In the Caribbean, severe food insecurity has increased by 72% over the past two years

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A series of surveys administered by the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) in partnership with the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) found that in the English-speaking Caribbean, the estimated prevalence of severe food insecurity increased by 72% since the start of the pandemic and 44% compared to a year ago.

In April 2020, CARICOM, in partnership with WFP, began tracking the impact of COVID-19 on food security and livelihoods in 22 countries and territories in the English and Dutch-speaking Caribbean through the CARICOM Caribbean COVID-19 Food Security and Livelihoods Survey. The surveys were administered in April 2020, June 2020 and February 2021, with the fourth and most recent round taking place in February 2022.

Experiences of food insecurity are due to the unique interaction of a multitude of factors associated with food availability, food access, food utilization and economic vulnerability. Using the WFP Consolidated Approach to Reporting Food Security Indicators (CARI), survey respondents were categorized on a food insecurity scale, based on a combination of variable, with the most extreme being referred to as “severe”.

“Severely food insecure households struggle to put food on the table every day or have to employ coping strategies that compromise their ability to do so in the medium term just to meet the needs of the day “, explains Regis Chapman, WFP and country representative. Director of the WFP Caribbean Cluster Office.

The findings of the CARI exercise reveal that while current levels of food insecurity are lower than in June 2020 and have remained relatively stable over the past year, they have increased by 60% since the first CARICOM-WFP survey in April 2020. Insecurity has, however, increased at every turn, registering a significant increase of 72% since April 2020.

Based on estimates extrapolated from CARICOM-WFP survey results, there has been an increase of one million food insecure people in the English-speaking Caribbean since the start of the pandemic, which brings the estimated number of food insecure people in the region to 2.8. million (39% of the total population).

An estimated 693,000 people, just under 10% of the region’s population, are currently severely food insecure, up from 6% in April 2021. This is 44% more than in February 2021 — just one year earlier — and 72% more than in April 2020.

The survey results reveal that two years into the pandemic, diets have deteriorated and food consumption has declined, with 48% of respondents saying they were unable to eat healthy foods and nutritious foods, 37% would have skipped meals, 45% would have eaten less than they thought they should, and 20% would have gone an entire day without eating – in the 30 days prior to the survey.

More worryingly, the results reveal that inequalities have been increasing since the start of the pandemic. Severe food insecurity disproportionately affected low-income respondents with deepening effects at each round of the survey.

The most significant impacts were felt by respondents who reported earning well below average income, with 16% reporting going an entire day without eating and 49% having skipped a meal or eaten less than usual over the course of the week. week preceding the survey.

Low-income respondents reported coping strategies such as dipping into savings to meet immediate needs, reducing spending on education and health, and selling productive assets. Almost half said they had no stock of food at home.

The survey results also indicate that the reasons for food insecurity in the Caribbean have shifted from COVID-related movement restrictions to growing impacts on livelihoods.

Fifty-seven percent of respondents said their household had experienced job losses or a drop in income since the start of the pandemic, an increase of 11% since April 2020. Sixty-nine percent of respondents who described their income as well below average, reported livelihood disruptions, compared to 37% of those whose income was well above average.

Respondents also indicated a perceived increase in the cost of inputs, with 93% reporting higher food prices, up from 59% at the start of the pandemic. Ninety-seven percent of low-income respondents reported increases in food prices.

“The latest CARICOM-WFP survey, undertaken just before the onset of the Ukraine crisis, signals that the region remains at a critical point for food security,” said Yeşim Oruç, United Nations Resident Coordinator in Guyana.

“This crisis has since led to a further spike in food prices, as measured by the FAO Food Price Index. This is exacerbating the lasting effect of COVID-19 on food security.

Further increases in world food prices would have serious consequences for the Caribbean, given that most countries depend on imports for more than 80% of their food consumption. Given the region’s sensitivity to price shocks, the impact of the crisis in Ukraine on the cost of basic goods and services is expected to have a profound effect on regional livelihoods.

Regis Chapman believes that unequal access to food, as revealed in the CARICOM-MAP study, has the potential to exacerbate social problems in the region.

“The severe inequality in access to nutritious food is one of the main ripple effects of the pandemic. This has major implications for the region’s high rates of non-communicable diseases, already taxed welfare systems, school performance of young people, workplace productivity and crime rates, among other areas.

The socio-economic crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has put social protection in the spotlight as a way to support the most vulnerable. All governments in the region have turned to existing social protection programs or rolled out new ones to limit the negative socio-economic impacts of the pandemic, but more investment is needed to mitigate worsening structural inequalities.

“If the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us anything, it is that now is the time for game-changing and bold decisive action to safeguard Caribbean livelihoods and ensure food security. won’t have another opportunity,” said program manager Shaun Baugh. , Agricultural and Agro-Industrial Development at the CARICOM Secretariat.

Among those most affected by growing regional inequalities are agricultural workers, with 18% saying they had to resort to another source of income during the pandemic, the largest of all sectors. Sixty-two percent of agricultural workers said their ability to carry out subsistence activities had been affected two weeks before the survey and 78% said they had to dip into their savings to buy food in the 30 days before the survey. ‘investigation.

Food insecurity has also had a major impact on agricultural workers. Six percent said they had gone an entire day without eating due to insufficient food stocks in the 7 days preceding the survey, while 39% said they were skipping meals or eating less than usual during this time. Thirty percent said they had no stock of food at home.

“The survey results underscore the need for continued strenuous regional efforts to address the threat of hunger and food insecurity,” said Ambassador David Prendergast, Director of Sector Programs at the CARICOM Secretariat.

“Food and nutrition security is one of CARICOM’s highest priorities. CARICOM Heads of Government have taken concrete steps to advance the CARICOM agri-food systems agenda, develop the agricultural sector and, by extension, ensure food and nutrition security.

In addition to promoting investments in agrifood systems, regional food production, and improvements in productivity and trade, the CARICOM-MAP report advocates for improved data and accelerated digital transformation initiatives to promote the well-functioning food systems and food security.

“Investments in national and regional food systems must become a strategic priority for CARICOM and its members, along with social protection measures for the most vulnerable,” says Yeşim Oruç.

An expansion of social protection and social services, programs to promote increased consumption of local foods, and the acceleration of more sophisticated and creative forms of development and climate finance are among the other recommendations put forward in the report.

But with a host of aggravating factors, including the impending hurricane season, the ongoing effects of COVID-19, the heightened impacts of climate change, food price increases and global instability, two in three and more respondents from the Half of the respondents with the lowest incomes anticipate severe impacts on their livelihoods in the future.

“The impacts of climate change and, more recently, the economic effects of the Ukraine crisis will continue to threaten the livelihoods and food security of the most vulnerable in the Caribbean for the foreseeable future,” confirms Regis Chapman.

“Without immediate attention to regional food security, the impacts will become even more entrenched and far-reaching. CARICOM countries have done so much so far to try to reduce the socio-economic impacts of the pandemic, but more needs to be done to prevent growing inequality from becoming the new norm. The will is there, but greater international support is needed to ensure that the Caribbean can not only recover, but thrive in today’s global environment with longstanding ambitions of regional integration finally realized. »

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