The combined effects of the food crisis and the global financial downturn threaten to derail the social and economic progress Jamaica has made in the last 20 years.
The largely mountainous island – the third largest in the Caribbean – is home to roughly 2.7 million people. About 65 percent of the population lives in rural areas and nearly 20 percent earns a living from agriculture.
The country has limited natural resources and is heavily dependent on foreign trade and investments. The economy is driven largely by tourism, mining and money sent from Jamaicans living abroad.
The steep rise in food and fuel prices last year created hardships for many of the country’s small rural farmers, who rely on imported fertilizers to grow their crops and imported grains to feed their animals.
These price hikes came hard on the heels of Hurricane Dean, which swept through the country in 2007, destroying homes, roads and crops.
European Union Food Facility
With € 5.9 million from the European Union, FAO launched a two-year project in June 2009 to help the Jamaican government ensure that rural communities and the urban poor have improved access to safe, affordable and nutritious food.
To decrease Jamaica’s reliance on expensive food imports, FAO will work to boost the production and use of locally-grown food crops such as roots and tubers.
To this end, funds will be used to increase planting areas, create rapid multiplication centres for the production of quality planting material and set up greenhouses for the production of quality seedlings. FAO will train farmers and extension officers in improved organic farming practices, post-harvest storage and packaging techniques.
Many small farmers have difficulties accessing water for their crops. Therefore, FAO will focus on increasing the use of small-scale irrigation systems and provide training in efficient irrigation techniques to farmers’ groups.
FAO will develop and distribute 2 500 information packages and provide training on setting up backyard gardens. At least 10 schools and six state-run homes will benefit from this programme.
FAO will work to expand a small livestock breeding programme, enabling farmers to produce meat for sale in the local markets.
FAO will also help to strengthen policy and government strategies for improved agricultural productivity and food security.
The overall project seeks to address gaps in the national food security programme, which was mapped out in 2008 following the food price crisis.
Other FAO activities
Through its Initiative on Soaring Food Prices, FAO launched a Technical Cooperation Programme (TCP) project in 2008 worth USD 250 000 to help offset the impact of high food prices on the country’s most vulnerable. Small farmers received key inputs – seeds and fertilizers –allowing them to resume farming activities for the next season and rebuild their seed stocks.