Posted: Tuesday, June 21, 2022. 10:44 am CST.
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By Lilia Burunciuc – World Bank Country Director for the Caribbean:
The Caribbean region, already hit by the COVID pandemic and struggling with the impact of the climate crisis, now faces another serious problem: a food crisis.
Food prices around the world, including in the Caribbean, skyrocketed this year after the conflict in Ukraine broke out.
Both Ukraine and Russia produce a significant amount of the world’s grains, oilseeds and fertilizers. The expected shortfall in supplies has already caused price hikes for these food commodities. The Caribbean relies heavily on food imports for domestic consumption and to supply the tourism industry. As these price increases transmit to local markets, those previously barely able to afford a nutritious diet may not have enough money to do so anymore.
The World Bank’s domestic food price inflation dashboard shows that at least four Caribbean countries – Dominican Republic, Guyana, Haiti, and Suriname – have experienced food price increases higher than 5 percent every month between March 2021-2022. Suriname witnessed food price increases of over 30 percent in this period and ranks among the worst affected countries globally based on this indicator.
In Haiti, 45 percent of the population are facing crisis or emergency and in the higher-income countries of the English-speaking Caribbean, 40 percent of the population are reported to be food insecure.
The ongoing crisis in Ukraine may further deteriorate the food security situation in the region.
Importance of food security
Food crises are bad for everyone, but even more so for the poorest. The first thing families with low income do during the food crisis is switch to cheaper food that fills the stomach but is usually less nutritious.
And when nutritional needs are not met, people have lower productivity and inadequate nutrition has irreversible effects on a child’s physical and mental development. Thus, the crisis we are witnessing today may affect not only the individual but also the longer-term growth prospects of countries within the region.
Pathways to resilient agri-food systems and food security
Given the high stakes, it’s critical for the Caribbean to come together and take action.
Building on the World Bank’s experience from the past pandemic and food crisis responses around the world, Caribbean governments could consider the following set of priorities.
In the short-term
There are several instruments that the Caribbean countries can access to receive emergency funding.
In the medium-term
In Belize, we are working with the government and farmers to increase food production and facilitate the adoption of climate-smart agricultural practices.
With investments in upgrading production systems, agro logistics, and marketing, domestic farmers could consistently supply fresh and minimally processed food all year round and receive better prices. This is the rationale for the OECS Agricultural Competitiveness Project, which aims to support food producers and small and medium businesses in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
In Jamaica, we are working with the government to provide financial and technical support to key agricultural institutions and tourism enterprises to develop more reliable linkages with buyers and markets.
During my travels in the Caribbean, I met Deles Warrington, an award-winning farmer from Dominica. He shared with me his optimism for the future of agriculture in the region. In his words, when people put their heads together, assist each other and share technology, tremendous success can be achieved. I cannot agree more with Deles.
Building productive and resilient agri-food systems in the Caribbean will require partnerships, strong policies, strategic investments, and capable institutions. However, the payoffs– measured in growth, food security, nutrition, natural resources, and climate change mitigation – are eminently worth it. At the World Bank, we stand ready to support the region in this endeavor.
Lilia Burunciuc is the World Bank’s Country Director for the Caribbean countries.
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