Vernon: ‘We need to embrace our local food’
Montego Bay’s Deputy Mayor Richard Vernon has called on Jamaicans to play an active role in the nation’s food security, especially by utilising locally grown foods instead of importing food items from overseas.
Vernon made the appeal on Thursday during his keynote address at the St James Parish Library’s Jamaica 60 Food Flavour and Festivities event, which was held as part of the Jamaica Library Service’s series of activities in recognition of Jamaica’s 60th year of independence. The event included displays of locally produced foods made from crops such as banana, carrot, sweet potato, and coconut.
“According to the Agricultural Land Management Division in our Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, on average, food accounts for approximately 43 per cent of the consumption expenditure of Jamaicans. This means that, if Mummy and Daddy earn $100,000 monthly, $43,000 is spent on food. But the problematic part is that 60 per cent of that $43,000 is spent on food that is not produced locally,” Vernon told the students in attendance.
“We need to embrace our local food, and each and every one of us has to become aware of the country’s state of affairs and to seek to contribute to a more secure nation. The citizens of this country must play a part because, if we continue to import 60 per cent of what we consume, when the prices increase overseas, the prices will increase locally. We therefore need to bolster our effort to improve Jamaica’s food security so we can become more sustainable,” Vernon added.
He noted that, ironically, Jamaican cuisine is highly sought after overseas because it is an identifying marker of Jamaican culture on the same level as Jamaican speech and music.
“Jamaican food is not only delightful locally, but it is actually an international phenomenon. And similar to how our music and speech defines us abroad, so does our food. Jamaican restaurants can be found in North America, Europe, Africa, and Asia, and our cuisine continues to spread to many other regions where people appreciate delectable and flavourful taste that is Jamaican,” said Vernon.
“We must eat what we grow and grow what we eat, and we must start to become an exporting country. It is said that, if agriculture goes wrong, nothing else will have the chance to go right.”
A 2013 study by the Inter-American Development Bank on climate change and agriculture in Jamaica identified the effects of climate change as a major challenge to Jamaica’s agricultural development. The report pinpointed Jamaica’s small land mass, fragile ecosystem, and high dependence on food imports, as well as the increasing impact of frequent natural disasters, as contributing factors holding back that development.
The report also recommended that any climate variability and change initiative to be put forward by the Ministry of Agriculture should involve crop data analysis and forecasting to provide farmers with the necessary information for them to alter their practices, in order to reduce their vulnerability.
A World Food Programme survey which was conducted in January and February this year across 22 countries found that four in every 10 Jamaicans have reduced their food consumption, with approximately 98 per cent of Jamaicans who participated in the survey saying that there has been an increase in food prices.