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Increasing Food Security Through Localism

Local News 10 Jun, 2024 Follow News

Increasing Food Security Through Localism

With Cayman’s population growing by 18,000 in just five years, one of the greatest threats to future stability, especially when facing climate change, is food security. Defined as “the access of all members of society to adequate quantities of wholesome nutritious foods,” true food security goes beyond simply having full shelves at the supermarkets. As an island, we rely heavily on imported foods, particularly from the US, although local production is growing. The cost of this reliance is not lost on any Caymanian resident, with the consumer having to pay for transport costs, import tax, and inflation, in addition to the cost of the product.

Our current system is also vulnerable to political tensions, supply chain issues, as we have seen with the pandemic, and the increased frequency of hurricanes due to climate change will make it more challenging to grow crops and transport and offload goods. With the frequency of category 4 and 5 hurricanes only predicted to rise, the threat of an Ivan 2.0 could be even more catastrophic as we approach an estimated 83,000 mouths to feed compared to the approximate 43,000 in 2004.

In terms of local food production, mangrove deforestation due to development is changing the patterns of rainfall across the island and decreasing storm flood protection, making it more challenging to farm. Since 2002, Cayman has lost 144 hectares of humid primary forest, approximately 26% of total tree cover loss. Mangroves help control rainfall patterns on the island as evaporation from mangrove leaves in the Central Mangrove Wetland saturates the air, providing significant rainfall to the central and western districts, which receive 40% more rain than eastern districts. Unrestricted development has interrupted this cycle, heightening the impact of climate change by increasing drought periods; it is expected that by 2060 we will have 6% less rainfall than we do today. To address food security, we must conduct further research into drought-tolerant plant varieties and adopt risk mitigation systems and crop insurance for farmers. Furthermore, we must address both the reliance we have on imported foods and the threats that deforestation and climate change pose to local production.

Improving Cayman’s food security can begin by increasing awareness of local crops and their connection to our heritage. We can achieve this by buying local produce, supporting restaurants that use local crops such as Cayman Cabana, Saucha, Brasserie, Thatch & Barrel, Abacus, and Zippy Cayman, and passing down and sharing local recipes through groups like Cayman Connections Cook Club who have created a virtual space to share traditional recipes. Not only is eating local produce beneficial for our health, but crops are picked perfectly ripe, produced in our back yard where pesticide use can be controlled, and of course, taste better. Furthermore, the practice of eating local foods can preserve cultural heritage by encouraging us to think about where our food comes from and how to protect the land that provides for us. It also improves the local economy by supporting farmers and providing more agricultural jobs. In addition, eating locally can be more sustainable as it reduces transportation emissions, reduces our reliance on imported goods and their inherent vulnerabilities, and supports a lifestyle of living off the land that can be maintained for future generations.

One solution to food security that citizens can practise individually is backyard farming and food-focused landscaping. By increasing the crops we grow within our own yards, we can reduce the number of imported crops we consume. At present, most home landscaping in Cayman focuses on aesthetic value that relies on green grass lawns and plants imported from other countries worldwide. By switching to a mix of endemic and crop-yielding plants and trees, our yard spaces can be repurposed for small-scale agricultural use while also supporting local biodiversity and rewilding of urban areas.

To achieve this, Cayman could integrate the ‘food forests’ system. The goal of a food forest is to shift from our current monoculture farming methods that harm natural ecosystems and move towards an interdependent garden that upholds an area’s natural habitat. Food forests can be created on a large or small scale, meaning the system-based model can be utilised even within individual backyards, public green spaces, or sidewalks. This could further encourage community engagement as neighbours share and trade their harvests. Implementing food forests and encouraging backyard farming could also help control the cost of living by growing nutritious foods we can eat and share ourselves.

So, the next time you sit down to eat a meal, think about where your food comes from. Consider buying local produce and even growing food in your backyard. Show love for your community by passing on local recipes that you enjoy with your kids!

 

By: Isabela Watler & Soleil Parkinson


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