Remembering Carmeta – Food for Thought

The following blog reflects concern about food security in a Trinidad and Tobago context, however,  the message rings true for the majority of countries in the region including Barbados. It raises the perennial concern that Caricom has not been able to implement solutions to address concerns about the need for food security for its member.  Thanks to Tee White sharing the link with the blogmaster.

David, Barbados Underground


Food for Thought- Food Sovereignity in Times of Crisis

Yesterday the Prime Minister announced that all restaurants and food vendors will be ordered to cease the sale of food until the COVID-19 virus is under control in T&T. Rowley’s announcement seemed to have inspired a civil war as many have been led to believe that this decision was the result of pressure from disgruntled doubles vendors. However while the country is locked in a senseless argument about whether KFC is “essential” or not, a larger, more pressing issue that has haunted our country for our entire history looms larger than ever. That is, the question of food sovereignity.

As a small island nation with a dormant manufacturing sector, almost every item that is consumed- from clothes, to electronics and especially food- is imported from abroad. But as the COVID infection continues to rip throughout the world without abating, entire industries are being forced to shut down due to concerns about the safety of workers and the wider population. If this virus isn’t brought under control, there is the very real possibility of our nation having to forgo imported goods for as long as the world needs for this virus to relent.

This is a frightening possibility, especially given the fact that our agriculture industry isn’t even a major industry anymore. What would the future hold for the 1.3 million people who live here with our source of sustainance gone? “Too late, too late!” shall be the cry as we would finally understand how important it would have been for our nation to feed itself.

What can the government do (perhaps more poignantly- what would an MSJ government do) in order to revive agriculture in a way that can save us from impending disaster?

It begins with incentivising agriculture. At this point, this is where defenders of past and present agri-policy would interject and list the various incentives that exist for farmers locally. However, none of these incentives address a fundamental problem affecting farmers- the purchasing of agricultural produce.

By importing cheap food that has been mass produced on industrial farms in other countries, we have flooded our own nation with cheap produce which has made it difficult for local farmers to compete. The higher cost of local goods have discouraged both retailers and consumers from buying local. As a result, farmers continue to struggle despite the numerous incentives that are available. However these incentives mean nothing if farmers can’t even get their produce sold.

Therefore it is important that the purchase of local goods are guaranteed by law. Under the MSJ, all supermarkets and other retailers must first purchase products from local farmers before turning to outside sources to fill their shelves. In doing so not only would we provide a stable and steady source of income for local farmers but we would also cut down on the loss of foreign exchange- the shortage of which has triggered yet another crisis in T&T. In addition to mandating the purchase of local food products, the cost of these items will be offset through government subsidies. Why has this not been done before? This oversight can be easily attributed to apathy and nonchalance, but we see something more sinister. The retailers and traders locally have amassed great fortunes through the buying and re-selling of imported goods. From supermarkets to fast food restaurants, the business elite have been able to influence government policy for their benefit and theirs alone. Funds generated from this un-innovative business model have been used to fund political parties and keep politicians in their pockets- hence the lack of interest by both major parties to develop agriculture.

There are other reasons to avoid foreign food products. Last year, the world was horrified as we witnessed the destruction of the Amazon rainforest at the hands of the Brazilian government. The Amazon is being destroyed because the president of Brazil has practically sold large swaths of the forest to agribusinessmen, who are turning the Lungs of the Earth into mega-farms. Many meat, vegetable and beverage products are imported from Brazil into T&T every year. By turning to Brazil for food we are indirectly contributing to the ongoing destruction of the Amazon and the genocide of indigenous people living there. It should also be mentioned here that this will no doubt contribute to climate change, something that can seriously affect our lives as Caribbean people.

Another hindrance to local agriculture has been the habit of both government and opposition parties alike to use fertile farmland for conscruction sites. This is because housing continues to be used as a political tool and not the human right that it is. A separate article about the state of housing will be written in due time; but to address the the topic of agriculture, rest assured that not a single inch of farmland would ever be used for construction projects under an MSJ government. Arable land is a limited resource, especially on an island as small as ours. Every effort must be taken to ensure that such land is protected and utilised in the manner that it ought to be used in.

The establishment of community-based cooperatives will also be encouraged. Beginning at a local government level, each Borough Corporation will establish a number of community farms in order to meet the demands of the population. It should be highlighted that some local government districts (especially those in the built-up, urbanised areas) may not have access to land. This is where indoor and vertical farming can be introduced to ensure that every district can feed its people despite the lack of available land space.

We hope with all our hearts that this COVID-19 crisis passes by without any major fallout for T&T. However even when that happens, we are still far from being out of the woods. For there will be many long battles to fight in the very near future. Because with climate change comes the possibility of droughts, hurricanes and flash floods- things that will no doubt put a strain on our national resources and especially our food supply. One of the ways China was able to contain the COVID-19 virus was due in part to their stockpiling of food supplies for the population. During the course of its long history, the Chinese have had to endure many calamities- natural disasters, disease, war, etc. So it is no wonder that they have figured out that the best way to ensure survival for everyone is to begin by simply making it possible for each person to have a plate of food. We ought to take a page out of China’s book in this regard and turn to our farmers for our survival as a nation.


25 thoughts on “Remembering Carmeta – Food for Thought

  1. @ David BU

    You have been asking for that disruptive event that would change the model of economic transformation. We have it now. The elements of that development program have already been discussed in this blog. Implementation is now required. There is no right time but the present.
    We need to decide how much land we are going to cover with useless trees, parks , photovoltaic panels,and concrete. We are a land scarce country. We tend to forget that.

    We must also be aware that the choice is between self sufficiency and a higher standard of living. There are limits to very small countries.
    That is the main reason why in the past we chose the Development Models that we did. Economics is a science about scarcity and choice. That is for those who pretend not to know what it is about.

    • @Vincent

      If not now what when?

      Look forward to hearing from the Minister of Agriculture Weir and stakeholders in the coming days and weeks on the national platform promoting policy to support. A word of advice to Weir, lose the holier than thou attitude.

  2. @ David Bu

    Mr Weir is not the only minister of Agriculture that has been confronted with scores of Agricultural Plans for Barbados. Ask Dr Lucas about the various plans since ministerial government in 1951/55 and the vacillation from” not one cane blade” ? Talk cheap. Effective decision making is scarce.
    So concentrate on the issue of choice between food security and a higher standard of living. Cut out the personality bashing. These are times for serious decision making.

    • @Vincent

      A sage like you is aware that it matters not the predecessors, it is about the players in the here and now.

  3. @David, Indar and the Ministry Of Agriculture are way ahead and we need not worry as said by Mannesah King former DPS and Mr Weir. I do believe them and this is not sarcasm as he has launched many projects recently.

  4. @ David BU

    I think your algorithm that tries to be auto correct has gone into overdrive . I will pause. You have enough to chew on any way.

  5. When I refer to commercial agriculture and technological support re competitiveness I have the Netherlands in mind. Also food security reminds me of top of the index Singapore that imports some 80% of the food it consumes as its economy in earning foreign exchange allows its population in general to afford adequate and nutritious food. That model should be our aim. Mary K King.

    • @Mary King

      Thanks for your insightful blog.

      The Singapore model in a post COVID world, or even before some will argue given our reliance on services/hospitality is not relevant. We need to pursue food security while dialling back on our appetite for conspicuous consumption to be replaced by domestic production of goods and services.

  6. @ David Bu at 9:10 AM

    I agree that we must act in the present. Given the information and the resources we have ,we are doing quite well. We are not panicking and we are methodical. Food security through Agriculture is a medium to long term solution. But projects must be started today. It appears that we are proceeding on some.

  7. @ David April 8, 2020 9:20 AM

    Hasn’t what is being regurgitated and proposed at this junction been recommended ad nauseam on this blog by our Can-Bajan correspondent “Hants” and a few others like “Island Gal” and even Simple Simon?

    Is the government going to appoint a highly-paid food security Czar to tell the Cabinet what is supremely obvious?

    The proof of the food security pudding is in the working of the many former arable fields now lying idle.

    Let the government put its resources where the minister’s mouth is by returning those former CLICO lands to agriculture as they were under the Kinch man at Wakefield.

    Selling or leasing those lands (currently overgrown with bush) to plant houses for high net worth individuals or weed for rich sick people is now off the table, permanently.

    The most important asset of the country (the health of the people) is under severe threat.

    Just look at ravages afflicting the health of the black communities in the inner cities of the great USA because of poor dietary habits composed mainly of mock foods or processed slow poisons.

    “If we could give every individual the right amount of nourishment and exercise, not too little and not too much, we would have found the safest way to health.” ~ Hippocrates

    • @Miller

      The quick answer is yes. We have been preaching until blue in all parts. We have a class of politician that prefers to cater to implementing what is easy. Are we there yet?

  8. Food security is important to Barbados because of competition.

    One supermarket chain in Canada buys more fruit and vegetables from the Caribbean and Latin America than Barbados.

    If there is a shortage of any crop who do you think will get preference?

  9. @ Hants at 10:05 Am

    Barbados is small. I am sure we buy from the cheapest and more convenient source. We are not that irrational.

  10. I will as Vincent said wait and see. I been begging for over a year now for government to start a green house project using either state or clico’s land holdings. My hope was they would facilitate such a project by producing 5 sizes ranging from 2000 sq ft to say 12000 sq ft, for rental by small farmers or civic groups. The project could have been dealt with by the NCC and Ministry of Agriculture providing the seeds and plants along with fertilisers etc, in a program similar to what the chicken producers do with the poultry growers.

    Had this been done a year ago, today we would of had a thriving vegetable and produce market and been well on the way to food security. I wait to see after this virus passes how serious we will be with regard to agriculture, or if it would just of been another 9 day wonder.

  11. Is the government going to appoint a highly-paid food security Czar to tell the Cabinet what is supremely obvious?

    Based on The President’s (cite: @Hal) modus operandi this Czar will be totally unsuited to the role and have very little – if any – professional achievements.

  12. This strategy is insular, narrow-minded and flawed. But more importantly, is this the same Mary King, former head of Transparency International then Minister in the UNC/PP government who was fired from the Cabinet when her Ministry granted a contract to her husband’s company? Is she now reincarnated as a member of MSJ?🤣🤣🤣

  13. @ Mary King
    What will you pay for the imported food with if your tourism sector has collapsed and you are not earning foreign currency? Also, what happens if the next global emergency severely disrupts international trade?

  14. Trinidad maybe lacking the raw material input and import a lot of their food. However, they still have the most vibrant manufacturing sector in Caricom. Big international food companies like Nestle and Unilever have been operating their for years.They have flour and rice mills, not to mention home grown outfits like General holdings( Bermudez), Massy, Associated brands, S.M. Jaleel, Ansa etc.The same can’t be said for the rest of Caricom. In Bim, our model is importing, warehousing, and distribution. The ”value added” comes only from the markups.

  15. T&T should be doing more for agriculture though. They have land and intellectual resources (UWI Agri faculty and CARDI) at their disposal. The easy oil money, like so many other oil states, have reduced the contribution/importance of the agriculture sector in the economy.

    Nigeria before oil, was a major producer of rice, cocoa, palm oil, millet, kola nut, tomatoes, and other agriculture crops. Over 60% of Nigeria 356000 sqare miles is conducive for arable agriculture.That’s over two times the size of the UK. Plus one of africa’s large river, the niger, flows through it.Yet, Nigeria import most of its food. If that is not shameful and embarrassing I don’t know what is. Easy oil rent, import liberalisation, change in tastes etc have reduced this once food-secured nation to one that is food import-dependent.

    • This was a discussion when Sandals came but if tourism is not sustainable we would have been back to square one.

  16. @ Fortyacres

    A few years ago the Arabs and wealthy hedge fund investors bought up large parts of Africa to provide food for their home countries. Do yo remember which countries they bought land in? Interesting story.

  17. @Forty

    It was a rhetorical question, but you are right. The Chinese are also big purchasers of African land. However, the most arrogant are the Saudis. The irony is that you had Africans working on these farms growing food who were hungry themselves.
    The president has made a big thing of opening routes to Morocco, Rwanda and Kenya, but once more it is empty talk. She has permitted the oil company to trade in derivatives, why not extend that to a basket of foods and commodities? Tod do so calls for imagination.

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