Caribbean food security under threat

Food on display
Food on display (Photo credit: Megan Thomas)

Food demand is expected to increase anywhere between 59 and 98 per cent by 2050 according to The Journal of International Association of Agricultural Economists. This will shape agricultural markets in ways we have not seen before. Farmers worldwide and in Trinidad and Tobago will need to increase crop production, either by increasing the amount of agricultural land to grow crops or by enhancing productivity on existing agricultural lands through fertilizer and irrigation and adopting new methods like precision farming. In Trinidad and Tobago there is not enough precision farming. 

The twin isle is faced with many obstacles, from climate change to urbanization to a lack of investment which makes it challenging to produce enough food. There is strong academic consensus that climate change-driven water scarcity, rising global temperatures, and extreme weather will have severe long-term effects on crop yields. These are expected to impact many major agricultural regions, especially the Caribbean.  We may also see a substantial decline in agricultural output due to extreme heat. 

Another pressing issue for the region is the logistics challenge that hinder food distribution. Advanced logistics, transportation, storage, and processing are also crucial for making sure that food goes from where it grows in abundance to where it doesn’t. Nonetheless, even if some regions increase their output and traders reduce the mismatch between supply and demand, doubling food production by 2050 will, undeniably, be a major challenge. 

Businesses and governments will have to work together to increase productivity, encourage innovation, and improve integration in supply chains toward a sustainable global food balance. First and foremost, farmers, trading companies, and other processing groups need to commit to deforestation-free supply chains. Deforestation causes rapid and irreversible losses of biodiversity, is the second largest source of carbon dioxide emissions after fossil fuels, and has contributed greatly to global warming—adding to the negative pressure on agriculture production for which these forests were cleared in the first place.

It is also true that developing countries tend to have less crop yield per hectare compared to rich countries.Farmers in rich countries are more productive than those in poor countries because they use better technology and infrastructure, and are subject to better government policies.

So, what would it take for the developing world to catch up? Improving the mix of crops grown by farmers in poor countries, improving efficiency and by adopting modern technologies and eliminating ineffective government policies would shrink the productivity gap and improve the situation drastically. 

Dramatic improvements have already been achieved in many places. Ading to the World Bank, today’s cereal-crop yields in lower-middle-income countries are three times higher than their historical level.

If farming practices were the same around the world then land quality would not be a constraint on farmers in poor countries. With the implementation of existing technologies and improving allocation, this can increase agricultural productivity tremendously. The other possibility is that there are constraints that prevent the adoption of modern technologies and frictions that prevent markets from efficiently allocating resources in developing countries. More work is needed to understand the importance of each one of these explanations. While a large body of recent work has been studying the constraints and frictions that impact agricultural productivity, with mounting evidence of their importance, much less work has been done on understanding the localization of agricultural technologies in developing countries.

Farmers must also grow more on the land they currently operate through what is called “sustainable intensification.” This means using precision farming tools, such as GPS fertilizer dispersion, advanced irrigation systems, and environmentally-optimized crop rotations. These methods can help produce more crops. The agricultural sector also needs significant long-term private investment and public spending.

Global policy makers, corporations, and consumers must put the global food balance higher up the agenda. International business leaders who are participating in this supply chain have to better communicate the need for policy changes and for developed countries to incentivize investment in regions where there is the most potential for growth. Our food security will depend on it.



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