Friday, April 02, 2021

Caribbean Hunger Rises

Food and nutrition insecurity are just one frightening outcome of the pandemic.

 An October, 2020 study of eight Caribbean countries found that 40% of people surveyed experienced some form of hunger, with 42% of those saying it was moderate to severe. The survey by the College of Health Sciences at the University of Technology included 2,257 households in eight countries across the region (Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana, Belize, Barbados, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Antigua and Barbuda.) 

Another recent study from the Caribbean Research and Policy Institute and Unicef also found that in a survey of 500 Jamaican households, 44% reported that they were experiencing food shortages, while 78% said their savings could last them four weeks or less.

Food security is a technical term referring to the availability of nutritious food, and defined by the United Nations as having “physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their food preferences and dietary needs for an active and healthy life.” 

The World Bank reports that despite the pandemic, there is adequate supply. The risks to food security include higher prices and reduced incomes, which forces households to rely on smaller portions of less nutritious foods.

In terms of local food supply, Jamaica’s Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries Floyd Green says it is sufficient. The issue, however, is with a lack of purchasing power, especially of late as a result of the economic downturn. “Our challenges is to restart the economy to make sure people can get back purchasing power.”

“We suspected people were cutting back on their intake, especially households where the breadwinners were losing their jobs. It has shook up some of the households quite a bit. People are cutting back on the number of meals that they were having,” says Dr. Vanessa White Barrow, the Head for the School of Allied Health and Wellness at the University of Technology’s College of Health Sciences.

The effect of this, of course, has many repercussions, including malnutrition, lack of energy, obesity as a result of consuming lower-cost but unhealthy foods and a variety of health issues like diabetes.

"What has happened is that the nutrition divide has widened as a result of COVID,” says Prof. T. Alafia Samuels, of at the Caribbean Health Research Institute at the University of the West Indies.

“We also know that before, because of the extent that many household were dependent on processed food, people have cut back (on healthy foods) and are going for cheaper alternatives, and this has long-term health implications,” she says. This especially impacts children, who need nutritious food to grow and learn adequately.

In Jamaica alone, a minimum of 50,000 people have been laid off from the tourism industry, a number that is likely even higher when taking into account indirect employment. An estimated 135,000 people have lost their jobs in total. Decreased market demand, in large part from the hotel and restaurant industry, has harmed the farming industry. So while at times there is an excess of supply, a lack of demand has impacted farmers and their production systems, which in turn erodes food security.

Floyd Green says,  “Covid has brought back into sharp focus in the minds of people the need to be more self-sufficient when it comes to feeding ourselves.”  Jamaica imports over US$1billion of goods annually.

Pandemic Accentuates Need for Caribbean Countries to Improve Food and Nutrition Security | Inter Press Service (

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