Business

Zero food deficit possible in 10 years

BY CAMILO THAME Business co-ordinator thamec@jamaicaobserver.com

Friday, July 13, 2012    

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THREE thousand tonnes more of food would fill a nutritional deficit across income groups in Jamaica.

The country is said to be the most food-secure across a sample of regional countries, according to a new US Department of Agriculture (USDA) report.

But the sustainability of its debt levels, its heavy reliance on food imports and the high variability in domestic production may derail projections that the distribution gap will be eliminated over the next decade.

The distribution gap — the difference between projected food availability and the food needed to increase consumption in food-deficit income groups — is presently estimated to be 3,000 tonnes. That's the lowest of 11 countries sampled in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Alternatively, Haiti, with the highest gap, needs 383,000 tonnes of food a year to meet the nutritional requirements target — 2,100 calories a day — of the undernourished.

"Peru, Colombia, and Jamaica are the most food secure countries, where only the households in the lowest income decile are estimated to be food insecure between 2012 and 2022," said the USDA report. "Food security (in the LAC) is projected to continue improving over the next 10 years, reducing the share of people with insufficient access to food to about one-fifth by 2022."

But Jamaica's "future food security could be compromised by the uncertainty arising from... likely unsustainable debt level".

Jamaica accumulated debt equal to 128 per cent of GDP up to March.

The country, like others in the LAC region, is also relatively reliant on food imports.

Jamaica imports more than 90 per cent of its grain supply, the Dominican Republic about 70 per cent, and Colombia and Honduras about half. The other seven countries rely on food imports for between 15 per cent (Bolivia) and about 40 per cent (Ecuador and El Salvador) of grain supplies.

"Given the importance of imports to food security, strong export performance to maintain import capacity will be key," said the report.

It also warned that lower income countries that export beverage crops, such as coffee and tea, could face some pressures on their food import budgets since their export prices are expected to decline by 25 per cent, much sharper than the 10-per cent decline in food prices by 2025.

Domestically, weather plays a key role in determining food security.

"Production variability is high in the most vulnerable countries, largely because their food production takes place in rain-fed areas that are subject to variable weather conditions," said the report. "In LAC, Jamaica has the highest variability at 24 per cent, though the country is not a major food producer."

Figures showing a 3.2 per cent annual decline in root production in Jamaica between 1990 and 2010 are testament to this.

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