Ending hunger and malnutrition a top priority for Caribbean region

FAO Director-General speaks at Caribbean Community agriculture ministers’ meeting

25 February 2015, Nassau - Over the last two decades efforts to combat hunger and malnutrition in the Caribbean have made substantial progress, but these need to be further strengthened, according to FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva.

Since 1990 the prevalence of undernourishment in the Caribbean fell from 27 to 20 percent, but even now more than 7.5 million people still suffer hunger while obesity is another challenge the region faces, he noted in a statement yesterday to agriculture ministers from the Caribbean Community (CARICOM). They were meeting ahead of this week's CARICOM summit which is also slated to take place in the Bahamas.

"Ensuring food security and nutrition for all needs to be our main goal," Graziano da Silva said, noting how the CARICOM nations are addressing this by bringing together a series of strategies that tackle the "multiple dimensions of food insecurity".

"This is a winning combination, and FAO is proud to play an active part in all these efforts," he said.

At a CARICOM level this is represented by CARICOM's Food and Nutrition Security Action Plan approved in 2011. The FAO Director-General noted that at a national level many of CARICOM's 15 member states are developing national action plans in response to the Zero Hunger Challenge launched by the United Nations Secretary-General.

Tapping agriculture's full potential

Speaking to the ministers, the FAO Director-General stressed how a vibrant agricultural sector helps to drive sustainable and inclusive development in the Caribbean.

"Agriculture creates employment opportunities, especially important for the youth, and is critical to reduce rural poverty. Agriculture can supply the Caribbean tourism industry," he said, adding that local production can help recover and revitalise traditional crops and increase self-sufficiency during times of volatile international food prices and food import bills.

Building resilience against natural hazards

Graziano da Silva noted how the island nations of the Caribbean are particularly vulnerable to extreme natural events such as hurricanes, how these are made more frequent, violent and unpredictable by climate change, and how they threaten agriculture, food security and sustainable development.

In this context, he underscored the importance of disaster risk management, raising preparedness levels, adapting to climate change and building resilience.

FAO's work

FAO's Director-General outlined to the assembled agriculture ministers the main aspects of the organization's three regional initiatives noting how they will provide important support to formal discussions and priority setting that will take place at the next FAO Regional Conference for Latin America and the Caribbean in 2016.

The first of FAO's regional initiatives centres on supporting countries' food and nutrition security efforts through zero hunger and malnutrition programmes; improving food and feed systems to address the food import bill; building resilience, and; strengthening agriculture, food security and nutrition governance and policy.

The second focuses on strengthening family farming, recognizing that in the Caribbean as in many other parts of the developing world, family farmers play a crucial role in increasing local availability of food thus reducing hunger and malnutrition.

FAO's third regional initiative works to improve food and feed systems and is specifically designed for the Caribbean. It aims to boost and add value to local production; recover local products; reduce the dependency on food imports and; a provide employment opportunities, especially for youth, in agriculture and aquaculture.

Photo: ©FAO/Giuseppe Bizzarri
A farmer inspecting a maize crop in Haiti.