Water more than flour



AS THE self-raising price of flour eviscerates already cornered budgets, the commentary surrounding this subject is a dizzying mix of ignorance, misdirection and blame-shifting – a smorgasbord of empty calories.

Weighing in on the most recent price adjustments was Trade Minister Paula Gopee-Scoon, who preached against businesses selling old stock at new, higher prices.

“I can tell you who they are!”

But she didn't, keeping that gun with blanks holstered.

There's no denying that opportunistic businesses dabble in price-gouging. That brand of skulduggery is as old as bread itself. However, there's no evidence of a widespread conspiracy by retailers to pickpocket the public.

In her fiery sermon, Gopee-Scoon trotted out old tropes of greedy businessmen. That ploy sells like hot hops because many in society lean on the villainy of the one per cent to explain their lives of penury.

This well-worn tactic draws attention away from Government's abject failure to develop strategies to boost local food production. Indeed, it also deepens amnesia over the PNM's campaign against the agriculture sector in favour of an industrialised economy.

There was more to come.

Minister of Agriculture, Land and Fisheries Kazim Hosein and Communications Minister Symon de Nobriga were on the front page of the newspaper eating food made with alternative flours. The photo-op took place at a Namdevco cooking demonstration meant to showcase wheat substitutes.

The entire event seems to have missed the point: The problem stems not from a shortage of wheat flour but rising costs. Promoting alternatives like cassava and plantain flour falls flat because they're considerably more expensive than “conventional” flour.

All this talk about alternative flours is as out of place as dumplings in soup. This is a reality folks at Namdevco and the Government can't seem to understand.

It only got worse from there.

Hosein waxed quixotically, “The more you plant, the more you produce and the prices will come down, so I want everyone in this country to plant something. Flour is just as important as vegetables.”

Que? He was either misquoted or he misspoke.

Neither explanation could salvage any useful information from that claptrap.

“I have tomatoes growing in my living room,” Hosein further mused, stretching the limits of hyperbole.

De Nobriga chimed in, “I did see where local producers of cassava and dasheen flour are saying their products can be considered cost-equivalent to wheat. I will have to wait and see that.”

The wait is over because it isn't true. Even if it were, how would alternative flours being “cost-equivalent” help anyone if the price of wheat flour is too high anyway?

Searching for the silver lining, de Nobriga suggested rising flour prices can be a good thing, as we need to make healthier food choices anyway.

Perhaps the gas build-up in our stomachs from hunger could be used as a substitute instead of super, premium and diesel. NP should look into such a fuel alternative. That photo-op would be quite interesting.

Alternative flours are, in principle, a fantastic idea. They're quite common in other countries throughout the region.

Local producers, however, would need support to scale their business models. They would need a consistent supply of raw inputs and financing to mechanise the flour manufacturing process. This would enable them to increase efficiency, production and volumes. These essential elements would help bring prices down.

The Government is well aware of what local producers of alternative flour products are trying to do. Ministers never miss an opportunity for photo ops at business incubators like Upmarket. The potential for growth of the agro-processing sector is there.

Glaringly absent is any government strategy to nurture it.

In response to climbing flour prices, many suggest it's time to get back to basics.

What's more basic than flour? Wheat is a food staple, which is as close to basic as you can get. Humans started baking bread about 10,000 years ago.

The idea of substituting provisions for bread is wildly impractical on multiple fronts. Good luck with your yam sandwich. Dasheen and tania for breakfast, lunch and dinner will be a tough switch to stomach for most consumers.

We'll be right back here having the same convulsions when doubles vendors are forced to raise their prices again soon.

So often in this country we become hopelessly entangled in conversations far removed from the actual problem. This tendency ensures that promising solutions will never cross our paths.


"Water more than flour"

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