The price of high food prices

Paolo Kernahan
Paolo Kernahan


“AM I reading that right? I need to stop leaving home without my spectacles!” The final tally of my grocery shopping appeared on the screen in front of me. The total looked totally nuts; even more nuts than the total on nuts nowadays. Nuts!

Rewind to a few moments before I put my handful of items on the conveyor belt. Pushing my wonky shopping cart through the aisles was a journey through the multiverse of madness. Rotisserie chickens that look more like rotisserie pigeons are both spicy and pricey. Apples that were $20 for eight the day before are $23 today!

I couldn't help wondering how people with children to feed face the tyranny at the register each week.

Soaring food prices are, of course, reflected in other places. I bought a chicken roti recently at my favourite spot, only to learn it had gone from $35 to $40 in the blink of a week. Fair enough. Their roti is big enough to put you in a post-lunch coma. The goat roti, though, was now at a new level of ridiculous – $55. “$55? I don't want the whole goat!” Heh heh!

Our notoriously short memories support the mistaken belief that rising food costs are owed principally to the pandemic and now the Russia/Ukraine conflict.

The truth is, current trends were on the march before “the covid.” Remember TT's forex pressures? No? Now, with the pandemic fallout, war strictures, and forex pressures stacked up, food pricing is just wild. But there's more! Likely, we haven't yet seen the food-price adjustments reflecting recent gas-price increases.

What can you expect of a former agricultural colony now importing uncomfortably close to 100 per cent of its food? The frightening reality is the country still hasn't awakened to the grave threats global shocks pose to our food security. Our response is like that vagrant sleeping peacefully on the pavement in the blistering midday sun while the city bustles and honks about him.

There's no discernible strategy by the Government to protect food security and minimise the ripple effects of global fits on the most vulnerable.

Will we just accept that food prices will continue their inexorable rise?

This week British PM Boris Johnson was interviewed by ITV journalist Susanna Reid. In that proctological exam, Reid prodded Johnson about the soaring cost of living in the UK.

“Your responsibility is to work towards ensuring citizens can pay their bills!”

And there it is – the purpose of a government is to look after the interests of the people.

It's the opposite in TT. Commentators and online squawkers absolve the Government of any responsibility to suffering citizens.

Combatting high food prices will take a lot more than leases/photo ops for farmers and discounted seedlings. Those aren't even the bare sketches of a food-production strategy.

In my days as a reporter, I covered numerous stories about the orphaned agricultural sector. There are drunken all-fours tournaments more organised than the industry. I watched over the years as meat production, milk production, food-crop cultivation and other branches of the agriculture tree were undermined at the root – gone to pasture because of institutional indifference.

There are many opportunities to reduce our reliance on food imports. Let's get back to the goat example for a minute; the same goat known to fetch $60 per pound. Goat production can yield not only meat but milk for goat cheese and yogurt. This is already being done, albeit on a small scale. If we were able to ramp it up we would have a signature exportable product – goat dairy from the islands.

Praedial larceny remains a major threat to the proper development of the animal husbandry sector. As such it's practised mostly in an informal, anything-goes sort of way – like everything else in this comedy club.

There's another threat to our food security that isn't considered because the environment is mainly perceived as “natear” – and few even care about that. Oranges are being sold at $5.25 each. Some farmers are attributing failing citrus crops to the impacts of climate change. Capricious weather patterns and measurably hotter temperatures are reported to be affecting crop yields.

The food prices we're seeing right now are just the amuse-bouche. The worst of it is still in the kitchen. The Government ought to be leading the charge in incentivising and prioritising food production.

Instead, we're just waiting for the next global convulsion to say, “It happenin' all ovah!”


"The price of high food prices"

More in this section