A resurgence of indigenous foods, culinary traditions and farming fuels vast economic, environmental & nutritional growth in Jamaica.
Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.
I was born and raised by a single mother on Valdez Road in Spanish Town in the parish of St. Catherine, Jamaica. My mother had limited means and we often did not have food in the house. I became resourceful from a very young age and started selling cold water in plastic bags to the worshippers at the church next door. I later attended Jamaica College. I ventured to New York at the age of seventeen, as an undocumented immigrant, to make a better life for myself. I was homeless for two years and lived in the streets and on the train. I am passionate about food because I know what it means to be hungry. Even though I have lived in the United States for the past twenty years, I visit Jamaica at least every other month. Jamaica and my son are the two loves of my life. The vibrancy of the culture is second to none and the natural beauty brings tears to my eyes. The biggest shame is the inequality and silent hunger, that is grossly understated in the media.
Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.
I always tell people I was born and made in the ghetto. Spanish Town is the former capital of Jamaica and is well off the beaten track. I grew up on the wrong side of the tracks and this taught me to be a fighter. They say a picture can tell many stories.
Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.
Jamaica is a food-insecure country. During 2018, the total value of food imports to Jamaica was US$902 million. In comparison, exports are a mere US$214 million. The diet of the average Jamaican consists of at least 60% imported and mostly processed foods. If this trend continues to 2050, with the increasing risk of extreme weather events and global conflict, the lives of Jamaica's people are at risk.
This over-reliance on food imports has impacted Jamaica’s economy, its culture, the health of its people, its environment and its sovereignty. And it shouldn’t be this way.
In 2017 Jamaica produced 144,319 tonnes of yams, 72,990 tonnes of oranges and 64,815 tonnes of bananas. The list goes on. During the same period, less than 2% of Jamaicans reportedly consumed an adequate amount of fruits and vegetables. The paradox is painful.
The sad irony is that Jamaica is overflowing with fruit trees and crops, while many people and particularly the youth, 25 per cent of whom live below the poverty line, are food insecure and hungry. Meanwhile, the Jamaican culinary field is exploding and the Food and Agriculture Organization reports that more than 1/3 of all food is wasted. If we don't take our food future into our own hands, we will continue to suffer as a people with dire implications for life post-2050.
Our import heavy diet is already impacting our health. More than 10,000 Jamaican children are currently living with diabetes. 1 in every 3 Caribbean children is either overweight or obese.
Jamaica has one of the highest rates of inequality in the world. It was found to be number 132 of 159 countries in the world, ranked according to inequality. (World Bank) Youth unemployment is also high, at 25%.
And then there is the plight of climate change. Some areas such as Portland suffered agricultural losses as high as 72% during the drought of 2014-2015. In 2050, what are we going to do to address the heightened food insecurity that will come with an elevated risk in extreme weather events, sea-level rise and droughts and floods?
With 2,907,300 people living in Jamaica there is an average of 685 people per square mile, Jamaica is the 35th most densely populated country in the world. It is projected that the population will grow to 2,960,321 by 2050.
We need to regenerate from the inside out to have a positive food future to 2050.
Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.
The mission of Mission:FoodPossible (M:FP) is to combat global hunger, promote food security and reduce food waste while preserving soil health and regenerating local and indigenous food culture.
We bring together stakeholders from the fields of 1) agriculture to identify and educate us about a region’s most valuable produce, 2) health to demonstrate how eliminating unhealthy foods from one’s diet can reduce chronic illnesses such as hypertension and type two diabetes, which disproportionately impact people from the Caribbean more than any other population in the world, and 3) education to develop trainings for canteen staff to develop a healthy school lunch menu utilizing a region’s indigenous foods to support student learning and success.
At the heart of Mission:FoodPossible is community. We have developed this initiative to train, empower and sustain communities. Unlike other programs that provide devastation relief, prepared meals or imported food, we focus on empowerment and sustainability. We have designed and introduced a scoring guide that allows us to identify a region’s most valuable produce. Emphasis is placed on understanding the agricultural output, both commercial and residential, of a region so that members of communities can sustain themselves and become food secure.
Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?
In November 2019, The Mission Food Possible Team attended Buff Bay Primary School in Jamaica.
Someone once said that if the solution to a problem is an elephant, then you have to decide what part of the elephant you want to be— if you are going to solve at least one facet of the problem. But in a world in which food systems are intertwined and systemic issues compound one another, to solve a multifaceted food crisis, we have no choice but to be the entire elephant.
But how can this be achieved?
We believe that the common thread that underlies inefficient food systems is a culture of mass consumption. This culture disregards the natural processes of the environment, has no respect for biodiversity and depends on social inequality for an ongoing supply of cheap and exploitable labour. This results in vulnerable, volume-driven societies that react with panic at the thought of population increase because the overwhelming focus is on quantity instead of quality. This results in poor health and diets that are lacking in nutrition.
For food systems to change we envision a cultural shift— from processed and synthetic to indigenous and natural. We must resolve to evolve from mass production/ industrial to sustainable and then one step further, to regenerative.
In order for us to move away from a carbon intensive culture characterized by over-production, mass imports of processed and unhealthy foods and waste and their complimentary systems of farming, we must undergo transition to a regenerative mindset, because let’s face it— there’s very little about where we are right now that we should want to sustain.
In Jamaica, systems must be reconfigured to rebuild indigenous cultural identities, traditions and assets that have been eroded over time by the legacy of slavery, colonialism, mass consumerism, neo-colonialism, environmental degradation/ climate change and economic mismanagement, all of which have produced an outward-looking culture that perpetuates cycles of inequality and a callous disregard for natural systems in favour of processed food and imports.
We have everything we need here.
In Jamaica alone, in 2017, there was a sizeable yield of 179,178 hg/ha in roots and tubers (Food and Agriculture Organization). From the perspective of poverty and nutritional value, roots and tubers have the potential to provide one of the cheapest sources of dietary energy and are not only delicious but can be enjoyed in a variety of ways.
Sweet potatoes and yams, as an example, provide 1kg of protein per hectare at a mere cost of $6.70 per hectare and $8.80 per hectare (USD) respectively, and according to the Food and Agriculture Organization, “Increasing the consumption of root crops could help save the much-needed protein provided essentially by other foods such as cereals and legumes [which are more expensive and difficult to acquire]. Traditionally, in Africa, root crops such as cassava are eaten with a soup or stew made of fish, meat or vegetables, providing an excellent supplement to cassava meal.”
Herein lies the challenge raised by our charity, Mission:Food Possible. Consider this question. What if food leaders were taught to make delicious and satisfying meals in a number of ways, out of the most abundant, affordable and nutritionally rich foods that were readily available in their home communities?
Regenerative culture means that we need to return to the old to usher in the new and we believe that this shift must begin with the youth. The youth must be taught to be driven by purpose, with a strong-growth oriented mindset. Regenerative culture, regenerative education, regenerative agriculture, regenerative tourism and regenerative business practices will drive this change.
Young people are not only our change-makers but also our cultural drivers; they are our greatest creative asset. Youth driven cultural regeneration is the energy that will drive change at an atomic level and this is just the energy that we need.
Imagine a business as usual scenario for the year 2050. Judging by current events, we could be in the midst of a world war… or ravaged by extreme and unpredictable weather… both flooding and drought.
For Small Island Developing States (SIDs) such as our home country of Jamaica, this means that the 60 percent import reliance of thirty years ago is no longer sustainable. The only answer is regenerative practices fueled by indigenous community wisdom and driven by the youth.
To put it simply, we want to FORC the system— we want to infuse it with Food Opportunities in Regenerative Culture.
How do we know that this can work? How can we assess its transformational value? Because we have already begun the process! But we need the resources to achieve scale and admittedly, we need refinement.