IT is indeed my honour to address you on this year’s observance of the 40th observance of World Food Day and correspondingly the 75th birthday of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). The theme which marks this meaningful occasion is “Grow, Nourish, Sustain, Together. Our actions are our future.” The theme reiterates the Department of Agriculture’s commitment to building more resilient and sustainable food systems by helping to grow a variety of food to nourish the population in a sustainable manner.
We mark World Food Day 2020 in unprecedented circumstances as we continue to deal with the global effects of the COVID -19 pandemic. Covid- 19 has had huge implications on food and livelihood security. The closure of several key hotels, restaurants and street markets has significantly reduced the volumes of local produce being traded. It has also reduced household income due to pay cuts and layoffs which has reduced purchasing power of households thus resulting in declining consumption at the household level. The Covid-19 global health crisis has among other things provided the opportunity to reflect on what truly matters and focus on our most basic physiological needs of food, water, warmth, rest, security and safety, as expressed in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.
These uncertain times have made many of us rekindle our appreciation for local agriculture and our home grown food systems. Food, the vital nutritive substances essential for life and the bedrock of healthy lifestyles and proper nutrition, must at all times, especially in these times be consumed and prepared in a wholesome manner.
Therefore, preserving access to safe and nutritious food is and will continue to be an essential part of the response to the COVID -19 pandemic particularly for poor and vulnerable communities who are hit hardest by the pandemic and resulting economic shocks.
World Food Day is calling for global solidarity to help the most vulnerable to recover from the crisis, and to make food systems more resilient and robust so they can withstand increasing climate shocks, deliver affordable and healthy diets for everyone, and decent livelihoods for farmers and fishers. This will require better social protection schemes, but also more sustainable agricultural practices that preserve the Earth’s natural resources, and protect our soils and environment.
The Department of Agriculture continues to be actively involved in providing relief to many Saint Lucians who have been affected by the global pandemic. The “Good Food” boxes initiative which formed part of the Government’s Social Stabilization Plan was launched in June, 2020.
The Government of Saint Lucia collaborated with the Marketing Entities to prepare a total of eleven thousand, eight hundred and forty (11,840) Care Packages which were distributed to vulnerable persons/families throughout the Country. This amounted to one million, one hundred and twenty-one thousand, three hundred and eighty dollars (EC$1,121,380). The duration of this program was between the periods of June 10th to August 24th, 2020.
Ground provisions, green bananas, eggs, as well as a protein of fish or chicken formed part of the nutritious packages delivered to so many St. Lucians. Many farmers who lost a significant market due to the closure of most hotels and reduced spending power of consumers benefited from this initiative along with many vulnerable families who were able to prepare wholesome meals for the week as a result of these care packages. This initiative served as a new supply outlet for farmers and fishers who were displaced due to the COVID-19 Pandemic.
World Food Day recognizes the efforts of our food heroes-farmers, fishers and all food actors who have worked tirelessly to ensure that food makes its way from farm to table despite these challenging times. This year’s campaign calls on the public to make food choices that improve our health and that of our food systems, preserve habitats that support them, respect food and food producers, and join in global solidarity efforts wherever possible, despite uncertainty.
This year’s theme underscores three essential areas namely Grow, Nourish and Sustain, and summarizes the important task of producing healthy foods in a sustainable manner. Increasing food consumption to feed a growing population, together with changing dietary preferences, poses an immense challenge for the global food system. A crucial question is how to meet the increasing demand for food and provide healthy diets for all for the decades to come without undermining the Earth’s resources beyond which the future prospects for humanity may be threatened. The Department has embarked on a number of initiatives to ensure increases in the sustainable production of nutritious food.
In a move to forge a closer relationship with the community and consumers at large, the Department of Agriculture has led a series of events that will serve to build interest in locally-produced foods, the people who grow them and the needs of the consumers. One such event is the farmer’s market. The farmer’s market, embraces the Department’s theme of “Eat Fresh; Saint Lucia’s Best” as part of a strategic move:
- to meet the general population at their point of purchase:
- apprising consumers of the latest developments within the agri-food sector, farming trends and food safety,
- providing an outlet where farmers get the opportunity to showcase their produce and encouraging the consumption of local crops.
“Eat Fresh Saint Lucia’s Best”, is primarily geared at promoting a greater awareness of the availability and uses of local food products thereby encouraging Saint Lucians to make healthy food choices and embrace locally grown foods.
As debilitating as the pandemic has been, it provides us with an opportunity to completely transform our economy and to do many of the things that we have long aspired to do but will now have to pursue with fierce urgency.
There is widespread consensus that going forward, farmers must produce more food per unit of land and water. To do so, however, they simply cannot continue farming in the same way. They will have to build resilient systems and employ the appropriate technologies while facing climate change, volatility, shifting nutrition needs and the increasing scarcity of most of the physical factors of production.
Today, the movement for sustainable agriculture is gathering increasing support and acceptance within our food production systems. In this regard our approach to sustainable agriculture integrates three main goals:
1. Environmental health,
2. Economic profitability and
3. Social equity.
Agricultural sustainability rests on the principle that we must meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Therefore, long term stewardship of natural resources involves maintaining or enhancing the quality of these resources and using them in ways that allow them to be regenerated for the future. The Department of Agriculture will continue to promote sustainable agriculture to ensure that farmers and fishers produce food in a manner which does not compromise the ability of our future generation to meet their own needs.
FAO has declared its biennial theme for 2020-2021, to be “Promoting healthy diets and preventing all forms of malnutrition”. With such a challenging goal, we all need to work together. We need to walk hand-in- hand and build healthy and sustainable food systems.
Your Government continues to put in place policies, regulations and market infrastructure to make nutritious foods available, accessible and affordable. Progress towards healthy diets requires collaboration by all stakeholders. Governments, Civil Society Organizations, food producers, research institutions and consumers, all have an important role to play. Equally important, we will continue to ensure that healthy diets are environmentally and economically sustainable.
I take the opportunity to wish everyone a productive World Food Day and provide assurances that the Department of Agriculture continues to implement work programmes that promote safe food systems.