LAST Thursday evening, Minister of Agriculture Pearnel Charles Jr and president of the Jamaica Agricultural Society (JAS) Lenworth Fulton were on radio promoting backyard farming. Families have received numerous benefits from using parts of their land to produce food. And it’s not just the backyard.
A former permanent secretary used to visit my home for Bible studies and related activities. Sometimes she came laden with some exceptional food items to give away while proudly declaring that she grew them herself at home. Recently I had reason to visit her home and was shocked to discover that my friend lived in a town house. Everything she produced was grown in pots. It was pretty impressive.
One interviewer complained that he did not see any signs that the Government was taking the necessary steps with food security in the face of the “looming crisis”. I suspect this may have something to do with the fact that there is no looming crisis for Jamaica in the foreseeable future. Of course, I expect a spike in some prices because of inflation. But that is a different matter.
I also suspect that the interviewer’s fears may have a lot to do with the Russia-Ukraine war as, in 2019, these two countries accounted for about 25 per cent of the world’s wheat, corn, and barley. Ukraine alone produced about half of the world’s supply of sunflower oil. However, most of their exports are to Middle Eastern and African countries. Jamaica is on a long list of countries that get flour from Ukraine and Russia.
Should we be worried? We use flour for numerous dietary products — bread, buns, cakes, dumplings, etc. But, privately, I would be thankful if, over time, no white flour came to this country. This would force us to look inward to the variety of rich, tasty alternatives right here.
During the processing of white flour, all the essential nutrients are lost. The flour we get deprives the body of healthy, life-promoting vitamins, minerals, and dietary fibre. Sometimes about three vitamins are added to justify using the word “enriched” to describe the product on the shelves. That is nothing compared to the lost nutrients.
Eating these empty refined carbohydrates is linked to a drastically increased risk of many diseases, including obesity, hypertension, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes. We all know several people suffering from one or all of these complaints.
Breadfruit has never received the attention it richly deserves. Few of us know of its versatility and nutritional capabilities. Flour produced from breadfruit is superior to the white wheat flour we now use; it is gluten-free, has a low glycemic index, and is a complete protein option.
Cooked breadfruit flour was digested through a multi-stage enzyme digestion model to estimate protein digestibility in comparison to wheat flour. Breadfruit protein was easier to digest than wheat protein in the enzyme digestion model. Mice fed the breadfruit diet had a significantly higher growth rate and body weight than the standard diet-fed mice. Researchers observed no adverse health outcomes in the studies.
Then there are our sweet potatoes, yams, bananas, and dasheen, all packed with nutrients and rumours of curative qualities.
Refined grains are not the only culprits. Refined and processed sugars are doing their fair share of damage. Years ago, I was the sociologist in a USAID/Ministry of Agriculture project. I decided to conduct an informal survey of mangoes used in Jamaica. I concluded that we eat just 15 per cent to 20 per cent of mangoes. The others fall to the ground and are eaten by animals or just rot where they are.
Known in some countries as the king of fruits, mangoes are probably the most nourishing, delightful, and stimulating exotic fruits. As is the case with many fruits, like melon, soursop, jackfruit guinep, and guava, the health and nutritional benefits are too numerous to mention here.
Backyard farming is being encouraged not just because the minister wants families to have more to eat, but because it is part of a strategy to have the entire country seized of the importance of food security while encouraging young people to take an interest in this critical aspect of national life. And, as we move away from the hoe-and-cutlass farming, it will become increasingly apparent that large expanses of arable land are no longer a prerequisite for thriving agriculture. Let me use the Dutch as an example.
About 18 years ago the Dutch made a national commitment to sustainable agriculture as we are finally doing now. The rallying cry was, “Twice as much food using half as many resources”.
The Netherlands is a small, densely populated country with more than 1,300 inhabitants per square mile. It is bereft of almost every resource long thought to be necessary for large-scale agriculture.
The farmers have reduced dependence on water for key crops by 90 per cent; practically eliminated the use of chemical pesticides on plants in greenhouses; and, since 2009, Dutch poultry and livestock producers have cut the use of antibiotics by 60 per cent.
Today, the Dutch are the world’s number two exporters of food, as measured by value, second only to the United States, which has 270 times its land mass. These are the lofty goals for Jamaica’s agriculture. And it requires every Jamaican to be on board. The most innovative way to nudge them is by taking farming ideas to them where they live because there is a looming food crisis down the road.
By 2050, the global population will be about 10 billion — up from 7.5 billion. More food must be produced over the next four decades than all farmers in history have harvested over the past 8,000 years. If massive increases in agricultural yield are not achieved, matched by considerable decreases in the use of water and fossil fuels, as many as a billion people could face starvation.
Therefore, if Jamaica does not buy into the minister’s vision for the future, we could face challenges with food imports. There is no doubt that hunger is going to be the 21st century’s biggest problem.
Glenn Tucker is an educator and a sociologist. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or firstname.lastname@example.org
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