By the end of September, global food prices had skyrocketed by almost 30 per cent, underlining the urgency of the need for this country to produce more of what’s served on the dinner table.
Countless calls for greater food sustainability have been made in the past. While the situation is already bad, it’s set to get much worse.
According to a recent report by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), world food prices are set to soon hit an all-time high.
The global food import bill is projected to surpass US$1.75 trillion, an overall increase of almost 14 per cent from last year, driven in part by a threefold increase in freight costs as well as increases due to labour dynamics and extreme weather.
Countries like Trinidad and Tobago which have a food deficit (importing more food than we export) will be disproportionately affected by these developments.
Last week, Minister of Agriculture Clarence Rambharat once more urged the population not only to grow more food but also consume more of it as well.
“(We) need to eat what we grow,” Mr Rambharat said, noting the seasonal availability of local produce at often favourable prices.
The minister also noted there is a key issue with regard to grain prices which affect the prices of some sources of protein. On this point, not only is there a need to eat more of what we grow, but there is also a need to diversify the sources of our nutrients.
No longer are the notions of “Meatless Mondays” and wholly plant-based diets theoretical options. For many, these habits are already a way of life and could become even more so if prices continue to rise or if shortages hamper the market.
On the other hand, there are many who have not yet had any good reason to heed the calls made by the minister and by officials such as agriculture economist Omardath Maharaj. Perhaps these individuals might be swayed by figures such as four-year-old Deja Frank.
The warm reception given to a video featuring the four-year-old making a dasheen smoothie during this year’s virtual celebration of Tobago’s Blue Food Festival is perhaps a sign that there is an appetite for both culinary adventurousness and for seeing children do what they do best: lead the way.
Food security is not just a matter of giving farmers more incentives and tax holidays (the effects of which remain unclear given the gaps in accountability with regard to budgetary allocations and fiscal measures). It’s also about changing the way consumers view food and the habits that have often resulted in us importing what we simply cannot afford to import any longer.
The budget presentation opened a debate over which foods should be tax-free and which should not, but the impact of the VAT (value added tax) removal seems to have been negligible in the greater scheme of things.
What we are left hungry for is a sense that this country can put its arable land to productive use and can avoid moving from oil and gas dependency to food dependency.