Letters & Opinion

The Caribbean can avoid the impending Hunger Hurricane

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Chronicles Of A Chronic Caribbean Chronicler By Earl Bousquet

If anyone still has or had doubts about the impending food crisis resulting from the crisis in Ukraine, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres earlier this week raised concern over what he described as “a hunger hurricane” resulting from the ongoing conflict.

“We must do everything possible to avert a hurricane of hunger and a meltdown of the global food system,” Guterres told correspondents outside the Security Council chamber in New York on Monday.

He observed that while war rains over Ukraine, “a sword of Damocles hangs over the global economy – especially in the developing world.”

According to Guterres, “Even before the conflict, developing countries were struggling to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic – with record inflation, rising interest rates, and looming debt burdens.”

He expressed that “exponential increases in the cost of financing” had erased their (developing countries) ability to respond.

“Now their breadbasket is being bombed,” the UN boss lamented.

The UN Chief pointed out that Russia and Ukraine represent more than half of the world’s supply of sunflower oil and about 30% of the world’s wheat.

In addition, Guterres said, Ukraine alone provides more than half of the World Food Programme (WFP) wheat supply.

He stated that “Food, fuel, and fertiliser prices are skyrocketing, supply chains are being disrupted and the costs and delays of transportation of imported goods – when available – are at record levels hitting the poorest countries hardest.”

Guterres indicated that the situation was “planting the seeds for political instability and unrest around the globe.”

He also stated that grain prices have already exceeded those at the start of the Arab Spring and the food riots of 2007-2008, while the FAO’s global food prices index is at its highest level ever.

He also warned that further escalation of the war, whether by accident or design, threatens all of humanity.

The UN Chief has more than just a bird’s nest view of the Ukraine situation and how it’s shaping-up to hit the world.

The Caribbean is already paying higher petrol prices, with early warnings too about the impending crises in the cost of food and rising prices generally, both as a result of the original COVID-19 Supply Chain crisis being further strained by the war in Ukraine.

When the coming wheat crisis actually hits home in food prices across the world, all Caribbean Community (CARICOM) member-states, like every other country worldwide, will feel the bite.

Guyana has responsibility for lowering the region’s Food Import Bill, which is totally conditional on changing consumption patterns across the region – not at all an easy task.

But while it’s always been difficult (if not near-impossible) to wean Caribbean people off too-much boxed, fried and externally processed foods, unique situations always have ways of presenting themselves that make such tasks easier, turning challenges into opportunities, as with the COVID-19 crisis and the Russia-Ukraine war.

Together, COIVID and Ukraine have created excellent conditions for people better understanding the need to better understand the meaning of such long-repeated phrases as ‘Import Substitution’ or ‘Eating What We Grow and Growing What We Eat.’

The Caribbean has — from West Indian and Slavery times — been a producer of fine foods for export, later imported as refined products – from buying chocolates made from cocoa, to banana and coconut, rice and rum products repackaged, processed and returned to the region on supermarket shelves by way of wider choices at a bigger cost.

With the impending wheat and flour crisis, the region shouldn’t wait for shortages of related products, but instead accelerate arrangements for import substation and ensuring support for local farmers.

St. Vincent and the Grenadines, with decades of experience processing arrowroot for export, also now has an expanded flour mill due to increase production by 30% by next year, which opens opportunities for expanding the regional market, just as Saint Lucia’s grain suppliers in Vieux Fort can also join in a possible OECS (Organization of Eastern Caribbean States) and CARICOM initiative to synchronize grain-related production across the region, to meet the new demand already being created by the current supply chain problems.

Likewise, bananas and breadfruit, coconuts and custard apples, dasheen and guava, mango and pawpaw, soursop and sugar apple – and all the other tasty Caribbean fruits still going to waste on farms and trees because of foreign taste on local tongues.

New and innovative approaches are always necessary in tackling old problems in new times.

For example, Saint Lucia’s Anglican Church last month hosted a three-day Banana Festival as part of the island’s Independence celebrations, at which members of the public were reminded it has many more uses than just eating the ripe and exporting the green and exposing the possibilities of using all parts of the plant to even produce paper from banana leaves.

Same with coconuts, with the Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute (CARDI) preaching since before the internet was invented that the tree can be put to as many as 28 productive uses through manufacturing sub-industries capable of taxing creativity and creating employment.

It is absolutely necessary, in these times, for CARICOM and Guyana to ensure citizens across the region understand the true nature of the impending world ‘Hurricane of Hunger’ that the UN Secretary General is warning about.

Guyana has the land mass to make a major difference in once again being regarded as the Caribbean’s Food Basket and the government has already indicated its willingness to also provide poultry and livestock products if the necessary arrangements can be made with island governments up the CARICOM chain, as already under way with Barbados.

Yes, COVID and Ukraine have collided to worsen the world’s food crisis, but a bright Caribbean sunshine can overcome that very dark cloud if the region’s governments sow the right decisions to reap the best solutions to avoid adding a Hunger Hurricane to the region’s long list of stormy annual hurricane-size problems already being created by Weather and Climate Change.

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