Caribbean ‘not ready’ for climate impact on food security, experts say
According to experts, the Caribbean is not ready to tackle the potential impacts of climate change on food security.
Ronald Roopnarine of the University of the West Indies said the region is actually not climate ready, let alone climate change ready.
Renata Clarke of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) said the bottom line was that the Caribbean was unable to provide food security in such a dynamic context.
“All the very common issues still exist, many countries are still looking to assess and adjust the legal and institutional frameworks to set the rules for how governments can ensure food systems are secure. There are varying degrees of progress and some countries are ahead of others,” she said.
We need to do more
Roopnarine and Clarke were talking in one of the climate change webinar series organized by the Standards and Trade Development Facility (STDF), which manages projects aimed at improving food safety in developing countries. The STDF was created by the FAO, the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), the World Bank Group, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Trade Organization (WTO).
“In the context of climate change, we see a lot of things changing, so we can’t keep doing the same things and expect to deliver the same level of food security,” Clarke said.
“We don’t even do the standard things that happen in many parts of the world in terms of regular monitoring and checks and balances. We are not able to understand and see where the changes are coming from. Lack of data means people don’t see a problem. Why invest in food security when we have other pressing issues?
“We need One Health approaches, in the Caribbean we tend to be siloed – there is not much sharing of insights and data. We need to collect data to understand baselines and detect changes, precisely what we are not doing enough.
“We need collaboration across sectors and countries because when resources are limited, we could do more if we plan priorities together, share data and divide the work, and that’s not happening. What is happening especially during COVID-19 is a renaissance in agriculture, many of us import 80-90% of what we consume and when supply chains were so compromised all countries said we had to produce more.
Regional data gaps
Roopnarine said regional climate trends show increasing temperature and decreasing total precipitation with seasonal changes.
An increase in temperature could lead to a higher prevalence of mycotoxins. Floods can carry foodborne pathogens, but drought affects water efficiency and availability. Higher ocean temperature means increased growth of biotoxin-producing algal blooms.
A case study examined food safety in the Caribbean using the Bahamas, Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago as examples.
“The main concerns are that the cause of most foodborne illnesses is unknown due to the lack of appropriate surveillance and diagnostic programs needed to detect the occurrence and identify the causative pathogens. For the most part, there is no proper documentation,” Roopnarine said.
Between 2002 and 2016, there was a 31% increase in foodborne outbreaks in 21 member states of the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA). Caribbean countries have a high rate of street vending. Some countries require food safety badges, but the programs are not properly monitored or regulated.
“Results showed that there is under-reporting and under-diagnosis of foodborne illnesses, limited information on the relationship between foodborne illnesses and climate change, no epidemiological testing to determine the microorganisms – people are just diagnosed with some sort of food poisoning unless there is a major outbreak, there is no monitoring of food handlers to ensure safety practices are followed food, the economic cost of foodborne illness is a concern for developing countries and multiple agencies are involved in food safety in some jurisdictions,” Roopnarine said.
Respond to climate change
Markus Lipp, senior food safety officer at FAO, said the climate is changing right now and the food system is a dynamic web.
“In the Caribbean, it has been reported that current food security policy and regulations are not prepared to deal with climate change on top of the standard food security challenges that everyone faces. many low- and middle-income countries, preparedness is not at the level we would like to see or where countries would like to be, so that they can proactively address climate change Climate change and food security have the complexity that there is not one lead department but many departments that need to work together to solve the big problems,” Lipp said.
Vittorio Fattori, FAO food safety officer, said there is growing evidence linking rising temperatures to a higher incidence of infections caused by Salmonella or Campylobacter. Climate change is also allowing various species that form harmful algal blooms to spread to new regions such as Europe, which is unprepared to meet the challenges of toxins.
Another problem is heavy metals released during heavy rains and thawing permafrost, particularly arsenic in staple crops like rice. Methylmercury is a problem in terms of seafood consumption, with levels increasing in regions with rising water temperatures. Mycotoxin contamination of staple crops like corn and peanuts is a health concern and can be a barrier to international trade.
Fattori said it was important to be proactive on these issues.
“A forward-looking approach can be useful in trying to quickly identify problems and analyze possible solutions. This is important for national food authorities and something FAO tries to promote. Our food security future will require these forward-looking approaches. Rather than relying on reactive measures that we know have limited effect, we need to be proactive and bring together the different elements and stakeholders,” he said.
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