The ‘farm to fork’ approach to support Caribbean food and nutrition security

Basseterre, St. Kitts — In March 2011, researchers from the University of the West Indies in Trinidad and Tobago and McGill University in Canada began working together on a CIFSRF CARICOM Food Security Project. Their aim was to improve the nutrition and health of CARICOM populations through sustainable agricultural technologies that increase food availability and diversity of food choices. Using a ‘farm to fork’ approach, project researchers working in St Kitts and Trinidad were able to boost the production and consumption of a more diverse range of nutritious and safe food.

The farm to fork approach addresses rising obesity rates and poor nutrition in the region due to a preference for high-calorie, low-nutrition, imported foods. It also provides support for local farmers to enable them to make their fresh vegetables and small livestock available to existing school meal programmes. Improving food safety standards in caterers’ kitchens and providing nutrition education for the children and their caregivers further encourages more diverse and nutritious food choices. This success certainly needs to be expanded and shared with other Caribbean countries before the project comes to an end in August this year. The first step towards this has begun with the evaluation and consolidation of the lessons learnt.

Dr Kristen Lowitt, a post-doctoral fellow of Mc Gill University and Dr Wayne Ganpat of the University of the West Indies are leading the effort to evaluate the integrated farm to fork approach implemented in St Kitts and Trinidad and use this to guide the design of effective food security policy.

Interviews and focus group sessions with researchers from the collaborating institutions, partner institutions, field staff, farmers, teachers and policymakers will provide first-hand testimony on the successes and challenges of the farm to fork approach. The research will also indicate how best to expand the scope of the approach in contributing to sustainable food systems.  Once this is all consolidated, the food security policy interventions that would support the initiative will become evident. These will be used to develop policy briefs which Dr Ganpat will advocate towards acceptance and buy-in by policy makers in the region.

The project is participatory in nature and the views of stakeholders are regarded as valuable to a successful project outcome. To facilitate their involvement, a policy Focus group workshop was conducted on Thursday 20th March at the Department of Agriculture’s office at La Guerite, Basseterre. Dr Gordon Hickey, Associate Professor at Mc Gill University facilitated the session. Stakeholders included personnel from the School Feeding Programme, the Ministry of Agriculture, Principals of schools and Ministry of Health officials. The main question discussed was “what would make all organisations work better for the success of the “Farm to Fork” approach? At the end of the day, several interesting and valuable suggestions were made and these will eventually be included in recommendations for the up-scaling of the project in other countries of the region.

The final project outcome is expected to be a tried, tested and sustainable farm to fork approach that addresses food and nutrition security in the Caribbean within a supportive policy environment. It will be a fitting legacy to the project, which is funded under the Canadian International Food Security Research Fund (CIFSRF) through the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).

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