A stark reality is facing Trinidad and Tobago in the coming months with a warning that this country could be facing food shortages and higher food prices.
Food importers and retailers are warning that flour, vegetable oil, peas and some types of meats are some of the products that the country could face possible shortages of, due to the conflict in Ukraine and other factors like a lack of access to foreign exchange.
The reality is that this country on its own has a food import bill in excess of $1 billion and over the years we have without fail no matter who is in power heard the public speak about the need to cut the food import bill. Real incentives to encourage diversification into agriculture need to be provided. There needs to be a clear plan as to what T&T needs to do to ensure that we can attain some measure of food security.
It is good that a regional conversation with Guyana and Barbados as well as T&T to get some semblance of food security off the ground.
It is never too late to do what is required to ensure that the region is better placed to help each other on all issues and more so on the critical issue of food security.
As it stands now, local food companies are already being impacted by delays in shipments, a decrease in raw materials, a shortage of foreign exchange and the ongoing war between Ukraine and Russia which is also directly impacting supplies.
In this scenario, the reality is that consumers are paying more for a range of products.
President of the Supermarkets Association Rajiv Diptee told this newspaper that “Container shipping costs were already spiralling during the height of the pandemic and pressures are being felt more acutely due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Also, due to the conflict, commodities such as grain, barley and sunflower oil are facing steep price increases and shortages in some instances. When we consider agricultural inputs for production, the rising cost of fertiliser and fuel present the biggest obstacles to sustainable programmes and the bloated impact on the food import bill. We’ve seen this affect the output of poultry and egg production for example.”
Consumers are already paying more for chicken and eggs because of this, and President of the Poultry Association Robin Phillips has already signalled that he does not expect the price of chicken to fall in the near future. Economist Vaalmiki Arjoon believes that the T&T—Guyana MOU presents “favourable opportunities to help lower our dependence on food imports and lower our exposure to volatile food prices.”
In March this year Zulfikar Mustapha, Guyana’s Minister of Agriculture encouraged T&T businessmen to capitalise on investment opportunities.” If the world will fall short by 30 per cent in food production this year, then there are a lot of opportunities that you can invest in, not only in T&T, but Guyana and the rest of the Caribbean,” Mustapha said.
The ball really and truly is in our court. There are avenues to make a difference and to ensure that this country does not forever fall prey to the vagaries of global supply and demand and food shortages.
There is no reason why encouraging large-scale farming and ensuring production is increased cannot happen to the benefit of citizens.