A refocused FAO leading the fight against hunger in the Caribbean

At a time when the Caribbean region continues to be challenged by an extended recession, high food prices and a high food import bill, a revitalized Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has recommitted itself to the sustainable development of agriculture and the fight against hunger.

The agency, headquartered in Rome and with a Subregional Office for the Caribbean in Barbados, recently appointed Dr. J.R. Deep Ford as its new Subregional Coordinator. Dr. Ford, who transferred fully to the Caribbean office in April, is a national of Guyana with a PhD in Agricultural Economics. He returns to the region with over 30 years experience at the regional and international levels, having worked for the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) and the Commonwealth Secretariat, headquartered in London. For the past 13 years, he has worked with FAO in various capacities and prior to his regional appointment was previously the Subregional Coordinator for Central America based in Panama.

FAO Subregional Coordinator for the Caribbean, Dr. J.R.Deep Ford stands beneath a portrait of FAO Director-General, Dr. Jose Graziano da Silva

FAO Subregional Coordinator for the Caribbean, Dr. J.R.Deep Ford stands beneath a portrait of FAO Director-General, Dr. Jose Graziano da Silva

Dr. Ford has worked extensively throughout the region and is optimistic about the role that FAO can play in improving food security and agricultural development. “We have a glorious opportunity to address the challenges in the region that we’ve been speaking about for many years but on which we have yet to make sufficient progress,” said the new regional head.

New global leadership

Dr. Ford’s appointment extends his fruitful working relationship with FAO’s new Director-General, Dr. Jose Graziano Da Silva, with whom he previously worked closely while head of the Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean in Chile. Since taking office in January 2012, Mr. Da Silva has guided the Organization through a period of review designed to increase its impacts on the ground, streamline and make its operations more efficient and make the institution more effective overall in the face of a changing global food context and more limited resources.

“When FAO was created after World War II, the main cause of hunger was insufficient food production. Back then, the first and only priority was to increase production. The problem now is more complex and more difficult to resolve. The main cause of hunger today is lack of access to food. It is related to poverty, especially rural poverty. Improving social protection is an effective way to raise the capacity of poor people to buy the food they need in the short term and complements initiatives that enhance smallholder productivity and rural employment,” Graziano da Silva said.

To meet these challenges, FAO has made a commitment to working not only with governments, but also with civil society and the private sector. It has also outlined five new strategic objectives. FAO will seek to:

1. contribute to the eradication of hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition;

2. Increase and improve provision of goods and services from agriculture, forestry and fisheries in a sustainable manner;

3. reduce rural poverty;

4. enable more inclusive and efficient agricultural and food systems at local, national and international levels; and

5. Increase the resilience of livelihoods to threats and crises.

In addition, the Organization has committed to the integration of gender issues and good governance and the provision of technical knowledge across all its areas of work.

Zero Hunger Challenge

Along with his knowledge of and commitment to the Caribbean region, Dr. Da Silva carries with him an impressive track record in the fight against hunger. As Brazil’s Extraordinary Minister of Food Security and Fight Against Hunger he was responsible for implementing the country’s highly-successful “Zero Hunger” (“Fome Zero”) programme, in whose design he also played a leading role. The programme helped lift 24 million people out of extreme poverty in five years and to reduce undernourishment in Brazil by 25 percent.

That programme is the inspiration for the Caribbean’s own Zero Hunger Challenge, which Is currently being piloted in Antigua and Barbuda. The approach seeks to tackle the issue of hunger more comprehensively, engaging all participants in the sector and paying closer attention to striving for tangible results. The five aims of the challenge are

1. 100% access to adequate food all year round

2. Zero stunted children in less than 2 years

3. All food systems are sustainable

4. 100% increase in smallholder productivity and income

5. Zero loss or waste of food

According to FAO’s Caribbean head, J.R. Deep Ford, the region needs to seize the opportunity to bring about lasting change.

“With the commitment of the new FAO, we have support at the highest levels promoting the importance of food security and nutrition security in our countries, understanding the importance of linkages across the region,” he stated.

These problems are not going to be solved by one institution alone but by a partnership of institutions working together – national governments, private sector, civil society, international organizations. If we collaborate we can arrive at sustainable solutions to food and nutrition security in this region; reduce the food import bill; and create the employment opportunities that are necessary to transform livelihood systems of households and communities in this region.”

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