Jamaica Destabilized: Regrowing Food Freedom
Food insecurity is a major issue for people across the globe, stemming from social and economic discrepancies that disrupt food supply systems. This has detrimental effects on already impoverished families, communities, and countries whose populations spend disproportionate amounts of their income on food. In recent years, food crises have increased interest in refining supply systems in order to create food security. Food Security is defined by the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the UN in their 2013 report as “a situation that exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.” Unfortunately, food insecurity exists everywhere, even in the wealthiest countries. Very often, this major issue exists in places where the wealthy go for restful vacations. As more service industry positions open, food systems get disrupted and the introduction of foreign foods to the market cause economic changes. People give up their rural existence to better fit the industry that has come to dominate their land.
Jamaica, like other islands in the Caribbean, is crawling with tourists; thus, a large tourist-driven economy exists. Tourism in the long term has led to inflated food prices and increased demand for foreign foods, and the market gets flooded by non-native products often grown elsewhere. Jamaicans are forced by necessity to afford what they can and sell little of their homegrown goods. The economy is broken and no longer brings in the money necessary to live, which means Jamaicans cannot afford to support local production. Foreign foods become cheaper due to intense demand, and the job market changes. This turns people away from farming, leaving many either unemployed or working in the hospitality industry. Jamaican farmers who remain working the land struggle with an extreme decrease in consumption. Hence, a host of unsold products spoil.
Farming was once the occupation for one fifth of the Jamaican population, but for decades it has dwindled severely. Since fewer people farm in Jamaica, poverty and unemployment are on the rise. Farmers face serious debt from lack of sales. For example, a dairy farmer may sell his cows instead of his product. A common problem in food deserts of the world is that populations are less healthy. Since the tourist industry changed the food system in Jamaica, food-related diseases like diabetes and obesity have increased. Nevertheless, the best way to have food is to grow it, and many Jamaicans have taken this motto to heart. Despite the daunting reality that local food won’t sell, food gardens are everywhere in Jamaica and support the reshaping and re-stabilization of their food system. Jamaica, as well as other Caribbean nations, must maintain household food security through small-scale farming or gardening. They cannot hope to sell any surplus from their garden or afford to hire employees by simply growing for their own cash-free market. Those who can afford school likely begin studying hospitality and working in the industry. However, of equal or greater importance, schools are teaching children about farming at a young age in an attempt to revive this important occupation on the island.
The effects of colonization on tribal or rural farm communities tend to be deeply embedded and long-lasting. In Jamaica, this led to the abolishment of the native people and the importation of slaves from Africa by the British to work large plantations of cash crops like sugar cane. Eventually, as slaves were freed and ran for the hills, they established their own way of life, growing the food necessary for survival. Plantations still occupy the most productive land and grow product on a much larger scale. These large operations generally grow fewer native foods and more exotic desirables. Moreover, problems continue to arise from foreign imports and exports. What should be affordable goods are shipped away and sold in places like the United States at much higher prices. On the other hand, small-scale family farming takes place on significantly less land than the export-based market. A number of these family farms were established when slavery was abolished and landholders would grant their workers a small plot of land to feed their family. Geographically, many tiny farms lie on the outskirts of large-scale plantations, and these vital small-scale producers spell survival for much of the island’s populace.
Economics affect people’s ability to live sustainably. Jamaica offers a living example of how money changes the entire social structure of an environment, from the biodiversity of the soil to the ability of farmers to sustain their families. Money-free farming becomes an obvious solution to starvation, revival of local markets, and a tool for increasing food security. Jamaicans have curbed the effects of a foreign market on their economy and health and have stood up against the gigantic resort industry. Legislation has helped to limit imports of certain foreign foods, especially those that are normally a productive crop for Jamaicans. Those who understand the crisis understand how to fix it. However, they are left with little control over the operations of massive corporate entities. Jamaicans simply continue to grow foods, share to feed their families, and sell what they can. Through their struggles, Jamaicans have held true to their culture and struggle to maintain the life they desire.