Securing a nation's health
Ensuring food security during COVID-19Friday, May 01, 2020
BY Mario O Christie
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), an agency of the United Nations that focuses on achieving global food security for all, “Food security [is] a situation that exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social, and economic access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.”
Amid the global epidemic being experienced now, we face a tangential but relevant issue as it relates to the risk of food shortage and its implications for social and economic stability, as well as we are poised for a very significant learning opportunity globally and nationally.
COVID-19 has restricted movement globally, and one of the many impacts that the virus has had is on the movement of farm produce from the farm to the fork. Meaning, because of the closure of massive hotels, restaurants, and other places of entertainment, in addition to the reduced opening hours of marketplaces and the lockdown of major populated areas, there is an excess of produce at the source that is highlighting major challenges that we have as it relates to our food security framework in Jamaica.
Yaneek Page, a notable business development consultant, echoed the need for an established agency to address the [potential] issues of food security that will arise as one impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. She said in her tweet, “Given the constraints in food production, globally and locally, with adjusted work hours, shutdowns, etc, and Jamaica's heavy reliance on imports, what measures are being put in place to ensure ample supply in Jamaica?”
Many have since come to respond to the tweet sparking a conversation online about what this response would be like considering the definition put forward by the FAO. Whilst the agriculture ministry has said there is no food shortage, farmers are still calling for assistance in moving their produce so they'll be able to make some profit and be able to replant. This difference in narrative also highlights the need for a strengthening of the communication mechanisms between government agencies and farmers.
Eleanor Jones, CEO of Environmental Solutions Limited and one of Jamaica's leading disaster risk management specialists and environmental management consultants, also shared her sentiments in her address to the Jamaica Intellectual Property Organisation commemorating the end of Intellectual Property Week on April 26, 2020. Her address can be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vrtqb51S8Kc&feature=youtu.be&fbclid=IwAR23rbpj0qUYdpHpluC9ERjx_hig5DxOqL1iEl2r3W Ws-BK8U04OeqcNcSc and it highlights that the rate at which environmental changes (such as changes we are experiencing with our climate) are occurring is much faster than available science and technology can be used to understand them and create mitigative measures. She also highlighted the fact that in these times of rapid environmental change, we need to ensure measures are put in place to ensure food security remains a reality for our nation.
Both women, as well as other food safety and environmental science practitioners, have echoed similar sentiments for Jamaica to move swiftly to implement measures to ensure that our food supply remains consistently available and accessible to all in our country irrespective of socio-economic status. Especially in light of COVID-19, some immediate solutions are apparent. Some of these are:
1) The establishment of clear communication pathways for the public and relevant government agencies regarding access to food and other food availability issues.
2) Major food manufacturers can engage our nation's farmers to either minimally process or fully process agricultural produce to ensure that food shortage doesn't become our reality and that our economy can remain functional, for example, blanching produce such as yams, bananas, and other ground provisions will extend their shelf life significantly and make transport and storage easier.
3) The Government could also engage food facilities with large underutilised storage warehouses to become storage units for excess produce so we can manage how these items are moved in and out of the market.
4) Fruits, vegetables, and some seasonings like onions, peppers can be made into purees for longer shelf life.
5) For people who prefer fresh produce, we can look at the possibility of a facility operated to food safety standards, for example, hazard analysis and critical control points (HACCP), to store and distribute these items for better management. As a response to COVID-19 specifically, this warehouse could serve specific communities that are quarantined where people take orders and deliver them to reduce the need for individuals to want to go out to get these items.
6) The Government can also engage entities with cold trucks and other industry-regulated food transport vehicles to bring farm produce into communities that are not easily accessible. Another suggestion that will limit the movement of people.
It is time for the Government and other stakeholders to come to a consensus that we need to pull from the expertise available across all sectors. While COVID-19 is a public health issue, and we commend the health minister for his approach and inclusion of the people in the response, we have to admit that it is a cross-cutting issue for the nation and the response, too, must be cross cutting.
Mario O Christie is a food safety management consultant and director of research and policy at Jamaica Climate Change Youth Council. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or email@example.com.
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