Caribbean food systems are among the most climate-vulnerable in the world

According to the latest update of the University of Notre Dame’s Global Adaptation Initiative Country Index (ND-GAIN), Caribbean food systems are among the most climate-vulnerable in the world.

Of the 13 Caribbean Community (CARICOM) nations that were included in ND-GAIN’s annual assessment of 189 countries, only two – Trinidad and Tobago (No. 73 out of 189 countries) and Suriname (No. ° 85) – rank in the top 50th percentile. worldwide, regarding the climate vulnerability of their food systems.

Saint Kitts and Nevis and Antigua and Barbuda were the only upper middle-income countries in the bottom 10% of the rankings, occupying positions 176 and 177 respectively on the scale of 189 countries.

For context, Somalia, identified as the most climate-vulnerable country by ND-GAIN, ranked 182nd, while Niger, considered the most climate-vulnerable food system in the world by ND-GAIN, occupied the 189th position in the ranking.

Other CARICOM countries included in the 189-country assessment were Jamaica (No. 101 of 189), Belize (No. 102), Barbados (No. 109), Bahamas (No. 116), Guyana (#122), Dominica (#125), Saint Vincent and the Grenadines (#130), Grenada (#131) and Saint Lucia (#139).

The University of Notre Dame analyzed criteria such as food production, food demand, nutrition and rural population. Selected indicators included population growth projections, dependence on food imports, rural population statistics, agricultural capacity and child malnutrition rates.

“Our geographic location makes Caribbean food systems susceptible to the vagaries of climate change,” says Shaun Baugh, program manager for agricultural and agro-industrial development at the CARICOM Secretariat, the principal administrative body of the Caribbean Community. “This continues to wreak havoc on our economies and people’s livelihoods and now poses a direct threat to our food and nutrition security. »

The agricultural sectors of Caribbean countries face significant challenges due to the impacts of climate change, including increased droughts, heatwaves, increased vulnerability to torrential rains and floods, intensified storms, unpredictable weather conditions and new vulnerabilities to pests affecting humans, animals, and plants. Slow-onset events, such as sea level rise and saltwater intrusion, ocean acidification, and desertification, pose threats to coastal fishing populations and vital agricultural lands.

In a 2023 warning issued by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), it was estimated that 35% of global food losses resulting from drought occurred in Latin America and the Caribbean, for a total of 13 billion dollars.

In 2023, endemic heat waves experienced in the region affected agricultural productivity and food security. In Jamaica, the average temperature anomaly between June and August was 1.3 degrees Celsius higher than normal, with 89 days characterized by intense temperatures linked to climate change, leading to reduced crop yields, a decrease in water availability, increased pest and disease pressure and stress on livestock. .

Caribbean small island developing states (SIDS) are seven times more likely to be affected by natural disasters than their larger counterparts. When these disasters occur, the average cost of damage relative to gross domestic product (GDP) is six times that of large countries, or on average 2% of GDP per year. If current trends persist, this cost is expected to reach at least 10% of GDP by 2050.

In extreme cases, such as the catastrophic aftermath of Category 5 Hurricane Maria in Dominica in 2017, damages climbed to $1.3 billion, the equivalent of 226% of the country’s GDP.

“The limited amount of land available among the region’s small island developing states further exacerbates climate risks, and with the impact of slow-onset events such as sea level rise, the situation can only “getting worse,” says Dr Didacus Jules, Director General of the Organization. of the Eastern Caribbean States, an intergovernmental organization dedicated to regional integration in the Eastern Caribbean.

Averaging about 2.5 ± 0.4 mm/year, sea level rise is eroding the region’s densely populated coastlines, leading to saltwater intrusion and increased salinity levels of the farming lands.

According to its latest Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC), Antigua risks losing approximately 26.6 to 35.3 square kilometers of low-lying coastal land due to sea level rise by 2080. Assets on these lands are estimated between 196 and 293 million dollars. .

Rising temperatures, droughts and floods, extreme weather events and other climate impacts are destabilizing local food systems and intensifying dependence on food imports. Limited arable land and inadequate agricultural infrastructure compound the problem, reducing national food production. To maintain the stability of food supply chains, many Caribbean countries import more than 90% of the food they consume.

Overreliance on food imports makes the region even more vulnerable to external shocks by exposing it to fluctuations in global food prices, exchange rates and disruptions in international trade networks. Dependence on imports also exposes countries to supply chain disruptions, trade conflicts, natural disasters and other unforeseen events, potentially leading to food shortages, price spikes and economic instability.

Not surprisingly, among the 90 most climate-vulnerable national food systems recognized by ND-GAIN, seven of the 17 countries classified as high or upper-middle income were from the CARICOM region.

These vulnerabilities highlight the limits of using national income as a measure of climate resilience. GDP fails to capture the complex relationship between environmental vulnerabilities, natural disasters and escalating public debt incurred to obtain funds from global markets for climate recovery.

“Because many Caribbean countries are classified as high or upper middle income, the region is not traditionally considered a top priority for humanitarian efforts or food-related interventions,” said Chad Blackman , Minister of Economic Affairs of Barbados. “However, high levels of externally driven food price inflation and high debt levels – driven by climate change – keep families and governments in a perpetual struggle to catch up financially. »

According to a study by the World Food Program (WFP) and CARICOM, more than half of the population in the English-speaking Caribbean suffers from moderate or severe food insecurity. The region struggles with high levels of unemployment and poverty and is among the most indebted regions in the world, with an increasingly unsustainable public debt-to-GDP ratio that places significant constraints on long-term sustainable growth prospects. term of the region.

Fiscal and structural constraints have also translated into a deficit for many farmers in the region, depriving them of essential access to specialist knowledge, data, research, equipment and innovations to help them adapt to climate change. This deficiency hampers their ability to make vital adjustments to their production systems, thereby increasing the vulnerability of agricultural livelihoods and local food systems.

In recent times, efforts to strengthen the resilience of Caribbean food systems have increased. These include local initiatives such as the Barbados Environmental Conservation Fund’s Journey to 1000 Acres regenerative agriculture project, as well as regional efforts such as the 25 by 2025 initiative of CARICOM, which aims to cut the region’s food import bill by a quarter by 2025. Strategies such as Barbados’ Bridgetown Initiative are also being implemented to establish a framework for financing more development fair and climate-conscious.

In the journey towards resilience, an undeniable truth emerges: the path must be charted through a series of modest and ambitious initiatives, fueled by resources that amplify, rather than diminish, a country’s possibilities for future development.

Therein lies the profound promise of the Loss and Damage Fund, launched at COP28 of the United Nations Climate Change Conference (UNFCCC) in Dubai. In its promise to provide crucial financial support to nations on the frontlines of climate change, the Loss and Damage Fund gives hope to climate-vulnerable nations to overcome today’s challenges, while recovering from inequality institutionalized – and ensure a prosperous future.

“Strengthening the climate resilience of Caribbean food systems requires a multi-dimensional approach that encompasses crop diversification, investment in agricultural infrastructure, promotion of sustainable agricultural practices, capacity building and training of farmers, access to financing and insurance, research and innovation, as well as supporting policies. executives,” explains Dr. Jules.

“By implementing these solutions in a coordinated manner, Caribbean countries can build more resilient food systems, better equipped to withstand the impacts of climate change and ensure the food security of their populations in the face of growing environmental challenges. »

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