World Food Day | Jamaica needs a management plan - FAO
Today marks 71 years since representatives of 42 countries gathered in Quebec, Canada, to formally launch the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, with a mandate to end world hunger and malnutrition, in the process effectively managing the global food system. Each year, on October 16, the FAO observes World Food Day in more than 150 countries, commemorating that 1945 milestone which is now one of the most celebrated days on the United Nations' calendar. The various events promote awareness and action for those who suffer from hunger as well as the need to ensure food security and nutritious diets for everyone.
This year, activities in Jamaica, organised in collaboration with the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries, took place on Friday at the College of Agriculture, Science and Education in Passley Gardens, Portland.
Much has changed since its inception and in significant ways, a fact acknowledged by this year's theme 'Climate is Changing. Food and Agriculture Must Too'. And so while the message and methods may have been altered over time, allowing for differences relating to advances in technology, as well as language and culture in the countries where it operates, the organisation has remained steadfast in its mission.
Dr Jerome Thomas, country representative for Jamaica, Belize and The Bahamas since 2010, recalls that the FAO originally focused its technical assistance mainly in the areas of agriculture, fisheries, forestry and the environment.
"Certainly, in the last couple of years our mandate has been widened and so the focus is on making a world free from hunger and malnutrition - in its widest form. So whereas six years ago we worked primarily with the Ministry of Agriculture, we now have a project looking at a school-feeding programme. So we are working with the Ministry of Education and also linking with the Ministry of Health," Thomas told The Sunday Gleaner.
"We also have a project looking on the first thousand days of life. So, for example, at the breastfeeding launch this year and last year, FAO was invited to participate and bring remarks. So those have been some fundamental changes."
Jamaica joined the FAO in 1963, a year after gaining political independence from Britain, and in 1979 they opened an office here. Over the years, it has partnered with the small island state in projects designed to foster and achieve sustainable agricultural and rural development, mainly through technical cooperation projects. Interventions have ranged from policy formulation to technical agricultural development and emergency assistance projects. Cooperation today includes a strong focus on food and nutrition security in urban populations as well as the rural sector.
FAO's strong presence and active participation in Jamaica has, however, led to misunderstanding about the role of the United Nations agency, according to Thomas.
"A lot of people, I think, assume FAO is a funding organisation. They call and ask, 'Can you sponsor this, can you sponsor that', and not only just the average person, but even at the ministerial level. So we have to keep saying we are a technical organisation, we provide technical assistance in areas where technical gaps have been identified," he explained.
The country representative continued: "For example, the Government is promoting enhancing the production of onions to replace significantly, if not to replace a hundred per cent, of the importation, but there is a pest called the beet army worm which has the potential of destroying any onion crop. It is a major challenge to scallion, and onion being the same family, is also vulnerable. So the Government or the Ministry of Agriculture would need to develop a management practice that could at least control, if not eliminate, the beet army worm when it does surface.
"So when they looked at that, they need to develop a management plan. However, all the resources, capability, the technical knowledge do not reside in Jamaica. So there is a gap to develop a management plan to control the pest. So that's where the FAO comes in - you identify a technical gap and we then would come in and fill that technical gap because we have the ability. Anywhere in the world the technical resource is available we can access it. So we'll bring it in and work with the local scientists and other stakeholders, as is necessary."
In this case, the FAO worked with scientists in the agriculture ministry stationed at its Bodles Research Station in St Catherine to develop a management plan for the beet army worm. It involved a forecasting component linked to the ideal environmental conditions under which the beet army worm is not only likely to resurface but to thrive as well, according Thomas.
"They can then forecast to farmers that listen, the conditions are gonna be such that you need to start implementing the management practice, and if the farmers go and do it on a timely basis, then it is likely to reduce the prevalence of the pest. But it is the skill of the farmer to respond, because even if you get the information and you don't respond timely, then you could still suffer extensive losses. We did that with citrus greening, we are now doing that with sea cucumber, and it's happening now with the problem with the cocoa (frosty pod rot)," he pointed out.
"In providing technical assistance, though, there is a dollar value and we do provide inputs when providing technical assistance. So, for example, with the citrus greening there was need to upgrade the greenhouses, the infrastructure, so we assisted in that. There was a need to enhance their ability to do tissue culture, so you needed certain equipment at Bodles. So if Bodles needs a greenhouse, we don't respond to that - that's funding. But if in addressing the technical gap, there is need for a greenhouse to be used, then the project can support that. So that is what is critical in understanding how FAO can provide assistance."