Our Food Our Health Our People Virtual Conference – July 1, 2021

by HCC

On July 1st 2021, the Healthy Caribbean Coalition (HCC) held its first virtual conference, Our Food, Our Health, Our People: Accelerating Healthy Food Policies to Tackle NCDs. The conference brought together public, private, and civil society actors, as well as persons living with NCDs (PLWNCDs) and young people collectively exploring the varied and complex dimensions of our regional food system, specifically how the food system can be reshaped to create healthier food environments, secure healthy food supplies, safeguard and foster healthy food policymaking, and support informed civic action.

With almost 600 registrants, the conference garnered attention from across the globe with attendees from the Caribbean region to as far as Ghana and Spain.

Sir Trevor Hassell, President of the HCC and Maisha Hutton, Executive Director,  officially opened the meeting followed by greetings from Dr. Renata Clarke, Subregional Coordinator for the Caribbean FAO and Mr. Dean Chambliss, Subregional Program Director, PAHO who shared their organizational perspectives on tackling NCDs through coherent healthy food policies. The feature address was delivered by Dr. Carla Barnett, CARICOM Secretary Designate who signalled that NCDs will be a priority under her leadership at CARICOM and moreover Dr. Barnett committed to ‘broadening the range of community stakeholders, including civil society that are kept abreast of Community work and whose advice will help improve the formulation of Community policy’.

Conference Report

The Healthy Caribbean Coalition (HCC) virtual conference “Our Food, Our Health, Our People: Accelerating Healthy Food Policy to Tackle NCDs” was a one-day event on 1 July 2021 with a packed, exciting agenda that addressed issues relating to healthy nutrition, and food and nutrition security, in the Caribbean region. Convened in the framework of the January 2021 Transformative New Agenda for NCD Prevention and Control in the Caribbean (TNA-NCDs), a proposal from HCC for equitable, rights-based, and people-centred approaches to reduce the region’s oppressive burden of non-communicable diseases (NCDs), the virtual conference sought to foster an intersectoral approach to accelerating the development and implementation of healthy food policies by Caribbean countries.

The conference attracted over 350 attendees, the majority (89%) from the Caribbean, with small proportions from North America (5%), Europe (4%), Latin America (2%), Oceania (1%), and South Africa (less than 1%). The highest percentage of attendees (39%) came from civil society, but there was also significant representation from the public sector (38%), with private sector (17%) and development agencies (5%) also represented.

The full conference report can be downloaded here.

Conference Background

The virtual conference, hosted on the vfairs platform, welcomed attendees with an opening video that showcased voices from the Healthy Caribbean Coalition network who provided the background to this conference.

Conference Concept Note and Programme

View/download here.

Virtual Conference Platform

Attendees had access to the virtual conference platform where live sessions could be accessed in the auditorium, virtual booths populated with information from our partners across the globe could be accessed in the exhibit hall and the lounge area where attendees could connect with HCC socially and chat with other participants.

The Lobby

The Auditorium

The Exhibitor Booths

The Lounge

The Information Desk

Quotes from Attendees

Conference Sessions

Before the conference began, attendees were treated to the Sounds of the Caribbean – a pan rendition – from young and up and coming pan players from the Panache Steel Orchestra in Antigua and Barbuda.

Sir Trevor Hassell, President of the HCC and Maisha Hutton, Executive Director,  delivered the official welcome and invited some of the region’s leaders helping to drive transformative action to provide greetings. Dr. Renata Clarke, Subregional Coordinator for the Caribbean FAO, Mr. Dean Chambliss, Subregional Program Director, PAHO shared their perspectives on tackling NCDs through coherent healthy food policies and Dr. Carla Barnett, CARICOM Secretary Designate provided the feature address.

Throughout the day, 5 sessions were held alongside lunchtime breakout room sessions, Conversations about NCDs and Food.

The 5 sessions, a blend of panel discussions and presentations, brought together private, public, civil society, persons living with NCDs and young people to discuss topics focused on improving the nutritional quality, resilience and sustainability of our region’s food supply, promoting policies to reshape food environments for better health, and fostering people-centered movements calling for transformative policy actions to ensure a brighter future for people and the planet.

Throughout the day, attendees also had an opportunity to participate in health breaks including movement breaks by Danielle Walwyn, HCC Advocacy officer and certified fitness instructor and guided breathing and muscle relaxation techniques by Alaina Gomes, Healthy Caribbean Youth and Counselling psychologist, Antigua and Barbuda.

Recordings and details of each of the sessions can be seen below.

MORNING SESSIONS
Welcome and Navigating the Platform

Featuring the Panache Steel Orchestra, Antigua and Barbuda Video

Welcome and Opening Remarks

Sir Trevor Hassell, President, Healthy Caribbean Coalition
Opening Remarks

Ms. Maisha Hutton, Executive Director, Healthy Caribbean Coalition
Meeting Objectives

Ms. Renata Clarke, Subregional Coordinator for the Caribbean, FAO
Updates on the Food Systems Summit and FAO’s related programming priorities

Mr. Dean Chambliss, Subregional Program Director, PAHO
PAHO’s work in tackling unhealthy diets for NCD prevention and control

Dr. Carla Barnett, CARICOM Secretary General Designate
Special Opening Remarks – the role of civil society in socio-economic development in Caribbean with emphasis on contribution to strengthened food and nutrition security, better eating and NCD prevention

Opening Remarks:

Ms. Renata Clarke, Subregional Coordinator for the Caribbean, FAO. Read/download

Mr. Dean Chambliss, Subregional Program Director, PAHO. Read/download

Dr. Carla Barnett, CARICOM Secretary General Designate. Read/download

Key quotes from the Opening Remarks

“Some countries keep underlining that we do need to improve our food systems but just a few tweaks might work. FAO believes that in the Caribbean, we need a much more transformative vision.”

Dr. Renata Clarke, Sub-regional Coordinator for the Caribbean, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)

“The explosion of non-communicable diseases in the region in the last few decades as our lifestyle evolved; the links across obesity, cancer, heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular diseases, chronic respiratory diseases and mental disorders; the negative impact of NCDs on the quality of life and productivity of our Caribbean people; all of these are important considerations from a public policy point of view. This discussion is not new to CARICOM.”

Dr. Carla Barnett, Secretary-Designate General, CARICOM

“CARICOM was the first region in the world to take NCDs so seriously as to have a summit of our Heads of Government meet to specially consider the impact and implications for the future of the region.”

Dr. Carla Barnett, Secretary-Designate General, CARICOM

“In a cultural reality where an indication of prosperity is the ability to purchase prepared food, it is not surprising that increasing income has led to eating more restaurant food and imported processed food. The other side of that reality is that families in poverty cannot access low-cost, healthy, locally grown food.”

Dr. Carla Barnett, Secretary-Designate General, CARICOM

“Changes in lifestyles, preferences and cultural practices are difficult to achieve without strong public education programs. It is also difficult because the major global producers have huge marketing budgets that keep global demand growing for imported food and drink.”

Dr. Carla Barnett, Secretary-Designate General, CARICOM

SESSION 1 | OUR FOOD: Shaping a Healthy Food Supply

Exploring key elements of Caribbean food systems and identify policy levers to increase the quality, quantity, resilience and sustainability of the regional food supply

Introduction | Panel Discussion | Closing Remarks

Moderator: Dr. Kenneth Connell, HCC Board Member, Deputy Dean (Internationalization and Recruitment), Faculty of Medical Sciences, UWI Cave Hill Campus

Professor Fitzroy Henry, Professor of Public Health Nutrition, College of Health Sciences, School of Public Health and Health Technology, University of Technology, JamaicaWhat does the Caribbean food system look like?

Mr. Nigel Durrant, Agricultural Trade Specialist, OTN, CARICOM SecretariatTrade measures to support a nutritious, sustainable food supply

Mr. Jacinto Buenfil, Policy Officer Environment and Climate Change, FAOBuilding climate resilient healthy food systems in the Caribbean – challenges and solutions

Ms Keithlin Caroo, Founder of Helen’s Daughters, St. LuciaFood & Empowerment: Growing real food and empowering a strong generation of women and youth in agriculture

Presenatations:

Professor Fitzroy Henry, Professor of Public Health Nutrition, College of Health Sciences, School of Public Health and Health Technology, University of Technology, Jamaica. View/download

Mr. Nigel Durrant, Agricultural Trade Specialist, OTN, CARICOM Secretariat. View/download

Ms Keithlin Caroo, Founder of Helen’s Daughters, St. Lucia. View/download

Mr. Jacinto BuenfilPolicy Officer Environment and Climate Change, FAO. View/download

Key quotes from Session 1

“as a region we neglect one of the key links to health and agriculture and that is actually the people. The very persons who are tasked with our food security are neglected, underfunded and lack essential skills to grow nutritious food for our societies. This is further exacerbated when we look at women and youth who participate in the sector.”

Ms. Keitlin Caroo, Founder, Helen’s Daughters

“We talk about reorienting persons minds toward purchasing more nourishing and nutritious foods but we are not educating our own farmers on the nutritional marketing that comes with producing those foods and selling those foods. How can we target the audience that is purchasing the food but not educate the actual growers of those foods?”

Ms. Keitlin Caroo, Founder, Helen’s Daughters

“We have a food industry that is marketing products that are not paying sufficient attention to health. We also have established food labels on our nutrition facts panel but we are meeting very heavy headwinds to try and convert those very established labels into easily understood information for our population with the front of package labeling. It is not new information, it is the existing information converted into an easily understood measure and there are headwinds that we are running into as mentioned by previous speakers.”

Prof Fitzroy Henry, Professor, University of Technology, Jamaica

“When we talk about gender mainstreaming and the inclusion of women and youth in the agriculture sector many persons would think – what does that have to do with NCDs? What does that have to do with health? One of the things that we have to note is that with the lack of mechanization and… the number of constraints that limit women and youth particularly in the agriculture sector from access to and ownership of land, from access to agricultural loans and farmer registration. What we are actually doing is forcing women and youth out of the sector and this is worrisome when the agriculture sector throughout our region has an aging population.”

Ms. Keitlin Caroo, Founder, Helen’s Daughters

“At the end of the day we can have high level policy discussions, we can write papers, we can develop even more policies but without the engagement of agricultural stakeholders on the ground, we are never going to change this discourse between NCDs and the food import bill. This is a call to action to remember that the solution should not come from the top down but actually from the bottom up and inclusion of farmers, agripreneurs, particularly making it inclusive to women and youth is essential in this discourse and the future actions that we are going to take.”

Ms. Keitlin Caroo, Founder, Helen’s Daughters

Health Break

Ms. Danielle Walwyn, HCC Advocacy Officer & Certified Fitness Instructor

SESSION 2 | OUR HEALTH: Shaping a Healthy Food Environment

Exploring barriers and policy solutions for healthier food environments

Introduction | Panel Discussion | Closing Remarks

Moderator: Ms. Nicole FosterDeputy Dean, Academic and Student Affairs, UWI Cave Hill Campus

Dr. Virloy LewinHealth promotion Coordinator for the Department of Health in Bermuda – An Evaluation of the Bermuda SSB Tax: Lessons learned for the Caribbean

Professor Franco SassiProfessor of International Health Policy and Economics Imperial College, London – An Evaluation of the Bermuda SSB Tax: Lessons learned for the Caribbean

Dr. Anselm HennisNCDs and Mental Health Director, PAHO – PAHOs work in the Caribbean to support healthy food policies including front of package nutrition warning labelling

Ms. Joy AdamsonChief Education Officer, Barbados Ministry of Education, Technological and Vocational Training (METVT) – Healthy school policies in the Caribbean: The national school nutrition policy for Barbados

Ms. Vonetta NurseAdvocacy Officer (GHAI Project), Heart Foundation of Jamaica – Civil society experiences advocating for healthy food policies in Jamaica

Presenatations:

Dr. Virloy LewinHealth promotion Coordinator for the Department of Health in Bermuda. View/download

Professor Franco SassiProfessor of International Health Policy and Economics Imperial College, London. View/download

Dr. Anselm HennisNCDs and Mental Health Director, PAHO. View/download

Ms. Vonetta NurseAdvocacy Officer (GHAI Project), Heart Foundation of Jamaica. View/download

Key quotes from Session 2

“While many of the smaller islands do not have the capacity for large scale agriculture, there must be a recognition of the importance of growing more in the region and also scaling up consumption for agriculture in countries such as Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana, Surinam, Haiti and Belize.”

Dr. Anselm Hennis, Director of the Department of NCDs and Mental Health, PAHO

“One of the main barriers is the will of governments to implement policies. The private sector is interested in profit, and not human well being or human health, so there is an issue of what is more important.”

Dr. Anselm Hennis, Director of the Department of NCDs and Mental Health, PAHO

“The sound of the voice of a large number of people who are determined will resonate with the government. We have found that we are now called to the table. We would like to see more civil society organisations. It is becoming clear that the numbers are critical.”

Ms. Francine Charles, Programme Manager, Heart and Stroke Foundation of Barbados

“We often think of health in a silo way- [We seperate Health and Industry]. In fact we need a coherent approach to all the sectors to promote good health. The greatest asset to any economy is the human capital- people. Which means health and education.”

Dr. Anselm Hennis, Director of the Department of NCDs and Mental Health, PAHO

“The caribbean sub-region has the highest mortality rate of NCDs of the entire region of the americas. Over time that situation has improved in latin america- the situation has not improved in the caribbean. That is because the policies that promote health, like tackling tobacco, junk foods, harmful use of alcohol and sedentarism are not met in the caribbean. Only 7 of the 17 caribbean countries have done this. If we are going to change the situation in the region, we must move towards human development for our economies, because if people are ill, and not functioning you can not have a competitive economy. We have to move policies for a healthier population.”

Dr. Anselm Hennis, Director of the Department of NCDs and Mental Health, PAHO

Health Break

Ms. Alaina GomesCounselling Psychologist, Healthy Caribbean Youth

SESSION 3 | Conversation about improving food system governance by managing conflicts of interest

Managing conflicts of interest and countering policy interference as central to good governance for healthy food policymaking in the multisectoral approach to NCDs

Introduction | Panel Discussion | Closing Remarks

Moderator: Sir George Alleyne, Patron, HCC, Director Emeritus, PAHO

Dr. Joy St. JohnExecutive Director, CARPHA

Ms. Barbara McGawProgramme Manager, Heart Foundation of Jamaica

Ms. Kimberley BenjaminLawyer, Healthy Caribbean Youth Advocate

Mr. Julian RogersCaribbean Broadcaster and Journalist

Lunchtime Sessions

The Lunchtime sessions, Conversations about NCDs and Food, provided attendees with an opportunity to be a part of over 10 unique discussions focused on individual and organisational efforts aimed at reorienting food systems for the prevention and control of NCDs in the Caribbean. Topics ranged from local small scale farming to the power of digital advocacy.

Exhibitor Booths

Booth 1 – Small-Scale Farming, Big Impact

This booth explored strengthening of community and household level food and nutrition security through strategies such as backyard and community gardening and engaging a new generation of young agripreneurs.

Booth 2 – Innovative Food Solutions for a Healthier Caribbean

This booth Focussed on and showcasing innovation in the food manufacturing sector to generate healthy sustainable food using locally grown ingredients.

Booth 3 – Building Political Support for Food Policy

This booth focused on sharing and leveraging the experience of Parliamentary Front against Hunger and malnutrition in Latin America and the Caribbean to: advocate for and develop policies and laws relevant for food and nutrition security; ensure proper budget allocation for the implementation of policies and regulatory frameworks; and support proper monitoring and accountability for policies and laws enacted.

Booth 4 – The Power of Digital Advocacy

This booth Reflected on the use of digital platforms as powerful advocacy tools especially within the context of resource limited settings where civil society organisations have increasingly relied on digital platforms to reach their audiences. The virtual world created by COVID-19 has  further necessitated innovation in digital advocacy. This provided an opportunity for sharing of lessons learned from civil society-led digital advocacy campaigns in the Caribbean.

Booth 5 – Marketing to Children

This booth Reflected on regulation of marketing of unhealthy foods and beverages to Caribbean children as a critical piece in reorienting food systems towards healthy diets for children. Participants discussed the scope of child-targeted marketing of ultra-processed foods and the region and the challenges and opportunities for the introduction of rights-based regulation to protect children from predatory marketing of unhealthy commodities in various settings including on digital platforms.

Booth 6 – Research Speaks

This booth focussed on Data driven decision-making. Participants discussed findings from assessments undertaken in supermarkets and school settings; and explored how the evidence has been used and can be further used to inform policy making.

Booth 7 – Sugar Tax in Bermuda

The Team from Imperial College London and Public Health England continued their Session 2 presentation on the evaluation of the Bermuda sugar Tax. Providing an opportunity for participants to learn more and ask questions about the effectiveness of the tax and lessons learned for future planning, especially for other Caribbean islands considering implementation of similar fiscal food policies.

Booth 8 – Food, Climate Change & SIDS

This booth took a closer look at the connections between climate change and food systems within the context of Small Island Developing States (SIDS). Participants discussed short, medium and longer term challenges and solutions including double and triple duty actions which have multiple benefits for both human and planetary health.

Booth 9 – Human Rights, Law & NCDs

This booth provided a space for participants to discuss how the law, using a human rights based approach, can be used as a tool to create health-supporting environments through the design, implementation and enforcement of NCD prevention and treatment policies with a focus on healthy food policy.  Participants also discussed how the law can be used as a tool for accountability within various contexts including preservation of basic human rights such as the right to adequate food and right to health.

Booth 10 – Civil Society FOPWL Social Media Movement

This booth showcased one the most successful, highly coordinated, regional civil society led-campaigns – the regional campaign to build public and policymaker awareness and support for front of package nutrition warning labels (FOPWL).

AFTERNOON SESSIONS
SESSION 4 | OUR PEOPLE: Shaping people-centred movements for change

Putting people at the centre of policymaking to ensure a brighter future for people and planet

Introduction | Panel Discussion |Closing Remarks

Moderator: Mr. Pierre CookeHCC Youth Voices Technical Advisor

Moderator: Ms. Tara-Lisa PersaudOur Views Our Voices Technical Advisor, Healthy Caribbean Coalition

Ms. Diana GittensProject Coordinator, Global Charter on Meaningful Involvement of People living with NCDs; Member of the NCD Alliance Global Our Views Our Voices Steering Committee – Global charter for meaningful engagement of people living with NCDs – what does this mean in the Caribbean?

Ms. Kerro KnightMember of the Antigua & Barbuda Diabetes Association, Healthy Caribbean Youth, Young person living with NCDs – Placing the voices of youth living with NCDs at the centre of healthy food policymaking

Mr. Fale LesaYouth Advocate, Commonwealth Consultant, NCD Child, New Zealand – Climate change and food systems in SIDS – harmonisation of voices for greater impact

Ms. Francine CharlesProgramme Manager, Heart and Stroke Foundation of Barbados – Creating social movements for healthier food environments: Lessons from the Barbados Childhood Obesity Prevention Coalition

Presenatations:

Ms. Diana Gittens, Project Coordinator, Global Charter on Meaningful Involvement of People living with NCDs; Member of the NCD Alliance Global Our Views Our Voices Steering Committee. View/download

Ms. Francine Charles, Programme Manager, Heart and Stroke Foundation of Barbados. View/download

Key quotes from Session 4

“The top 5 imports [to SIDS] are processed foods, wheat, corn, meat and dairy. We are literally importing the poison that eventually kills us.”

Mr. Fale Lesa, New Zealand Youth Advocate. NCD Child

“The food that we import from abroad not only kills us, but it slows us down, making it harder for us to be productive members of our local economies.”

Mr. Fale Lesa, New Zealand Youth Advocate, NCD Child

“In my native Samoa, more and more young people are leaving the farming life for better opportunities in the city. This puts more pressure on our food imports and more pressure on our healthcare system as it often contributes to the other pandemic; no, not COVID-19 but the one that is nowhere near as popular. The pandemic that is obesity.”

Mr. Fale Lesa, New Zealand Youth Advocate, NCD Child

“Small Island Developing states have some of the poorest gender equality outcomes in the world. It represents a major barrier to local food security.”

Mr. Fale Lesa, New Zealand Youth Advocate, NCD Child

“We need to see humans behind these challenges and we need to see humans behind the strategies and solutions that will solve these challenges.”

Mr. Fale Lesa, New Zealand Youth Advocate, NCD Child

“Imagine what the collective organisation of young people all over the world can do together.”

Mr. Fale Lesa, New Zealand Youth Advocate, NCD Child

Health Break

Ms. Danielle Walwyn, HCC Advocacy Officer & Certified Fitness Instructor

SESSION 5 | A Discussion with Chairs of CARICOM NNCDCs: Leveraging COVID-19 and food and nutrition insecurity to tackle NCD Policy

Exploring HCCs Transformative New NCD Agenda as the springboard for an acceleration in NCD policy implementation

Introduction | Panel Discussion |Closing Remarks

Moderator: Professor Alafia Samuels, Retired Professor / Research Fellow Epidemiology Research Unit, Caribbean Institute for Health Research (CAIHR), The University of the West Indies, Jamaica

Sir Trevor HassellPresident, HCC, Chair, National NCD Commission Barbados

Dr. Leslie RamsammyChair, Presidential National NCD Commission, Guyana

Dr. Damian GreavesChair, National NCD Commission Grenada

Dr. Trevor FergusonChair, National NCD Committee, Jamaica

Meeting Close

HCC Team

Thanks and close

Looking Forward

The HCC is calling on all our partners across the region and beyond to use the information shared during this conference as a springboard to fuel action and advocacy; this movement for a healthier region must be powered by Caribbean people calling for  transformative change – all of you.

It is critical that the issues discussed – a healthy food supply, strong policies to support a healthy food environment, managing conflicts of interest and so much more – continue to be raised in all spaces, especially those that regional and global policymakers occupy.

Agri-systems processing was an item of interest at the 42nd Regular Meeting of CARICOM Heads of Government which is commendable however, as this conference demonstrated, the Caribbean food system is intricate with a number of actors needed to be meaningfully engaged to allow for a stronger food system and ultimately a healthier region. It is critical that our efforts continue to apply principles of human rights and equity to ensure sustainable transformative change.

We are looking forward to continuing to work with all of you.

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