Jermaine Francis, Staff Reporter
While recognising the threats caused by the world economic crises of the past six years, stakeholders are declaring they are confident the future of Jamaica's food-and-nutrition sector has become more secure.
In 2009, Jamaica was declared to have met the United Nations Millennium Development Goal of reducing poverty and hunger by two-thirds, but there have been concerns that this progress could become unsustainable based on global economic developments.
However, players in the agriculture sector say steps have been taken to ensure the nation is in a position to feed itself in the near future, though some say these steps are not being implemented fast enough.
Major Johnathan Lamey, vice-president of academics at the College of Agriculture Science and Education, who stated in 2011 that a crisis was looming if attention was not paid to securing enough food to feed the nation, acknowledged yesterday that small steps are being taken towards food security.
"We have made incremental improve-ments, but I don't see anything major," Lamey told The Gleaner.
He noted, though, that projects like the ministry's Irish potato programme and food crop programme are steps in the right direction.
"We have moved from a position of, say, 70 per cent importation of Irish potato, for example, and now we are importing 20 per cent of what it is that we need, so we are making improvements. But I don't think it is fast enough, and what we want to do is to get everybody on board," Lamey said.
Agriculture Minister Roger Clarke, however, is not worried about Jamaica's hunger rate slipping anytime soon and noted that his ministry has embarked on a number of projects to ensure the island can nurture itself.
"We have been moving quite well," said Clarke. "We had some setbacks last year with Hurricane Sandy, but we are almost back on track. This last quarter, domestic agriculture grew by 8.4 per cent, and the next quarter, we are going to see more growth."
Clarke said projects such as the development of agro-parks are not only being done to secure enough food, but to also ensure that the right nutrients are available, especially, to the most vulnerable, such as children.
The 2013 State of Food Security in the World report has shown that the proportion of undernourished persons in Jamaica's population has grown from seven per cent in 2005-2007 to 8.6 per cent for the period 2011-2013.
Clarke said his ministry would be employing all strategies available to increase domestic food production in a number of areas that could help to further eliminate hunger in the country.
"I am optimistic that we will not find ourselves in a situation getting back into malnutrition. What we need to do is to begin to educate our people about eating local foods, as they are more nutritious," Clarke said.
"Everybody in Jamaica can do a little farming here, there, and everywhere, and that's another area we are going to be concentrating on."
He said for the entire month of November, his ministry would be embarking on a number of initiatives to spread awareness on the need for Jamaicans to support local agriculture.