Archive for March 29th, 2008

March 29, 2008

Food, vanishing food.

Part of a surge in global food costs, rice prices on world markets have jumped 50 per cent in the last two months and at least doubled since 2004. Experts blame rising fuel and fertilizer expenses, as well as crops curtailed by disease, pests and climate change. There are concerns prices could rise a further 40 per cent in coming months.”

The Canadian Press. 28/03/08

The rise in food prices here in T&T and worldwide  is undeniable and worrisome. Many price changes can escape our daily notice but the cost of the nourishment that keeps us going is something inescapable. Populations are able to tolerate all sorts of things but starvation is generally a major motivation behind unrest. A hungry people are unlikely to listen to reason and the fact fact such situations affect the poorest levels of society first- those already living on the edge – makes the potential impact even more frightening.

I am not living hand to mouth but I notice when prices change drastically in a fairly short time. As a single guy I am not prone to energetic spurts of baking and as someone watching my diet I tend to avoid rice so the price of such staples normally escapes me unless it becomes a news story but I buy  items such as butter. The cost of a pound of butter in my local HiLo is now just a bit more than $30 TT . By contrast, a year ago a pound of butter cost just under $10 TT. That sort of price change  is startling. The government figures ( presumably lower than reality) indicate food inflation is somewhere in the vicinity of 28%. Ironically, this country, that has ample arable land suiting any number of crops grows very little now and virtually all of our food is imported. The result of this is that any world price hike in either the cost of fuel or transportation is felt very strongly.  The cause of the food shortage could be global warming, a move away from agriculture, bad weather or any of slew of other factors the end result is the same. Thousands of people in this land of oil money are having a hard time affording food. The government seems content saying it is a global phenomenon and making vague promises to improve the agricultural sector. A country that cannot ensure its population has food is , to my mind, a failed state.

Today I interviewed Kumar Maharaj, the owner of several supermarkets. His view of the situation did not fill me with optimism for the future. His knowledge of the food situation ( over several decades) makes me take it very seriously when he says things might improve temporarily but  that he sees a serious crisis by September. He too was puzzled and concerned about the apparent lack of  action in the agricultural sector and thinks it is a major cause for worry as it leaves us with no buffer zone to protect us from the vagaries of the world market. It is also fairly obvious that small states will be in an especially difficult situation as we don’t have the buying power of richer and larger states.

I don’t know what the immediate solution to the looming problem is but I know that doing nothing about agriculture is only making the situation worse.