Wed | Jun 19, 2019

Editorial | Who will feed the hungry?

Published:Saturday | March 3, 2018 | 12:00 AM

We see it as something of an embarrassment to be discussing hunger in Jamaica and the Caribbean in 2018.

But this is the reality, and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is to be applauded for focusing on hunger and the plight of the poor during a three-day conference scheduled for Montego Bay next week. In attendance at this 35th session of the FAO Regional Conference for Latin America and the Caribbean will be ministers of agriculture, social development, education, health and environment, and high-ranking officials from 33 nations.

Not only is it a signal that the region has missed the United Nations Millennium Development Goal of eradicating poverty and hunger by December 2015, but it's an acknowledgement that despite the political rhetoric of aiming to tackle poverty head-on, our countries have been largely unsuccessful in matching talk with action. Approximately one million Jamaicans are judged to be living below the poverty line.

If one cannot afford to buy food, it follows that that person will also struggle to find proper housing and will be unable to meet basic necessities such as utilities, sanitary facilities, transportation, childcare, and education, which are some of the deprivations that poor people battle every day as they try to eke out an existence on World Bank estimates of less than US$1.90 per day.

From all accounts, current safety nets that are designed to give a leg-up to the vulnerable, such as health benefits and assistance through PATH in the case of Jamaica are not enough to lift families out of poverty, and this would suggest that Government may need to devise new ways to combat poverty.

Hunger is driven by poverty. But there are many inter-related factors such as the negative effects of climate change and the vagaries of weather on agriculture, landlessness, and lack of education and skills that are holding back many in the region.

The current crime wave posing a threat to Jamaica's social fabric is one of the great evils of poverty and deprivation. Many other social problems come from places of extreme poverty.

The underlying structural issues that create poverty can only be overcome when people are able to seize opportunities through educational achievement and skills training.


Economic development imperative


The surest way of lifting people out of poverty, therefore, is via economic development, which comes with increased investment, greater food production, ability to recover after disasters such as hurricanes and earthquakes, and technological advancements that all combine to offer hope to the poor. Sadly, Jamaica's development has been sluggish, as evidenced by an average GDP of less than one per cent for more than four decades.

The conference will, therefore, tackle these and other themes, including the eradication of obesity, promoting climate resilience and sustainable agriculture. Our optimistic wish is that conference participants will leave with a resolve not to merely treat the symptoms of poverty, but to drill deeper and deal with the underlying root causes.

The conference is dealing with unfinished business. We hope new partnerships will emerge so that more comprehensive means will be agreed to combat poverty. We believe Governments can do a better job of protecting poor and vulnerable citizens and bring us closer to being a prosperous region. Poverty will continue to be an inexcusable condition until the political will is found to make alleviation an urgent priority.