“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me” – Psalm 23: 4
The price increase crisis with which we are faced in Barbados, other emerging nations and indeed more pervasively throughout the world has its genesis in the rising cost of fossil fuel and rising food prices. Globally, food producing lands and forests have been converted into lands for producing fuels to partially address the fuel constraint. This has led to dwindling international reserves of cereals and grains and, together with reduced supplies of rice in Asia, has fuelled the global food crisis and is leading us down a path of poverty.
As Professor Chandra Madramootoo, a West Indian who is Dean of the Faculty of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences at McGill University, observed in his response to my column last week, “An intriguing question which I would like to pose, based on your commentary is whether a country of sound economic and political stability, such as Barbados, will now reinvest in agriculture. Perhaps Barbados because of what I view as a more enlightened leader of the Caribbean could use the current global and regional food crisis to teach its neighbours a thing or two.”
As a seasoned trade unionist, Sir Roy Trotman, Chairman of the Congress of Trade Unions and Staff Associations of Barbados, recognised his responsibility to react immediately to the increased fuel prices which were announced last week by the Government. He signalled, without missing a beat, his intention to consult his colleagues on a proposal for wage increases perhaps of “double digit” percentage proportion to protect his constituents at the lower levels of the economic ladder, in particular. Of course, if this were implemented, it could then lead to a runaway inflationary spiral, a situation that Barbadians have never experienced.
In fairness to Sir Roy, in the same breath, he likened the current situation to the economic crisis in 1991 where Barbados’ foreign reserves had dwindled to a level such that they could only pay for one week’s imports. He suggested that, as was done in 1991, the social partners should place “a solution to the crisis” on the agenda at their very next meeting. The implication was that it worked in 1991 and, even though the circumstances were not the same, it should be given a chance to work now.
My immediate reaction, like others, is why do we have to wait until there is a crisis to act? Are we going to wait until the impact of global warming and sea level rise is a reality or are we going to act now to prevent posterity from this looming crisis? Are we not aware that the lack of “proper prior planning prevents poor performance”?
Be that as it may, the crisis is here and we have to act now. Here is my 10 point plan which could provide a solution if immediately and diligently pursued. (1) Look at expanding existing and developing renewable energy e.g. solar water heating, “solaricity” (electricity from the sun’s energy), wave and wind energy, combined heat and power units (CHP), which utilises heat energy which normally goes to waste, and “absorption refrigeration” technology fuelled by natural gas for refrigerators and air conditioners. (2) build the existing initiatives into a well coordinated agricultural commodity project approach, one commodity at a time, which manages the supply chain to the available markets including Hotels, Restaurants and Cruise Ships (Tourism linkages); Institutions; Supermarkets; Wholesale markets; Retail farmers’ markets; Hucksters; Agro-Processing (Condiments Association, Onion drying, Crop storage, Baby carrot production, flour production from local crops such as sweet potato, breadfruit, cassava); Exports; Import substitution; and Livestock feed (Sorghum). (3) Encourage enterprise development particularly those projects that have the “DNA of an elephant” or the potential for high performance on the global market. (4) Enhance productivity in the public and private sectors in order become more competitive and foster sustainable economic growth. (5) Persuade trade unions to expand their mandate to foster employer/employee partnership towards greater productivity for fair compensation.
(6) Focus on “doing business” as creatively and as profitably as possible in the private sector environment and investing some of their profits back into the growth of the economy. If Barbados succeeds we all succeed. (7) Create an enabling environment based on innovative policies and effective services endorsed by the political directorate. (8) Tax the outputs not the inputs – start small; do it right; make a profit; then expand. (9) Involve the mass media in engaging buy-in by the populace through optimal communication strategies. (10) Review the social partnership and enhance its capability to contribute to sustainable socio-economic success.
Congratulations to Mr. James Husbands who, at an exquisite event, last weekend in Trinidad received an Anthony N. Sabga Caribbean Award for Excellence for his pioneering work in solar water heating manufacturing in the Caribbean over the past 34 years.
Please be advised that Professor Chandra Madramootoo will be delivering a public lecture on “The global food situation and its impacts in the Caribbean” on Tuesday, May 27 at 7:30 p.m. – venue to be announced. This lecture will be sponsored by the Barbados Association of Technologists in Agriculture.
Even though the crises we face may require complex solutions, have no fear, the Lord is near.