As every year, this October 16, FAO celebrates World Food Day, which under the slogan Our actions are our future! “Better production, better nutrition, a better environment and a better life”, bet to introduce a change in the future of food.
Food security is a fundamental right linked to human development. It exists when all people have access to enough healthy and nutritious food at all times to meet their nutritional needs and enjoy a healthy life.
It is for this reason that since 2016, the Dominican Republic has a Food and Nutrition Sovereignty and Security Law (Law 589-16). This Law establishes a regulatory framework to structure and coordinate actions that contribute to achieving one of the most basic human rights: that of eating healthy.
A few months ago, the United Nations Organization held the Summit on Sustainable Food Systems, where member countries sought to reach a consensus on the new actions required to transform the way food is produced and consumed in the world. At this summit, the Dominican Republic made the commitment to carry out three important lines of action: 1) ensure the production and supply of food to its entire population, since in the country and according to pre-pandemic figures, 5.5% of the population did not have access to food; 2) improve the diet and nutrition of the population; and last but not least, in a country strongly affected by climatic events, 3) fight against the impact of climate change on agricultural production.
All these actions present some degree of greater or lesser complexity, mainly in the case of a small island that shares a border with Haiti, one of the poorest countries on the planet. But beyond that, we believe that, in this transformation, the greatest concern that exists is about how we have been managing agri-food systems and, above all, how we can reverse the current trend towards the consumption of ultra-processed foods that are harmful to health .
The figures of overweight and obesity in the Dominican Republic are a clear indication that the local diet that we consume daily is not healthy, since almost 3 million Dominicans are suffering from obesity (27.6%) and 8% of children under the age of 5 years are overweight, according to the latest survey by the Ministry of Health and ENHOGAR2019.
But the agri-food system also includes the cost of the food we consume, and that goes beyond the choice of consumers. One of the aspects that limits the consumption of more nutritious foods, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, is their high cost. According to the Report on Food Security and Nutrition published by FAO in 2020, in Latin America and the Caribbean, the cost of a healthy diet is the highest in the world. The Dominican Republic is no exception. The cost of a healthy diet is almost 4 times more expensive than a diet with ultra-processed products that are excessive in fat, sugar, salt and sodium, high in calories and low in nutrients.
The high cost of this type of diet, together with the scarce food and nutritional education of the population, makes maintaining a healthy diet a great challenge for a large part of the Dominican population, which can lead to different health problems such as cardiovascular diseases , diabetes, and other chronic non-communicable diseases. This, in addition to being an individual problem, results in an obvious burden on national health systems.
Fortunately, we see initiatives in the right direction for the transformation of the country’s food systems. For example, and within the framework of the International Year of Fruits and Vegetables 2021, several municipalities and public institutions joined the effort to promote the consumption of these foods in the different provinces, to motivate the Dominican population to adopt more eating habits. healthy and balanced (such as eating 5 fruits and vegetables a day).
On the other hand, various government institutions have programs that aim to solve the puzzle of how to sustainably produce nutritious food. INABIE is creating innovation in schools, a gastronomic laboratory so that the menu offered to schoolchildren has a correlation between nutritional aspects and Dominican gastronomy, avoiding food waste and promoting healthier and more fun school meals.
The Supérate program develops an innovative area of economic inclusion, where family farming and the Casa Sombra model are a component to improve sustainable production and market access for rural youth. The Directorate of Public Procurement together with the Ministry of Agriculture, it is promoting new mechanisms for the acquisition of agricultural products by the state. These, among the main examples to highlight.
But we need to go further. It is urgent to have a regulatory framework that encourages healthy eating from school to family, including the school environment, in addition to a legal regulation of food labeling, which informs the population about foods that have a high sugar content, salt, fat and sodium, as has been done in most of the countries of the Region.
The recent appointment of the Coordinator of the Parliamentary Front against Hunger of the Dominican Republic is a good decision, which motivates us to think that there is a commitment of parliamentarians to work together on these issues.
On this World Food Day, FAO advocates that these global and national initiatives prosper and are not limited to isolated efforts. Together we can work for the establishment of regulations and greater public policies that promote the creation of stronger and more sustainable food systems, where food security, healthier and more nutritious diets are guaranteed, while protecting the environment and natural resources. FAO is committed to continuing to work hand in hand with the Government on this and other challenges.