Survey results highlight need for urgent, collective action to address Regional Food and Nutrition Security – CARICOM ASG

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CARICOM Assistant Secretary-General, Economic Integration, Innovation and Development, Mr. Joseph Cox, on Wednesday addressed the launch of the Report of the Fifth Round of the CARICOM Food Security and Livelihoods Survey.

The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) conducted the survey with the support of the European Union and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Bureau of Humanitarian Assistance.

This fifth survey, administered in July and August 2022, reflects the situation of over 6,300 households across 22 countries and territories. The survey found that the number of people facing moderate to severe levels of food insecurity in the English-speaking Caribbean has risen to 4.1 million or 57 percent of the population.

“The Survey results to be presented today along with the realities highlighted simply cement the need for the region to reinvigorate its efforts and engage in new solutions to help the vulnerable groups and those living in poverty within the region. It emphasizes the necessity for further urgent collective action and support in addressing Regional Food and Nutrition Security.

“It highlights the need to increase the production of what we eat and facilitate intraregional trade,” Mr. Cox said in his remarks.

Dr. Renata Clarke, FAO Sub-regional Coordinator for the Caribbean​, and Mr. Regis Chapman, Representative and Country Director- WFP Caribbean Multi-Country Office also addressed the launch. Ms. Amy Chong, Vulnerability and Analysis Mapping Officer – WFP Multi-Country Office for the Caribbean presented the results and Ms. Daphne Ewing Chow, moderated the programme which also featured a robust question and answer session.

Please read the remarks made by Assistant Secretary-General Cox below:

The CARICOM Secretariat and World Food Programme are pleased to launch the 5th Caribbean COVID-19 Food Security and Livelihoods Impact Survey. The Secretariat also thanks the other regional institutions and partners such as Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) and the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and other partners for prioritizing the monitoring of food security within the region.

This Survey Report being launched today is the 5th such Survey of its kind administered in July and August 2022 and reflects the situation of over 6,300 households across 22 countries and territories.

 The results reveal, for the first time in five surveys over two years, that respondents top concern was over being able to meet basic food needs (48%), followed by meeting essential needs (48%) and unemployment (36%). 

Concerns arose as a result of the sharp increase of Global food prices at the start of the Ukraine conflict. Major market supply disruptions of key inputs into production such as fertilisers and fuel drove up local food prices. The spikes have deteriorated food and consumption diets and destabilized and impacted the access, availability and utilization of food. Based on the survey results, it is estimated that 4.1 million people out of 7.1 million (57%) in the English-speaking Caribbean are food insecure. This is a dramatic increase of 1.3 million since February 2022.

 The survey also notes that on average, food inflation in the English and Dutch-speaking Caribbean has risen by 10.2% across 20 countries as of March 2022.  While the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reported in its latest World Food Price Index that food prices for five commodities – cereals, vegetable oil, dairy, meat and sugar – have fallen for a fifth consecutive month, they still remain nearly eight per cent higher than a year ago.

Moreover, the high cost of fuel prices associated with the transportation of food items and inputs are exacerbating the food price crisis. In Belize, for example, the cost of a 50kg bag of Urea increased by 117%, glyphosate by 115%.  Land freight between its neighbors Mexico and Guatemala also increased between 60-80 % and sea freight cost increased by over 70%. The Government of Grenada in an effort to ease cost of living of its people this week announced that it intends to cap freight rates at the 2019 level for 6 months beginning October 2022 and has called on the business community to do the right thing and pass on the saving to consumers and end users of imported goods and products.

In the same token the Grenada Prime Minister Mitchell also announced that the Ministry of Finance will seek to remove the gas and diesel cap in effect from December 2021 and remove that 25% reduction in non-fuel charges on electricity bills. T&T Finance Minister Colm Imbert also has announced that the government is looking at capping the fuel subsidy at TT$1 billion dollars, which is 54.1% of the TT$2.18 billion projected for 2023’s subsidy. While governments are aware of inflation and making every effort to keep prices low, the reality is that the government purse can only sustain a certain amount of foregone revenue and subsidy for its country to survive.

The Survey results to be presented today along with the realities highlighted simply cement the need for the region to reinvigorate its efforts and engage in new solutions to help the vulnerable groups and those living in poverty within the region. It emphasizes the necessity for further urgent collective action and support in addressing Regional Food and Nutrition Security.

It highlights the need to increase the production of what we eat and facilitate intraregional trade. Ladies and Gentlemen, the value of the CET suspension rates is in the millions! For the month of June, alone, reports indicate that approximately US$170.2 million worth of goods were imported from third countries under the CET suspension process resulting in revenue forgone of US$28.2M from CARICOM governments for the importation of mostly agricultural commodities. This points to the need for the private sector to be more responsive to the opportunities that obtain.

During the 32nd Meeting of Conference of Heads, a Special Ministerial Taskforce on Food Production and Food Security was established to tackle the effects caused by COVID-19 and the War in Ukraine. The Taskforce chaired by Guyana launched the 25% by year 2025 targets which aimed at reducing by the year 2025, 25% of our food import bill by significantly increasing production of some key products, such as poultry, corn and soya, fish, sheep and goats, and a range of fruit and vegetable products. The targets also address several cross-cutting issues, such as the removal of various barriers to our internal CARICOM trade, mobilizing financing, developing insurance, market facilitation and transportation.

Member States are already making significant advances to meet the 25% by 2025 targets.  Jamaica for example recently announced that they have met 40 per cent of the national demand for onions and 70 per cent of the national demand for potatoes. Jamaica and other Member States like Guyana and Belize among others are also building their capacity to implement programmes geared towards the use local and farm materials to reduce their reliance on chemical fertilizers.

While food insecurity is having major effects on the socio-economic welfare of citizens throughout the region, hope remains that it can be mitigated through proper planning and joint regional efforts. Data is essential for planning and therefore the Secretariat once again thanks the WFP for leading the series of Surveys which brings to light critical issues surrounding Food and Nutrition Security and looks forward in working with governments, the agency and other partner institutions in planning the way forward and implementing strategies to minimize the impact of future market disruptions.

Thank you.

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