A workshop to review CARICOM’s regional policy for food and nutrition security opened Monday at the Public Health Authority headquarters.
This policy seeks to coordinate regional interventions based on national priorities through 2025.
It is not meant to reduce national resolve to address issues related to food and nutrition security, Agriculture and Marine Resources Minister Lawrence S ‘Larry’ Cartwright said.
“There is room to improve national coordination and awareness on food and nutrition security and to formalise the existing policy framework,” he told workshop participants.
According to the World Food Summit Plan of Action of 1996, “Food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.”
It sets out four dimensions of food security — availability, access, utilisation/nutritional adequacy, and stability — which are the basis of the regional policy.
Although most countries have access to adequate supplies of food, Minister Cartwright noted, the regional challenge has been to address the paradox of increasing demand for food while the regional agricultural sector is faced with low production and productivity rates.
“The consequence has been an increased reliance on imported food regionally,” he said. “In The Bahamas, food imports have increased from $310 million in 2004 to $430 million in 2008, an increase of nearly 40 percent.”
The Ministry is in the process of implementing a medium term strategic plan to address some of the constraints faced in an efforts to increase agricultural production.
Many of the strategies identified in the national strategy — improving research capacity, investing in human resource development, modernising agricultural health and food safety standards, and supporting farming organisations — are also identified in the regional policy, said Mr Cartwright.
Ensuring access to food, he said, is an important component of the policy.
The Living Conditions Survey of the Bahamas for 2001, he said, estimated the national poverty level at just under 10 per cent.
The highest levels of poverty of one in five persons were observed in southeastern islands, he said.
“We know that the impact of the economic and financial crisis and the resultant loss of jobs and significant increases in food prices has probably increased the vulnerability of many communities and households by reducing their access to food.
“We have all been aware, through appeals from civic and non-governmental organisations of the need to expand food and other assistance programmes.
“The Government has also increased funding for safety net programmes that provide food and clothing to vulnerable groups,” Minister Cartwright said.
There is also a proposal in the regional policy framework to identify and map vulnerable groups.
Dietary changes, he said, have shifted consumption patterns toward a higher energy density diet with a greater intake of fat and added sugars.
Combined with a sedentary lifestyle, the result has been an increase in chronic non-communicable diseases (CNCDs), he said.
The regional policy looks at specific initiatives to reduce CNCDs and iron deficiency.
Some of the interventions proposed in the regional plan are already being implemented at the national level.
The stability of the food supplies is impacted by economic, financial and natural events, including climate change, he noted.
Addressing food and nutrition issues will require a multi-disciplinary and coordinated approach between the public and private sectors and non-governmental organisations, said Mr Cartwright.
He acknowledged the financial support of the Food and Agriculture Organisation to the workshop and the assistance of the Public Hospital Authority.
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