Although the Cayman Islands cannot hope to become “food independent”, the Caribbean region as a whole could potentially produce most of the food it needs, said Brian Crichlow, assistant director of the Cayman Islands Department of Agriculture, during a talk on food security at the STEM conference last week.
Producing enough food to feed the world’s population will become increasingly problematic in the future, he said during a seminar session at the University College of the Cayman Islands. The world’s population keeps growing, meaning an ever-increasing number of bellies to fill, but with some 70 per cent of the world’s population living in cities, there are fewer people to work the land and produce food for a growing population.
By 2050, food production would need to increase by 40 per cent in order to keep pace with population growth, Mr. Crichlow said. As more land is given over to cultivating crops for biofuel there is also less land available for food crops. And as certain populations become wealthier, their citizens demand more meat, which is land-intensive to produce, in their diets.
For the past century, food prices have consistently dropped, Mr. Crichlow said. But since 2000 there has been a steady increase in food prices. This is indicative of the decreasing availability of these foods, he added.
As food availability decreases, countries will restrict their exports, to ensure they can feed their own populations.
As a result, wealthier countries are looking beyond their own borders to secure access to food in the future: some governments are taking out long-term leases on land in sub-Saharan Africa, Mr. Crichlow said, which they cultivate to produce food for their own countries.
In the Caribbean region, and the CARICOM states more specifically, most nations import significantly more food than is produced domestically. However, given the varied geography, topography and climates of the region, there is the potential for the region to cultivate a wide variety of crops.
It would require certain paradigm shifts for this to happen, however. Local populations would need to be encouraged to engage in agriculture, an occupation many have resisted due to the historical associations with slavery.
It would also require an attitude shift away from consuming processed, imported foods, and a commitment to “eat what you grow, and grow what you eat”.
In order for the region to be more self-sufficient in terms of food production, transport links within the region would also need to be greatly improved to facilitate trade between Caribbean nations.
Complete food independence for the region is not realistic, Mr. Chrichlow said. The Caribbean has always had to import protein sources in the form of meat products, as well as grains and cereals which cannot be cultivated in this climate. This will continue to be the case.
If each nation in the Caribbean, however, were to increase agriculture of the crops that do well in their particular lands, the region could become at least less dependent on food imports from the United States, and possibly even produce a significant amount of its food regionally.