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The agriculture-nutrition nexus

 

Ever wondered why countries in Africa, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) have such high percentages of under-nutrition when these countries are endowed with an abundance of natural resources such as; fertile lands, sunshine, organic manure and rainfall that provide the right mix of ingredients for farming? Have you ever wondered why these populations still face lifestyle illnesses of anemia, stunting, obesity, malnourishment, diabetes and hypertension?

Within the Caribbean context, there are several external factors that impact the high level of under-nutrition. These include, unemployment, education, poor food choices, time management, and even culture – everything is linked.

“One of the major challenges that the region faces is the exclusion of traditional foods (fruits and vegetables) from diets,” said Ms. Judith Ann Francis, Senior Programme Coordinator at CTA.

Our diets are either replaced by imported fruits that are laden with chemicals in order to maintain a longer shelf-life or completely void of this food group.

“Although island countries have fruits and vegetables growing in abundance, persons are simply not consuming them and that poses a problem,” she said.

What is the problem?

Several questions emerged from the discussions at the Caribbean-Pacific Agri-Food Forum that underscores the need to approach the area of nutrition in a holistic manner. Apart from the provision of more and a greater variety of fruits, the attitude towards “eating local”, as well as the cost of the produce must be considered.

Do West Indians recognise the importance of nutrition in daily life? Are fruits and vegetables too expensive? Is there a limited supply and variety of these foods? The answer to these questions are just the tip of the iceberg.

It is imperative that each country have a Ministry of Agriculture that acts as the driver for sustainable development in the agricultural sector, while fostering advanced development as well as promoting food security and safety.

These Ministries across the region must then examine the entry points in terms of linking agriculture to nutrition in order to support the claim that by improving production (processing marketing) for traditional foods, increasing the income for the producers and processors. These will in turn be ensuring that pregnant women, young girls, hardworking men and children are well fed, and hence, there will be an improvement in their nutritional status.

Nutrition begins with a seed

Feeding all these groups requires households, schools and churches to own and operate a backyard garden where all the essential foods are grown. This will automatically to reduce the need to purchase everything that may be strenuous on the family budget. Each unit should plan a particular crop in abundance, different from their neighbour so that when everyone shares and each household is supplied with ample food from the different food groups thereby solving the issue of food availability and cost.

This is necessary, as otherwise families will be forced to eat for survival resulting in several of the essential food groups being eliminated; such as fruits and vegetables while the others are in abundance as a result of their low market value.

Let us eat what we grow, and grow what we eat!

Let us unearth this culture of mass importation in African, Caribbean and Pacific countries and plant a new culture; one in which we harvest our local foods for local production and export, so that when it grows, it will feed our future generations. While it may not mature in our time, it is important for us to make the sacrifice today.

Let’s get cracking!

Photo credit: Felix Clay/Duckrabbit

Blogpost by Shelly-Ann Irving, Social Reporter for the Caribbean-Pacific Agri-Food Forum 2015. 

Copyright © 2016, CTA. Technical Centre for Rural and Agricultural Cooperation

CTA is a joint international institution of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States and the European Union (EU). CTA operates under the framework of the Cotonou Agreement and is funded by the EU.