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Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) Representative to Jamaica, Bahamas and Belize, Dr. Jerome Thomas, says strategic systematic and sustained responses are needed to address the challenges threatening the food and nutrition security of Caribbean countries.

Dr. Thomas argued that "there is every reason to believe" that the Caribbean region’s food and nutrition security status has been negatively affected by factors, such as increases in the frequency and severity of natural disasters, rising food and input prices, and the ongoing global economic and financial crisis.

He was speaking at a validation workshop for Jamaica’s Food and Nutrition Security Policy at the Terra Nova Hotel in St. Andrew, last week, which the FAO jointly hosted with the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries.

 “The existing high unemployment rates as well as the high levels of poverty further define the critical problem facing the countries and the region. Any effective response to this situation must be strategic, systematic and sustained, and therefore, placed within a planned framework,” Dr. Thomas said.

Noting that food and nutrition security is a multi-dimensional and multi-sectoral issue, Dr. Thomas contended that its attainment and success requires “simultaneous, holistic, and concerted action” on a wide scale, encompassing enhanced agricultural output; fisheries and forestry; food processing and distribution; health and nutrition; trade; infrastructure; social welfare; education; and the information and communication sectors.

"Clearly, a common approach that builds on the comparative advantage of individual member states will improve availability, sustainability, and affordability of food, especially for the most vulnerable," he argued.

Dr. Thomas pointed out that the FAO, through its various programmes and projects, such as assistance with food and nutrition security policy development at the sub-regional, regional and global levels, provides support to the Caribbean in addressing issues related to vulnerable populations, right to food, and the integration of civil societies in the food and nutrition dialogue and implementation plans, through a range of national and regional projects.

He noted that development of Jamaica’s Food and Nutrition Security Policy represents a continuation of the FAO's aggressive support to the food and nutrition security agenda in the CARICOM region, particularly at the national level.

The FAO Representative said the focus of the overall project, incorporating the development of policies and plans within member states, aims to enhance countries' capacities to achieve United Nations (UN) Millennium Development Goal Number One, which seeks to, at least, halve the number of persons suffering from extreme hunger (and poverty) by 2015, by addressing the root causes of hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition.

"This will be effected by ensuring that each member state’s food production, processing, distribution, marketing, trade and food safety and agricultural public health system is capable of promoting safe, adequate, nutritious, and affordable foods for its inhabitants, at all times,” Dr. Thomas explained.

"The project also seeks to improve the nutritional status of the national population, particularly with respect to non-communicable diseases, including diabetes, cancer and hypertension, as well as overweight and obesity, through food utilisation and nutritional adequacy," he added.

Additionally, he said the project seeks to improve the resilience of communities and households in member states, to natural and socio-economic crises, through the assurance of food supply stability.

"FAO support is focusing, largely, on facilitating a participatory, consensual, and intuitive process, in which key sector stakeholders at the national level, will work together to outline specific objectives, assess constraints, identify priorities, determine the institutional setting and operational mechanisms, as part of a concerted, collaborative effort to develop a functional and sustainable food and nutrition policy and action plan. The FAO has also provided technical assistance in conducting the underlying socio-economic analyses of the plan," Dr. Thomas outlined.

Drafting of Jamaica's Food and Nutrition Security Policy was a collaborative undertaking involving the Ministries of Agriculture and Fisheries; Health; Industry, Investment and Commerce; Education; and Labour and Social Security; and the Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ).

The validation workshop brought together key stakeholders, for final deliberations ahead the document’s launch by Prime Minister, the Most Hon. Portia Simpson Miller, later this month.