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Minister of Agriculture, Dr. Christopher Tufton has said that the current global food crisis has the potential to undermine all the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) set by world leaders at the United Nations in 2000, more so the target to halve extreme global poverty and hunger by 2015.
“Left unchecked, not only will we see an increase in the number of people suffering from hunger, but also rural livelihoods will be undermined through a decline in agricultural production due to high input costs,” the Minister said.
Dr. Tufton was speaking on Wednesday (June 4), at the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) High Level Conference on ‘World Food Security: the Challenges of Climate Change and Bio-energy’, held in Rome, Italy.
The Minister said that he was “constrained to lament the unfortunate neglect of the agricultural sector in the South in the past, in pursuit of ‘cheap’ food imports.”
“This approach miscalculated the strategic importance of agriculture to the notion of sovereignty,” Dr. Tufton argued.
He pointed out that the reaction to the current food crisis by some countries, reflected in export bans, underlined the instinctive tendency of nations to safeguard their own welfare first and foremost. The Minister further noted that the outbreak of food riots equally underscored the importance of food to basic human existence and “if nothing else therefore, this crisis must redefine the strategic importance of agriculture and galvanize us to action.”
“Small, net-food importing developing countries like Jamaica are in a particularly precarious position, as we neither have the resources to continue importing food at these high prices, nor the capacity to rapidly increase production of foods in the short term,” Dr. Tufton said.
“Given the prognosis of a persistence of high food prices over the next decade, the time has come for the international community to mount a response to this crisis akin to the Green Revolution in the aftermath of World War II,” he added.
The Minister argued that adaptation to climate change and mitigation must now be mainstreamed into agricultural policies and programmes, while noting that Jamaica has been impacted by at least six severe weather episodes in the last 5 years, resulting in losses to the agricultural sector of nearly US$200 million.
“Therefore, as we seek to improve production and productivity, we must also build resilience, as we face the real threat annually of a significant portion of our production capacity being destroyed by adverse weather episodes. Food security and climate change are therefore inextricably linked,” Dr. Tufton emphasised. He explained that Jamaica was dealing with the food crisis in two ways: expansion of production in a number of indigenous crops capable of substituting a number of imported cereal and starches; and pursuing programmes, which seek to raise the consciousness of householders that, “they can play a part in reducing their food bill by growing some of the basic things they consume.”
“Even as we do this, we are conscious that we will require technical support to increase production and productivity at a pace and to a level to change our profile of dependence on food imports to that of substantial food sovereignty,” Dr. Tufton said.