The pandemic, global supply chain disruptions and the Russia-Ukraine conflict was the sequence of events that combined to drive up inflation around the world. These unfolding, far-reaching occurrences can aggravate T&T’s tenuous state of food security.
Consumers can no longer ignore the fact that the increase in the price of flour that took effect yesterday—the second in the space of six months—is part of a trend of higher food prices that could easily overwhelm economies like ours in the coming weeks and months. For the challenges ahead, T&T needs to be better prepared.
This country did not have to wait for an announcement from National Flour Mills (NFM) to understand the serious situation with food prices that is looming. There was always the prospect of repercussions from the Russia-Ukraine war because those nations together supply more than a quarter of the world’s wheat. Since the start of that conflict, experts had been warning that it could fuel higher food prices, as international shipments of wheat have been hampered, spurring shortages just as supply chain disruptions have been driving up food prices.
Wheat prices rose 40 per cent between February and April and there could be a decline in global production over the next few months.
This country is not shielded from these developments because of our heavy reliance on food imports, including cereal like wheat. Saddled as this country has been for years with an annual food import bill of approximately $5 billion, there is a particular vulnerability to these types of external shocks.
In addition, agriculture here is mostly small-scale, employing less than three per cent of the population and contributing less than one per cent to GDP, so this country cannot produce enough food to feed our population.
For that reason, priority issues in the coming months should include a concerted effort to reduce the food import bill and the implementation of policies to ensure food security and boost agricultural production, all with the aim of establishing a resilient food system.
Among other things, there is a need for investments in climate-smart agriculture and technology such as controlled environmental systems, hydroponics and other systems to ensure adequate crop yields for local production, as well as for export.
This investment in infrastructure and technology is also needed to build resilience to climate change, as current geo-political upheavals are not the only perils facing T&T.
In terms of the local food supply, all it takes is heavy rain over short periods in flood-prone parts of the country—many of which are also areas of significant food crop production—to trigger shortages and higher prices.
Less apparent but also of concern is the extent to which changing weather patterns are also posing problems in the fisheries sector. Global warming and rising sea levels are causing coastal erosion, which is threatening fisheries infrastructure and the livelihoods of fisherfolk.
All the talk about agricultural development must now be translated into decisive action aimed at staving off food insecurity, which might be closer than expected if things stay as they are.