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St. John's, Antigua and Barbuda, 3 January 2013 (PAHO/WHO) - A joint mission of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), the U.N. Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), the U.N. World Food Programme (WFP), and the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) visited Antigua and Barbados recently to support a new initiative to eradicate hunger and extreme poverty in the country over the next two years.

The effort falls within the framework of U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's Zero Hunger Challenge, which was launched in June 2012 during the Rio+20 summit in Brazil. As part of its effort, Antigua and Barbuda adopted a new National Food and Nutrition Security Policy in December.

According to FAO estimates, some 20.5% of Antigua and Barbuda's 90,000 inhabitants live in conditions of poverty and malnutrition. To achieve the goal of "zero hunger," the government is currently developing a roadmap in conjunction with civil society, the private sector, and international cooperation agencies. The plan that emerges from this process will serve as a model for other countries wishing to develop similar initiatives.

Prime Minister Winston Baldwin Spencer met with members of the U.N.-OAS mission in late December and pledged his government's full support for the initiative. He said resources and action must be mobilized expeditiously in order to achieve the initiative's goals within two years. Minister of Agriculture Hilson Baptiste also called for quick movement from words to action.

FAO's regional representative, Raúl Benítez, said that "those who suffer from hunger cannot wait. The total eradication of hunger and poverty in Antigua and Barbuda is a fully achievable goal and can be met in the immediate future; that is the belief that underlies the Zero Hunger Challenge in Antigua and Barbuda."

"While malnutrition rates have been declining in the Caribbean, there is still significant hunger and undernutrition. This erodes human capital, lowers people's resistance to illnesses and reduces productivity," said Dr Fitzroy Henry, Director of the Caribbean Food and Nutrition Institute (CFNI), a PAHO technical center. "The Zero Hunger initiative is crucial for the Caribbean because the steady shift from agriculture to service economies poses major challenges for poverty and hunger in several population groups."

As a member of the interagency team, PAHO will strengthen interventions "to ensure that as we approach zero hunger, we improve the health status of the population as well," said Dr. Henry. "Early childhood malnutrition still exists, with consequences for adult health, including an increased risk of chronic disease."

Antigua and Barbuda is an archipelago located in the Eastern Caribbean, with an estimated 90,000 inhabitants. Some 5% of its population is indigent (4,252 people), 18% live below the poverty level, and 10% are considered "vulnerable," that is, at risk of falling into poverty (data from 2005-2006). According to the FAO report State of Food Insecurity in the World 2012, 20.5% of the population suffers from hunger, the highest proportion in any Caribbean country except Haiti.

Those most impacted by hunger include children, the elderly, and female-headed households, according to FAO. The joint mission noted that while food insecurity affects specific groups of children, obesity is a problem that affects all age groups. The country's incipient social protection programs so far lack adequate provisions for targeting assistance.

Another major challenge to hunger eradication is the fact that the country is a net food importer: in 2011, Antigua and Barbuda spent some US$87 million on food imports to meet some 80% of national food demands. This was nearly double the amount spent in 2010. Also worrying is the failure of the country's own agricultural production to keep pace with the exponential increase in food import costs.

The U.N.-OAS mission also noted that efforts to eradicate hunger and poverty must take account of the impact of climate change and natural disasters (hurricanes, flooding and droughts) in increasing the country's vulnerability.

Antigua and Barbuda's Zero Hunger Challenge initiative is an open process led by the government, which has expressed its full political commitment to the process and has invited all partners to participate in efforts to eradicate hunger and poverty in a sustainable way. FAO, IICA, ECLAC, WFP and PAHO/WHO have pledged their support for these efforts, and other international organizations are expected to follow suit in the near future.

For more information visit the initiative's website.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 08 January 2013 07:20

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