A field of wheat with hand holding tile over it.

by Rebecca DeSantis, content and engagement coordinator, ICMA

Food insecurity is an issue that affects countries worldwide. According to the World Health Organization, in 2017 the number of undernourished people was estimated to have increased to 821 million or around one out of every nine people in the world.

Issues of food and nutrition are often addressed at all levels of government, but local governments play an important role in dealing with food concerns on the ground. ICMA sat down with Altagracia Tavarez, executive director of the Dominican Federation of Municipalities (FEDOMU), an ICMA International Affiliate since 2015, to talk about the experience of battling food insecurity at the local level.

ICMA: How would you describe food insecurities for municipalities in the Dominican Republic?

AT: Policies aimed at improving this dimension of food and nutrition security seek to promote the consumption of healthy foods and discourage the consumption of products high in sugar, salt, and fat. Also, to improve access to drinking water and sanitation, as well as medical care, with the objective of ensuring that the population reaches a state of nutritional well-being that satisfies all their needs.

The mechanisms established by the central government to deal with food security is the National System for Food and Nutritional Sovereignty and Security of the Dominican Republic (SINASSAN), which articulates between political institutions in order to channel the necessary measures and guarantee the right to adequate nutrition.

For an effective application, it is necessary that the central government communicates with local governments, since local governments are closer to the families of the people and therefore know their territory more.

The main insecurities that have existed are:

  • Lack of food availability.
  • Lack of purchasing power (poverty).
  • Limited distribution of food.
  • Deficient consumer culture.
  • Considerable social ignorance of the quality of food.
ICMA: What do you think are the challenges for food security in local jurisdictions?

AT: The main local challenge is to achieve more citizenship education on preserving forests and rivers as a guarantee of natural resources. From this, we can have:

  • Access to healthy foods for the entire population.
  • Support for family farming.
  • Implementation of health policies in public markets and slaughterhouses.
  • Budgetary allocation for the design and implementation of local policies aimed at the promotion of food security.
  • Strong epidemiological and nutritional surveillance and education system as a fundamental instrument of the population's food security
  • Promotion, through the dissemination of best farming practices, of the increase of productivity and supply in the agricultural sectors with greater contribution to food security and adequate nutrition of the population.

The Dominican Republic was required to follow in the footsteps of other Central American countries, with the approval and implementation of a law to provide the state with tools that guarantee the right of its residents to adequate food and thus be able to eradicate the existing challenges.

ICMA: What has FEDOMU done to help address food insecurity?

AT: In 2018, the Dominican Federation of Municipalities managed to be incorporated together with the responsible government institutions and instituted by decree of the presidency of the Republic with the purpose of designing the instruments of application of the law no. 589-16, which creates the National System for Food and Nutritional Sovereignty and Security in the Dominican Republic (SINASSAN), responsible for the National Plan for Food and Nutritional Sovereignty and Security (SSAN Plan).

In representation of the local governments, FEDOMU occupies a space with voice and vote in the National Council of Food Security (CONASSAN). From this space, FEDOMU consulted local authorities to include their vision, concerns, and limitations in the National Food Security Plan that was published at the end of 2018.

FEDOMU is in the best disposition through our staff both from the central headquarters and in the 10 regional technical offices to continue addressing and supporting this issue of great importance for the municipalities of the country.

ICMA: What advice would you give to the municipal leaders who are dealing with food insecurity in their communities?

AT: I would recommend these three tactics:

  1. Recover and preserve forests and rivers in order to preserve natural resourses.
  2. Prepare a diagnosis with community leaders where they can interact with the purpose of articulating joint actions to apply the most suitable processes, adjusting all the actions in an integral way. In this diagnosis, the entities who should participate are the central government, the local government, and the private productive sector of the municipality.
  3. To promote in the community family agriculture, agricultural production, livestock, forestry, fisheries, and aquaculture that despite its great heterogeneity, is characterized by the preponderant use of the strength of family work, being that the family participates directly in the production process.
ICMA: Based on lessons learned, are there preventive actions that municipal leaders can take against food insecurity?

AT: Food security is generally defined as the permanent access of all people to the food they need for an active and healthy life. In the home, this means sufficient access to food, in adequate quantity and quality, to meet the food needs of all family members during the year. So they must be productive entities and have job opportunities.

To achieve food security, here is what is required:

  • Sufficient supply of food.
  • Stability in the food supply, throughout the year and from year to year.
  • Physical and economic access to food, which requires capacity and resources to produce or obtain all the necessary food for the household and each of its members.

Local governments can contribute through education, environmental management, promotion of local economic development and employment, and collaboration for access to roads, drinking water, electricity, and health services, among others.

The Dominican Federation of Municipalities (FEDOMU), is a national, nonpartisan organization of public and social interest, which assembles and represents the municipalities and municipal districts of the Dominican Republic, for the promotion of development and municipal democracy. FEDOMU has been an active affiliate of ICMA since 2015, hosting the ICMA International Regional Conference in 2017 and collaborating with ICMA's Global Programs team on USAID-funded projects such as the Municipal Partnerships for Violence Prevention in Central America and the Caribbean (known by its Spanish acronym, AMUPREV) and the Planning for Climate Adaptation Program.

FEDOMU’s mission is defending political, administrative, and financial autonomy of local governments; helping them manage their territories; and seeking to achieve municipal, human, and sustainable development.

For more information, visit the FEDOMU website.

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