WFP: Global costs down but food prices still high in the Caribbean

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

File photo/Sureash Cholai

A recent survey by the World Food Programme (WFP) and Caricom revealed that despite a global decline in food prices, three million people in the region are affected by high local prices and persistent food insecurity.

The 2024 Caribbean food security and livelihoods survey presented on May 21 revealed that the region’s high reliance on imported fuel, food, and agricultural inputs makes it vulnerable to global price fluctuations, while high public debt and limited fiscal space hinder effective government mitigation.

While the overall picture shows improvements since the height of the food price crisis in 2022/2023, metrics on food security, coping and access to markets are worse compared to before the pandemic. These challenges disproportionately affect households with lower incomes.

Regis Chapman, WFP representative and country director, said the primary issue people are complaining about is the high cost of food.

According to the report, inflation continues to affect 96 per cent of respondents, who reported higher food prices in the last three months.

The survey notes that while this represents a 17 per cent reduction since May 2023, it is a 78 per cent increase compared to the start of the covid19 pandemic in 2020.

WFP head of programme Sarah Bailey said, “This particularly affects vulnerable groups like lower-income individuals and those with disabilities and chronic illnesses.

“Although the levels of food insecurity show a slight but steady decline since the peak of food insecurity seen in mid-2022 following the war in Ukraine, the overall picture remains deeply concerning.”

To meet their needs, 70 per cent of the respondents spent savings while 53 per cent reduced spending on health and education.

Almost a quarter have sold productive assets or means of transport, further compromising their livelihoods.

To cope, 29 per cent indicated skipping meals or eating less than usual, while five per cent went an entire day without eating.

Almost a third of the respondents said they had no food stocks at the time of the survey – a similar pattern to levels reported since August 2022.

Livelihood disruptions remain widespread, with a third of the respondents experiencing job loss or reduced income in their household, while 22 per cent resorted to secondary sources of income. The high cost of livelihood inputs was cited as the main driver.

The rising costs of animal feed, fertiliser and fuel have significantly impacted farming and fishing respondents.

Natural hazards continue to pose a consistent threat as 39 per cent of respondents were affected in the last 12 months, mainly by heatwaves, floods, drought and tropical storms.

Nearly one-third of respondents, especially those from lower-income households, were then projected to have a low resilience capacity to cope with and adapt to natural hazards.

Since 2020, Caricom has been conducting the Caribbean Food Security and Livelihoods Survey to gather data on people’s livelihoods, market access, and food security.

The survey aims to inform government and development partner decision-making, highlighting the state of food security and livelihoods amid high living costs and climate change risks.