“Key public health threats to the food and agriculture sector in the Caribbean include foodborne and waterborne disease outbreaks, weather uncertainties, flooding and other natural disasters, and now, the COVID-19 pandemic. As the Region struggles with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, more persons are facing limitations, and in some cases struggling to meet their food and nutritional needs which decreases their options for healthy food choices,” stated Dr. Lisa Indar, Director Surveillance, Disease Prevention and Control at CARPHA in observance of World Food Day.
World Food Day celebrated annually on 16th October, brings attention to and advocates for topics in food security, sustainability, and nutrition, and highlights the multiple stakeholders working to provide safe, healthy, affordable, nutritious food, for all. This year the theme is, “Our Actions are Our Future,” with a focus on Agri Food Systems - strengthening local food systems for host communities and displaced communities.
An estimated 2.37 billion people or 30% of the world population were lacking access to adequate food in 2020, representing an increase of 320 million persons being classified as hungry in just one year . In the English-speaking Caribbean, the COVID-19 pandemic has now left an estimated 2.7 million “food insecure” persons. Furthermore, a CARICOM survey reported that 71% of respondents reported higher than usual food prices. Low-income households and refugees and migrants are some of the most vulnerable groups to food insecurities.
People have transitioned their food choices in recent years to consume diets higher in unsaturated fats, oils, sweeteners, salts and those lower in nutrients.  Conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, obesity, cancer and asthma are often associated with consuming poor nutritional options. Persons living with these conditions are at higher risk of hospital admission and complications from COVID-19 infection and even death from the virus.
Climate change directly affects all aspects along the food chain. Changes in environmental temperatures have affected crop yield and the health of livestock and poultry, and in turn disrupt food production and availability. During and after disasters, persons are at higher risk of contracting foodborne illnesses from contaminated foods. Persons who are relocated to national shelters may not always have access to their specific diets and nutritional requirements.
The Caribbean has made significant progress in recent years in addressing undernourishment and response to food insecurity and food safety concerns. However, obesity is now the leading public health and development issue. CARPHA has developed the 6-Point Policy Package to create a healthy food environment towards reducing childhood obesity and NCDs.
CARPHA, in collaboration with its regional and international partners, has long supported the development and implementation of sustainable agri-food systems. Through the Caribbean Aqua-Terrestrial Solutions (CATS) programme, the Agency implemented a range of projects in CARPHA Member States. These interventions accounted for increased technical capacity in agro-processing, implementation of sustainable agricultural practices such as rainwater harvesting, seed saving, production of natural (non-synthetic) farm inputs, as well as the
introduction of farmers to biogas digestors, which can be used to produce energy and improve the quality of water released into the environment from piggeries.
As a co-executing Agency for the Integrating Water, Land and Ecosystems Management (IWEco) project, CARPHA’s Environmental Health Laboratory performed water quality monitoring to monitor the impact of farming practices for, inter alia, schools, farm holdings and backyard gardens throughout the watershed and coastal environment.
CARPHA also, implements and promotes the “one health” integrated fam to table approach to food borne disease (FBD) surveillance and response linking the laboratory, epidemiological, environmental, and veterinary aspect of FBD to trace FBD to the farm source and effect relevant prevention and control and improve food safety and security
Countries are urged to find innovative solutions to the continuous and emerging threats to regional food security. Further the Region needs to integrate food security and nutrition into resiliency plans to address growing poverty rates.
- Work with community stakeholders to develop resilient food systems during disasters and when facing the shocks from the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Promote low-cost healthy, local, nutrient-dense food options.
- Develop sustainable measures to promote culinary tourism at stay-in accommodations and national food festivals.
- Provide affordable healthy options to populations
As the Region tackles food and nutrition concerns during the pandemic, CARPHA calls on Member States act now to ensure that Caribbean people have access to affordable, nutritious and safe food by moving towards more efficient, resilient and sustainable agri-food systems. Countries should seek to promote food safety by developing and enforcing international standards and control systems and implementing a ‘One Health Approach’ to tackling health threats to animals, humans, plants, and the environment.