“But ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds of the air, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish of the sea inform you. Which of all these does not know that the hand of the LORD has done this?” – Job 12: 7-9
Exactly three months ago the title of my column was “Fix Food First”. This was in reference to rising food prices. This title seemed appropriate then but, in this relatively short time frame, the food issue is quickly approaching a crisis proportion and it is now so urgent that I have upgraded my warning and appeal that we “Fix Food Now!” The average individual is fairly complacent about this issue because what he/she does is “go to the supermarket” to buy food. For many in the younger generation that is what has always been done. Others may either know or have been advised by their parents or grandparents that the Local Food Crop Defence Control Order was instituted to ensure food security during World War II and enable our very existence.
Some may even be lulled into a sense of false security that we will always find food in the supermarket, even if they might want to quibble about the price. For different reasons, the supermarket shelves are sometimes bare in Zimbabwe, but of course our response may then be that the Zimbabwe circumstances are not relevant to Barbados, so it would not happen here. Maybe not for the same reason, but it could happen here.
This year the Guyana Sugar Corporation has cut the amount of the product it supplies to Suriname, Barbados, Grenada and St. Lucia. It has not been supplying sugar to Jamaica for the past two years. The country continues to supply raw sugar to big consumer, Trinidad and Tobago, while meeting the needs of local consumers. The explanation is that it made sense to send most of the product to Europe because there is more market share there and the exchange rate of the US dollar is more favourable to the Euro.
It was however acknowledged that this strategy opens up the Caribbean to imports from other countries, making it hard for Guyana to get back into the regional market in the future. Jamaica, Suriname, Barbados, Grenada and St Lucia have been granted waivers on the Common External Tariff which they would normally have to pay on sugar and rice imported from outside the region. This is a reason for us to look after our own food security. Even if we have the money, the product may not be available in sufficient quantity.
The Prime Minister of Barbados in an early address to the Nation, on assuming his new role, indicated in the presence of the Prime Minister of Dominica that their respective countries will be working towards enhancing agricultural trade in the interest of keeping control over the rising food prices.
A report out of Dominica last week stated that “the two French islands, Martinique and Guadeloupe, on either side of Dominica have begun buying every citrus product in sight at some unheard of prices. No one knows if this is as a result of a hurricane caused shortage in their islands or as a consequence of the price of transport from further a field. The demand for crops in Dominica at the moment is unreal and the production levels are at an all time low. Government is trying its best to encourage people to replant idle land and look after their trees, but from what I can see the interest is not high. It will be interesting to see how things go at the start of the next citrus season. It appears as if shipping will be available but will the crops be and at what prices? Again, even if we have the money, the product may not be available in sufficient quantity.
Another international article last week began with the statements: “These days you hear a lot about the world financial crisis. But there’s another world crisis, the food crisis, under way and it’s hurting a lot more people. Over the past few years the prices of wheat, corn, rice and other basic foodstuffs have doubled or tripled, with much of the increase taking place just in the last few months. High food prices are truly devastating in poor countries, where food often accounts for more than half a family’s spending. There have already been food riots around the world. Food-supplying countries, have been limiting exports in an attempt to protect domestic consumers, making things even worse in countries that need to import food. How did this happen? The answer is a combination of long-term trends, bad luck and bad policy”.
From where I sit the good news for Barbados is that the Minister of Agriculture and the Minister of State in the Ministry of Finance understand our predicament and therein lies our hope. What can we learn from the beasts of the earth, they have innovative ways of solving their problems? Guided by the hand of the Lord we human beings too can step up to the plate.