Jaxine Scott shows off vegetables in her garden at her home in Kingston, Jamaica. Photo credit: Kate Chappell
KINGSTON, Jamaica, April 2 (IPS) – Jaxine Scott was unemployed as a supervisor at an elementary school as a result of the pandemic. One day she noticed a green sprout emerging from some garlic in her refrigerator. She decided to plant it and, to her surprise, it thrived. “I thought, ‘It looks like I’ve got a green thumb, let me plant something else,” says Scott.
She now has a back garden that includes cucumber, pumpkin, melon, callaloo, melon, pak choy, and tomatoes. “I feel good,” she says. “I can help my family members and neighbors. It saved me money. I will not stop, I will carry on, ”she says.
Scott, 45, is just one of thousands of Jamaicans who turned to gardening to pass the time and become more self-sufficient when it comes to food and nutrition.
This is a small but important step for a country and region where the trees are laden with an abundance of fruit and yet many people are starving every day.
An October 2020 study of eight Caribbean countries found that 40% of those surveyed had some form of hunger, with 42% of those surveyed saying it was moderate to severe. The survey by the College of Health Sciences at the Technical University included 2,257 households in eight countries in 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 by the Caribbean Research and Policy Institute and Unicef found that in a survey of 500 Jamaican households, 44% said they were suffering from food shortages, while 78% said their savings could last four weeks or less.
Food security is a technical term for the availability of nutritious food and is defined by the United Nations as “physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that corresponds to your food preferences and nutritional needs for active and healthy life. “The World Bank reports that despite the pandemic, there is sufficient supply, but the challenge is national. Food security risks include higher prices and lower incomes, forcing households to rely on smaller servings of less nutritious foods.
“We suspected that people were reducing their intake, especially households where breadwinners were losing their jobs. It has messed up some households. People are reducing the number of meals they had, ”says Dr. Vanessa White Barrow, the director of the School of Allied Health and Wellness at the University of Technology’s College of Health Sciences.
This, of course, has many implications, including malnutrition, lack of energy, obesity as a result of consuming cheaper but unhealthy foods, and a variety of health problems such as diabetes and high blood pressure.
“What happened is that nutritional disparities have widened as a result of COVID,” says Prof. T. Alafia Samuels of the Caribbean Health Research Institute at the University of the West Indies.
“We also know that because of the extent to which many households became dependent on processed foods, people were less dependent (on healthy foods) and looking for cheaper alternatives, which has long-term health effects,” she says. This particularly affects children who need nutritious food in order to grow and learn appropriately. In addition, children are confined to their households, study online, and miss physical activities that they would have had in school.
Food insecurity is just a frightening result of the pandemic that has struck one of the most tourism-dependent regions in the world. At least 50,000 people have been laid off from the tourism industry in Jamaica alone, a number that is likely even higher when indirect employment is taken into account. In total, an estimated 135,000 people have lost their jobs. The country’s real GDP for fiscal 2020/21 is projected to shrink by up to 12%, according to the Bank of Jamaica, and unemployment for October 2020 was 10.7%. According to the World Bank, the proportion of people living below the poverty line was 19.3% in 2017, and while that number has improved, it is unlikely that this will continue.
With this in mind, the government has launched a series of financial stimulus measures to reach the most vulnerable. However, these are not sustainable. In addition to financial measures, the government has also focused on increasing food security, an effort that existed before the pandemic but has since intensified.
In terms of increasing food security and supporting agriculture, Jamaica’s Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, Floyd Green, says the government is investing JMD 1 billion this year.
Declining market demand, which is largely coming from the hotel and restaurant industry, has harmed agriculture. While there is sometimes oversupply, a lack of demand has impacted farmers and their production systems, which in turn affects food security.
“The challenge with COVID is clearly the downturn in the market, which is keeping farmers from producing,” says Green, adding that they fear their supply will not be absorbed. With this in mind, the government launched a buyback program that helped find new customers for farmers, which has helped.
“We saw an initial drop in production with COVID when it occurred, but we have returned to a growth position overall and are now seeing year-over-year growth.”
Ultimately, COVID says that COVID has forced people to examine their self-sufficiency. “Covid has brought back the focus in people’s minds on the need to be more self-sufficient when it comes to feeding ourselves.”
The need for self-sufficiency also exists on a large scale, especially on an island that imports over $ 1 billion worth of goods annually. And while some of it cannot be avoided as it is inefficient or impossible to produce everything Jamaicans need, there is some effort being made to increase the nation’s self-sufficiency and boost exports, according to Green, which can help balance the import invoice.
“Among other things, we took a critical approach to the analysis of our import invoice. What can we do to grow efficiently and lower the import bill? We take a twofold approach. We not only focus on the import invoice but also on the export revenue. We have to try to increase export revenues as a small island nation that cannot produce efficiently, ”says Green.
To that end, the government wants to encourage the production of ginger, turmeric, cocoa, coffee, castor oil, and mangoes, all of which are in demand for their superior quality, he says. “We want to encourage some of our farmers to grow some of these crops. What you are about to see over the next three years is a determined push to stimulate exports. ”
In terms of local food supplies, Green says this is sufficient. The problem, however, is a lack of purchasing power, especially recently as a result of the economic downturn. “Our challenge is to restart the economy to make sure people get purchasing power again.”
Green mentions a backyard gardening program that gave 2,500 families across the country, mostly focused in urban areas, a kit that included all of the tools necessary to garden and become more self-sufficient.
This is a food security measure, says Denton Alvaranga, vice president of the Jamaica Agricultural Society.
“A lot of people are at home and have a lot of time, middle-aged older people are at home, children are at home and usually have very little to do.
At this point, it would be very useful to re-emphasize the backyard gardening program, ”he says. “This is very, very useful and timely when you look at it. A lot of the things that are produced can be grown locally in our back yard and lots of people have lots of space.”
In addition to backyard gardening, both Samuels and Barrow-White add that government programs to identify and reach the most vulnerable communities and families will help increase food security. Samuels is currently working with Jamaican churches to develop a database to identify these individuals. “The plan is for intervention, and we suggest actually helping them introduce this type of intervention that has worked in a church so that they can systematically find out who the vulnerable are that they need to pinpoint. You need some kind of organization, you can’t look for people one by one, ”says Dr. Samuels.
Follow @IPSNewsUNBureauFollow the IPS New UN Bureau on Instagram
(2021) – All rights reserved