphasises the importance of prioritising areas neglected in previous policy prescriptions to ensure the long-term health and sustainability of Caricom food systems,” the authors have recommended.

CPDC said that the study underscored that as Caricom countries navigate the complex interplay of health, economic, and environmental challenges, the imperative to reshape food systems and policies has never been more pressing.

The study noted that with concerted efforts from governments, NGOs, and civil society, the region can strive towards a future of improved food security, health, and prosperity.