“We want to be one of the first islands in the Caribbean to reach zero hunger.”
The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries, Forestry's and Rural Transformation of St Vincent & the Grenadines, Saboto Caesar praised the work of the new FAO Director General and the renewed commitment of the Organization.
“We want to be one of the first islands in the Caribbean to reach zero hunger.”
Junary 2013, Santiago, Chile - During his two day visit to the FAO Regional Office, Saboto Caesar, Minister of Agriculture Fisheries, Forestry's and Rural Transformation of St Vincent & the Grenadines said that his prime objective is for the country to eradicate hunger, through St. Vincent and the Grenadine’s Zero Hunger program.
“We want to be one of the first islands in the Caribbean to reach zero hunger”, said Saboto, praising the new FAO, he work of the Director General and the support the Organization it is giving the islands in the implementation of their hunger eradication strategy: “It is the first time in history that we have had such a hands-on approach by FAO.”
What is the current status of food insecurity in St. Vincent and the Grenadines?
St. Vincent and the Grenadines has achieved the Millennium Development Goal number one, and the very coveted World Food Summit Goal, that means that the country was able to reduce hunger and undernourishment to fewer than 5% of the population, an achievement recognized by the FAO this year in Rome. Our head of state attended and receive the award from the FAO Director General, and since then our government has decided to launch our Zero-Hunger Initiative in accordance with the FAO Zero Hunger, adopting the FAO approach. Since then we have been in contact with the FAO office in Barbados and we immediately began drafting a national program.
Shortly after that the FAO subregional Office in Barbados sent a nutritionist to our country, to see how we can utilize our local food to guarantee more nutritious meals, and within two months we received technical support from the FAO to do a survey of the country, look at all the government reports and speak with non-government organizations, and he was able to identify those places in the country where there are pockets of poverty and undernourishment. Now we have a working model of how we are going to use our local food production to create more nutritious food and tend to the most vulnerable, as well as reducing food waste.
What is the next step in the Zero Hunger program?
At this stage were going to identify the actual people who are suffering undernourishment since our island is a small population, only 109,000 people live in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
And with this information we are going to know where to allocate our resources to benefit those households, because we want to be one of the first islands in the Caribbean to reach zero hunger. That is our objective.
Who is backing this initiative at the governmental level?
I am the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries, Forestry's and Rural Transformation, and we are putting this program as the main goal of the Ministry, we have an entire staff, from the top down to the technical people who are fully committed to work on this program. We are now at the stage where we are looking for resources to make the interventions, and once those interventions are in place and are insured, we have to make sure that we utilize national resources to target these areas. We will be very biased –in a positive sense- in our allocation of resources, because we want to target those people who are hungry and undernourished directly.
Why not simply stimulate tourism as a way to reduce poverty?
People say why don't we just make money from tourism and then take that money to import food. This is a case of so called Dutch-disease, such as what happens with oil-rich countries who say, “why grow food when we can sell oil and bring food from elsewhere” When you allow your national food production base to be drastically reduced to the extent that you are dependent on outside sources for food, you create an atmosphere of food insecurity. It creates a negative dependency. Also, in my country, while tourism is the main source of foreign exchange, it doesn't have the multipliers to reach the pool and the working class. Many of the hotels and resorts are owned and operated by multinationals, and the money they generate does not trickle down to the old lady who needs and depends on the public assistance of. You could have redistribution through taxes, but of course we know the multinational organizations get tax breaks and they don't pay many taxes, since this is part of the pull factors to create an atmosphere where it is easy for them to invest in your country. In the absence of that, depending on tourism creates increased poverty among the poorest sectors because they will always be people who do not have the capacity to work in hotels, who cannot work at the front desk.
Why use agriculture as a means to overcome food insecurity and poverty?
In St. Vincent and the Grenadines because of our small population size we cannot use economies of scale in a carte blanche way because our size makes it just makes us very peculiar. It is not difficult to feed 109,000 people. Even though we are small in fact we have so much food that we actually export. What we have to do to reach zero hunger is an issue of redistribution and creating an atmosphere of wealth and poverty alleviation within these pockets of poverty, so that they can acquire food in an affordable way.
One critical issue that I wanted to address is that you cannot address hunger and undernourishment by only looking at this problem from the point of view of people not having a meal. That is the end stage of hunger but they will have been many steps that led to this person not having access to a meal. So when addressing the issue of zero hunger we will also be addressing other critical issues such as employment in rural areas. When someone is employed, when we give people land, when we create subsidies and grants for farmers so they can increase their income levels, once that happens they can afford food. We are not going to have a meals on wheels program, where we going to send the truck into each district to give you three square meals a day, because that is not a sustainable way to end hunger and it's also going to be a heavy burden on the national purse.
What about food waste and nutrition?
People may have food, but may not be aware of how to prepare them. They may also waste them, and not get the nutritional value that they should get. The amount of food waste in my country is alarming in terms of food processing, for example, in mango there is a significant wastage of produce. So we want to create an atmosphere where we can add value to these mangoes, and for these benefits to be redistributed among the needy. Personally, I'm very excited that we will be able to reach the goal of ending hunger before 2015.
Did the relationship with FAO change after the visit from the new Director General?
Over the past years since the visit of the Director General, we have seen definite improvements. It is the first time in history that we have had such a hands-on approach by FAO. The Office of FAO in Barbados is doing significant work as I mentioned with the coordination of Deep Ford, and a new strategic relationship has been funded between the office in Barbados and our Ministry of Agriculture. The Subregional FAO Office in Barbados is not only working with the ministers but they are working on a national level sub regional and a regional level, with a continued interfacing and interaction on a regular basis.
Also they have been some appointments in the region in recent times of persons who are very energetic and they are going to the countries at a regular basis. The Zero Hunger plan is clear, they can articulate this plan anywhere in the world: they use agriculture, have a nutritional plan, a statistical survey and they know where to allocate resources. It's 1-2-3-4-5, and all of this are the results of an overarching FAO strategy. FAO’s working presence in the Caribbean as has greatly intensified since the DG visited my country, invigorating the heads of states and myself and the technical units of our Ministry. His message was very clear: FAO doesn't want to do many things, it wants to do one thing, which is an hunger.
How has the working relationship changed?
Many times in the past we would've seen international organizations who will spot a problem, hire a consultant to come into the country, start the work, do the technical research and then they handed back to the government a report which goes back into the pile of things to do. That pile grows and grows and at the end of the year when we're sorting it out we find the reports but nothing gets done.
Now there's a different approach. What is happening now is that the FAO is assisting and working together with the government for the implementation of the hunger eradication plan and I think this will be a model of cooperation. The FAO helps to identify a problem and supports the capabilities of the country, assessing and creating a proper strategy to solve it.