Tue | Oct 3, 2023

Report: 2 million Jamaicans can’t afford healthy food

Published:Thursday | July 7, 2022 | 12:08 AMAinsworth Morris and Judana Murphy/Gleaner Writers
Yvonne Fearon in her kitchen making tea with one sachet of Lasco chocolate milk powder. Her family of four stretches the contents with sugar, water, and milk to ensure that everyone gets a cup. A report published Wednesday shows that two million Jamaicans
Yvonne Fearon in her kitchen making tea with one sachet of Lasco chocolate milk powder. Her family of four stretches the contents with sugar, water, and milk to ensure that everyone gets a cup. A report published Wednesday shows that two million Jamaicans cannot afford healthy food.

Each morning, Yvonne Fearon, a household worker from Rose Hill in Summerfield, Clarendon, uses one pack of chocolate mix to make tea for herself, her husband, and their twin boys.

She’s forced to stretch the mixture by adding sugar, milk, and water because they can’t afford the optimal portion of four packs of the chocolate-based product.

They each eat a slice of bread with their tea and, on a lucky morning, some fried dumplings or plantains from their farm for breakfast, without protein or gravy.

The Clarendon family is among the two million Jamaicans, more than two-thirds of the population, who are unable to afford a healthy diet, according to The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2022.

Some 100,000 Jamaicans were added to that pool in 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, up from 1.9 million in 2019.

The prevalence of moderate or severe food insecurity in the Jamaican population has also increased by two percentage points over the last five years, from 48.3 per cent in 2016 to 50.3 per cent in 2021.

That crisis is set to worsen with inflation galloping globally, with Jamaica recording a rate of 10.9 per cent as at May.

The prices of food, fuel, and other commodities have risen meteorically since late 2021.

That plays out in the belt-tightening of households like Fearon’s, whose food options range from roasted breadfruit and callaloo to canned mackerel or sardines.

“It wouldn’t make sense mi pressure di system and put mi hat where I can’t reach it, so the best way is to survive with what we can,” Fearon’s husband, Glenford, told The Gleaner.

Glenford, who also has five adult children. said when they don’t have much to eat at times, besides what is grown in their yard, he encourages the twin boys not to complain, but remain hopeful.

Given the setbacks in improving hunger, food security, and nutrition, largely spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic, governments across the world have been charged to rethink their public-spending allocation to food and agriculture.

Recent evidence suggests that if governments repurpose the resources to incentivise sustainable production, supply, and consumption of nutritious foods, they will help make healthy diets less costly for all.

The report outlined that inequalities, widened by the pandemic, heighten the challenge of eradicating hunger within the next eight years.

“Updated projections indicate that more than 670 million people may still be hungry in 2030 - far from the Zero Hunger target,” FAO chief economist Maximo Torero said during a hybrid launch of the report on Wednesday.

The report was prepared by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the World Food Programme (WFP), and the World Health Organization (WHO).

The world is also not on track to achieve global nutrition targets. Though progress has been made on child stunting and exclusive breastfeeding, the chief economist said the world is moving in the wrong direction on adult obesity and anaemia in women.

Between 702 million and 828 million people faced hunger in 2021 - approximately 150 million more than in 2019 and before COVID-19 was designated a pandemic. Further, 2.3 billion people lacked access to adequate food in 2021.

The chief economist explained that moderate or severe food insecurity remained stable globally, whereas severe food insecurity increased worldwide and in every region.

Almost 3.1 billion people could not afford a healthy diet in 2020. Citing inflation in consumer food prices as the major reason, the chief economist said it reflects an increase of 122 million people when compared to 2019.

In the neighbouring district of Danks Savoy in Summerfield, Clarendon, Timothy McLeod, his wife, and teenage daughter also have little means to prepare meals.

McLeod, a retired farmer with no source of income, told The Gleaner that he has had to refrain from cultivation because of old age and sickness.

“A mi wife here have to stand up fi mi; and she nah work and me nah work, so anything come mi way, mi have to glad fi it,” McLeod said.

In his remarks, president of the United Nations Economic and Social Council, Collen Vixen Kelapile, said the report indicates the intensification of the major drivers of food insecurity and malnutrition - conflict, climate change and economic shocks, combined with growing inequalities.

“This is a lethal combination of drivers that requires our concerted efforts. The report shows us that the world is stagnant, and even regressing, in our efforts towards achieving SDG target 2.1 of ensuring access to safe, nutritious, and sufficient food for all, all year round,” Kelapile said.

He added that the current recessionary environment makes it even more challenging for governments to invest in the transformation of agri-food systems.