Food security and COVID-19 school closures in the Caribbean
School closures in the Caribbean due to the novel coronavirus have left thousands of children without institutionalized learning for as long as six weeks.
The need for childcare and alternative learning options in the interim has been the primary concern of many parents; however, with so many students relying heavily on school meals for what is typically their most nutritious meal of the day, the issue of food security caused by school closures is a growing concern in the region.
The face of food insecurity is a silent one but those faces are going to multiply as families begin to feel the pinch and trickle-down effects of layoffs, reduced work schedules, pay cuts and income loss due to COVID-19. While school closures may be temporary, the long-term impacts will be more apparent. Government response must not only alleviate the obvious concerns surrounding education but must also address the issues of hunger and food insecurity moving forward.
The fight against hunger and food insecurity was always a 12-round slug match threating to go the distance. That distance had 10 years remaining as of March 2020 if we were to be guided by the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) targets.
The SDGs are a set of targets implemented by the United Nations member states in 2015 as a global call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity by 2030. The SDGs are so integrated that action in one will affect the outcome in others. “Action” here also applies to a sudden outbreak that escalates to a global pandemic in 90 days, disrupting food systems on a significant scale all over the globe and inevitably affects the progress of all other SDGs. How we respond as a region can play a vital role in restoring order and could set us back on the path of prosperity.
Both community leaders and leaders in education must work together to identify the most vulnerable families in their schools and provide necessary outreach and empowerment. Families must be provided with a more economical way of sourcing food so that a dollar can go further in the face of dwindling finances.
Perhaps, now is a great time to re-introduce our children to dishes that incorporate locally grown indigenous foods, not only because these tend to be more affordable but are usually healthier while supporting the local farming industry. Community food security is a growing trend that could be most applicable in a time when entire neighbourhoods are quarantined and children are home from school.
Can schools keep canteens open to facilitate feeding children in the community? Can local restaurants implement a leftover program to provide vulnerable families with meals and reduce waste? Many communities, especially in rural areas in the Caribbean have a local farmer or even neighbours with fruit trees and home gardens who can help to feed those in need. Young people who are home from school might benefit from lessons in planting and growing their own food in preparation for perilous times.
COVID-19 is presenting an opportunity to test our resilience, instincts and resourcefulness. Let us all band together to show our children that while school is out this is one examination we will pass with flying colours.