Food Insecurity In Jamaica Doubled Expectations In 2020

Food Insecurity In Jamaica Doubled Expectations In 2020

The United States Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service (USDA ERS) International Food Security Assessment, 2020–2030: COVID-19 Update and Impacts on Food Insecurity report released in January 2021 reveals that 12.8 per cent of the Jamaican population is currently food insecure, equating to some 400,000 people. This is double pre-COVID-19 USDA ERS projections and an increase of 100,000 persons over revised projections made during the pandemic.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the USDA ERS released preliminary projections that 200,000 Jamaicans would be food insecure by the end of 2020. By the end of the year, the socio-economic impacts of the pandemic had caused the actual number of persons suffering from food insecurity to exceed pre-pandemic estimates by 100 per cent, primarily affecting female-headed households and homes with at least one child.

The World Food Programme (WFP) COVID-19 Food Security & Livelihoods Impact Survey, published in September 2020, shone further light on the nature of Jamaica’s food insecurity during the pandemic, with 70 per cent of respondents reporting difficulties “eating enough” during the crisis.

One in three survey respondents reported skipping meals or eating less, and 1 in 10 reported going a full day without food. Respondents indicated a reduction in household food stocks, with 20 per cent reporting no food at home.

In May 2020, the Food and Agriculture Organization assessed Jamaica’s COVID-19 food systems risk as medium to high, stating that “the main risk in the short term is not being able to guarantee access to food for a population that is complying with health security measures to prevent the spread of the virus, and that in many cases have lost their sources of income due to the cessation of non-essential economic activities.”

The WFP survey confirmed that food insecurity in Jamaica was primarily driven by COVID-19 restrictions and economic conditions as opposed to supply-side factors.

According to the WFP survey, COVID-19 containment measures were the root cause of growing food insecurity. Six out of ten survey respondents indicated that their ability to pursue a livelihood had been significantly impacted by the pandemic, due to concerns about leaving home due to movement restrictions, the “high price of livelihood inputs” and reduced demand for their goods. Seventy-four per cent reported a job loss or a reduction in income.

Movement restrictions also impacted market access, with 38 per cent of Jamaicans reporting an inability to access markets due to virus containment measures while 88 per cent reported having to change their shopping behavior. (WFP)

Households with children in them were hit the hardest. According to statistics compiled by the Caribbean Policy Research Institute (CAPRI) and published for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), 45 per cent of Jamaican households with one or more children experienced a shortage of food due to the COVID-19 restrictions, with that figure being even higher for female-headed households (56 per cent) and households with two or more children (57 per cent). According to the report, most households coped with food shortages by eating smaller meals (74 per cent) or eating fewer meals per day (66 per cent).

According to a USDA ERS report, produced in September 2020, Jamaica’s food gap, which is “the amount of food needed to allow each individual consuming below the threshold level to reach the caloric target” is 222 calories per capita.

This means that, on average, it would take an added 222 calories per day/ per food insecure person to make every member of the Jamaican population food secure. As a point of reference, this is the equivalent of one cup of breadfruit per day, which also offers 11 grams of fiber, 64 milligrams of vitamin C (85 per cent of the recommended daily intake for women and 71 per cent for men) and twice the amount of protein of white rice or potatoes— food staples that are a typical “go to” for food insecure people.

The implications are that although pandemic-related food insecurity was driven by demand side constraints, the problem could effectively be addressed on the supply side through government policies and other interventions.

Since the onset of the pandemic, Jamaica’s Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries has aggressively targeted agricultural production and production-related strategies in the face of COVID-19 restrictions and the associated economic downturn.

The potential for government intervention to alleviate food insecurity was reflected in the 2.5 per cent growth of the agriculture and fisheries sector, despite the country’s 10.7 per cent economic decline in the third quarter of 2020 (as compared to 2019), driven in part by a 65 per cent decline in tourism.

The Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries’ Buy Back program has played a major role in addressing growing food security concerns and reducing the food gap.  

In July 2020, a $1.7 million stimulus package was introduced by which surplus fruits and vegetables were purchased from farmers who lost their markets due to the decline in tourism, and redistributed through a variety of channels including children’s homes, communities under lock-down, and via mobile farmers’ markets.

More recently, with the support of a $240,000 grant from the Food and Agriculture Organization, the ministry has continued to purchase excess produce from farmers as well as assisting those who have been unable to sell excess produce. Recent focus has been placed on youth and women in the eastern parishes of the island, with much of the excess produce being reallocated to children-in-need through an undertaking with UNICEF.

Agriculture and Fisheries Minister Floyd Green has been involved in a number of initiatives to protect the agriculture sector against further shocks, including providing technical support to farmers and developing online markets as a means of more perfectly matching supply with demand.

Farmers have been exempted from curfews and movement restrictions in order to enable them to keep producing, and community-farming initiatives have been encouraged.

In addition to government support, the private sector has been engaged in programs in collaboration with the public sector and through independent initiatives.

The Digicel Foundation has been promoting an “Eat what you grow, grow what you eat,” ethos through its Plant Yuh Plate initiative which has provided micro-grants for community gardening projects, and a Grow Pot initiative in Salt Spring Jamaica through the provision of a ‘Build Jamaica Grant’ to 360 Recycle Manufacturing Limited.

These policies and initiatives provide a light at the end of the tunnel in the face of significant economic downturn and social upheaval that have tested the resilience of the Jamaican people. While 400,000 Jamaicans ended the year with not enough food, the country’s farmers and fishers emerged as heroes on the front lines.

There is still much hope and potential for a food secure future in Jamaica.

Published at Mon, 25 Jan 2021 01:10:29 +0000

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Written by Riel Roussopoulos


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