Avoid post-COVID-19 food fraud, urges UWI lecturerThursday, May 07, 2020
BY ALICIA DUNKLEY-WILLIS
UNIVERSITY lecturer Dr Lystra Fletcher-Paul has urged Caribbean governments to shore up the region's agriculture sector in order to avoid falling victim to food fraud in the wake of COVID-19.
“In many Caribbean countries, about 80 per cent of the food consumed comes from the United States. The implication is that imports from the US are likely to be reduced along the supply chain, because they themselves are having problems,” The University of the West Indies (UWI) biometrics lecturer told a virtual forum hosted by the institution earlier this week, to assess the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on health systems.
“Because these countries who export food to the Caribbean now have to see about food for their own food security, what's gonna happen is that they are going to dump low-quality food on us; they are going to make this nationalistic move and they are going to dump the low-quality food on us,” Dr Fletcher-Paul, who is the former sub-regional coordinator for the Caribbean Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), warned.
She said individuals who have very little income and can only purchase “the cheap food” are “particularly at risk of possible malnutrition from food shortages for prolonged periods, and possible malnutrition from nutritionally deficient foods”.
“When people dump food on us, we have to be careful about food safety issues and poor sanitation,” she continued.
Noting that many calls have been made over the years for regional governments to make more investments in agriculture, Dr Fletcher-Paul said governments have ignored these calls and “have been paying lip service to agriculture and allocating less than one per cent of their national budgets to agriculture”, but must now make meaningful investments in the sector.
“Agriculture is an important pillar in the economy that must be supported. COVID-19 has an impact on all aspects of food security. It is very important because it provides an opportunity for us to improve our food sovereignty — to be in charge of our destiny and be in charge of the food that we eat.
“Agriculture must be an essential pillar in the economy, and intra-regional trade is very important, but it calls for greater commitment from Government, private sector and us, consumers, to buy local, eat local and grow local,” she said, adding, “It's everybody's responsibility.”
The university lecturer pointed out that “we must think Caribbean”.
“When we think of eating local, we are talking about local Caribbean, producing for intra-regional trade so that we reduce our dependence on others to feed ourselves,” Dr Fletcher-Paul insisted.
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