“Sixty three percent (63%) of the region’s population is under the age of thirty (30)” – CARICOM Youth Development Action Plan 2012-2017
Four billion dollars – that is the value of the Caribbean’s food import bill. Youth have the power to contribute significantly to the reduction of this figure by virtue of the large space they occupy in the population’s pie chart. But it is not that simple. Local foods have to contend with imported processed foods in a battle for the taste buds of youth.
A fast-paced life has led to the increased demand for fast foods. It is these fast food outlets which are credited with the bulk of the food imports. Some propose that governments should prevent the entry of fast food companies. However, an open market does not allow this action. Moreover, Caribbean governments are drawn towards to business with fast food companies, attracted to the potential for employment which secures them popularity with the electorate. The presence of fast food outlets will be a fixture of the Caribbean landscape.
Would you eat it?
Learning new foodways
It is nothing new that fresh local foods are healthier. That alone is not enough to drive consumers towards the healthier food options. Consumer education, therefore, is required to redirect the tastes of the youth. Nutritionists, in particular, support the need for the dissemination of this information in response to the high incidence of non-communicable disease such as obesity and juvenile diabetes. Experts in the field can assist by providing readily-accessible information on the calorie content and nutritional benefit of local foods. To effect this change, youth should be targeted at an early age. School garden programmes are instrumental in developing an appreciation of fresh food in general.
If you can’t beat them, join them!
The Caribbean Agribusiness Association is feeding into the ever-burgeoning fast food industry by substituting Irish potatoes with cassava and sweet potato. In Trinidad and Tobago, they have partnered with the fast food outlet, Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) to introduce sweet potato fries into their menus. Also, cassava cubes have been introduced into the School Feeding Programme. The partnership with the school feeding programmes also provides market intelligence to inform the success of this venture. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) is supporting the development of a cassava industry by substituting cassava flour in cake, biscuit and bread recipes. The limitation encountered by this endeavor is the economies of scale which affects the retail price.
Emerging market trends
Youth are lured by trends. A new foodie movement is gaining momentum among young people. In the words of a participant at the Forum, fast food is redefined as “ready-to-eat and not soaking-in-oil”. Food conscious people are creating a demand for organic products, farm-to-table experiences and urban farming production. Also, there exists a high-end niche market for functional, “super-foods”. Healthy-eating is being marketed as trendy.
Ironically, the number of youth at the Caribbean Pacific Agribusiness Forum is very low. Youth were absent from the panels and under-represented in the audience. We are presently operating successful agribusiness and supporting the industry in various capacities while experiencing our unique challenges. All efforts at revolutionising the agri-food sector will amount to nothing if youth are not part of the strategising the way forward. After all, youth are the future!
Photo credit: Luke Smith
Blogpost by Jeanine Eugene, Social Reporter for the Caribbean-Pacific Agri-Food Forum 2015.