At present Caribbean states enjoys food security, with the exception of Haiti. Caribbean states with available statistics report average dietary energy supplies greater than 100 percent, whereas Haiti reports 89 percent (FAO Food Security Indicators). Nonetheless, the majority of the Caribbean states are net food importers and only Belize, Dominican Republic, Guyana, and Suriname have either low food import dependencies or are overall net food exporters. This means the majority have to earn sufficient foreign exchange through the exports to be able to finance their food import bill. Since the early 2000s, real food prices have soared. Between 2000 and 2011 the food import bill for the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) jumped from $2.08 billion to $4.25 billion (FAO 2013). Real food prices in medium are expected to stabilize at a higher plateau compared to the era of the 1980-90s but there will more be inter annual volatility.
The question becomes will Caribbean states be able to revive agricultural production systems, improve risk management capabilities, stimulate more intraregional agricultural trade flows, and generate more exports in order to maintain food security fifteen years hence?
The answer depends on how several factors interact in the coming years, namely: (1) development and deployment of new technologies; (2) adaptation to climate change; (3) changes in the energy matrix; (4) institutional strengthening and reform; (5) policy responses; and (6) the quality of governance.
A recent journal article, “Envisioning Food Security in 2030: The Case of the Caribbean”, explored how emerging new technologies, evolving energy systems, and the institutional framework for innovation could interplay to determine future food security. The challenge for Caribbean stakeholders will be to understand future trends, exhibit foresight, and make the necessary investments and policy, institutional, and regulatory changes now.
The technologies that could positively influence and improve food security are presented in rank order of scale of deployment. The earlier ones are already being deployed on an ever increasing scale while latter ones are still in their infancy.
Information Communication Technology (ICT)
- Mobile payment systems will reduce financial transaction costs.
- E-Contracting (legally binding digital contracts) will reduce the need for middlemen bolstering farmer returns and reducing costs to end users)
Drones, Robotics and Artificial Intelligence
- Drones can used to transport items in the farm supply chain and to help in natural disaster relief efforts, leapfrogging poor road infrastructure common in rural areas.
- Drones can be used to monitor the health of crops and animals and help prevent praedial larceny (crop thefts) which is a major issue in small Caribbean island states.
Three Dimensional (3D) Printing
- The use of machines and software to additively build a product will diminish the need for large scale assembly lines with extensive and far flung logistical chains. Farm equipment and inputs could be customized and fabricated on the farm or much closer to the farm drastically reducing costs.
- Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) will be invaluable in successfully combating climate change and food insecurity. With the advent of more frequent droughts and floods, higher surface temperatures, and irregular rainfall patterns, more and more commercially exploited field crops and livestock will be operation close to their limits of heat tolerances and disease vectors will increase. GMOs, can provide solutions but major investments in risk management frameworks and public education campaigns will be necessary to avoid unintended consequences and gain public acceptance.
- Nanotechnology could find applications in purifying water from nutrient runoffs thereby reducing pollution and environmental degradation.
- Nanotechnology could also find application in helping plants and animals better absorb nutrients and minimize infections. Hydroponics, the growing of plants with no soil and low amounts of water stands to benefit immediately from nanotechnology applications.
- The ability to edit and manipulate DNA will permit the creation of synthetic living organisms with specific functions. This technology combined with 3D and 4D printing will permit scientists to produce living tissue for chemical testing and the fabrication of medicines and vaccines which can be applied to plant pathology and improved agricultural animal husbandry.
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