Full Disclosure
April 25, 2008
Feeding our nations

One cannot avoid the constant global discussion concerning the invariable rise in food prices. At the heart of the debate is the fundamental question of food security. When the cost for food and the possibility of a food shortage arises to the extent that it makes the headlines, it is not to be slighted. The problem is deep-seated, to the extent that a total reliance on the government of any day is unrealistic if we are looking for a real solution.{{more}} A concerted effort is needed, one characterized by the establishment of an integrated approach linking innovative measures conceptualized by our policy makers and supported by strong community farming organizations, and consumers who are friendly to the concept of buying local. This is the way forward. Both the policy makers and farmers must lift the game if we are to succeed.

The best policies advocated by any government without a careful strategic technical implementation plan is doomed to fail. Similarly, a weakly organized body of farmers in a small island nation state would not be able to produce in any sustainable manner in order to bring about any real sense of positive change to the food security subject. Where do we go from here?

Descriptively, the islands of the Caribbean region are predominantly energy importers, with the exception of Trinidad and Tobago. The economies of the Caribbean region are generally undiversified and are either heavily dependant on tourism or bananas. The fragility of a dependence on tourism, and the onslaughts being faced by the banana industry in the past fifteen years are not subjects for discussion here, but the stories are well known. The struggle continues. A pertinent question amidst the inflation in the cost of energy therefore should be, to what extent may we be able to reduce our food import bill?

In a recent United Nations report, some sixty countries backed by the World Bank and most UN bodies called for radical changes in world farming to avert increasing global food shortages, escalating prices and growing environmental problems.

But in a move that has led to the United States, United Kingdom, Australia and Canada not yet endorsing the report, GM technology was not seen as a quick fix to feed the world’s poor, it is further argued that growing biofuel crops for automobiles has also threatened to increase worldwide malnutrition.

The report was issued as the UN’s World Food Programme called for rich countries to contribute $500m (£255m) to immediately address a growing global food crisis which has seen staple food price rises of up to 80% in some countries, and food riots in many cities. According to the World Bank, some 33 countries are now in danger of political destabilisation and internal conflict following food price inflation.

Our farmers must be self-motivated to promote the concept of increasing local production, which must be equally welcomed by our local consumers. Being able to afford fresh healthy food is absolutely necessary for our diet. Accompanying the rapidly progressing education revolution there should be an equal impetus towards the recognition of wellness as a virtue, and a general drive towards achieving good health, since fundamental to a productive society is a healthy people, and thus physical, mental and emotional health must be maximized. The youth of our nation constitute the largest and ablest sector of our national population; therefore, if we are to secure a future characterized by efficiency, it is primary that our youth product must simply be healthier.

The irony of the situation is that while food security is an issue, some are advocating that we use certain crops to produce energy. It has been suggested that in an increasing array of energy options, one very important choice lies in biofuels and the revolution in biotechnology as there is a growing demand in Europe and the United States for ethanol and biofuel. Bioenergy is energy derived from renewable sources. Examples include energy from biowaste, ethanol from grains and biodiesel from vegetable or animal oils. The growth of biofuels is proven to favor regions with long growing seasons, tropical climates, high precipitation levels, low labor costs, low land costs, as well as the planning, human resources, and technological know how to take advantage of them.

Guyana’s President Bharrat Jagdeo has stressed the need to be strategic and not tactical in dealing with energy security and renewable energy. The President furthered that, indeed if the CARICOM Regional Energy Policy is to succeed, planning cannot be short term and on assumptions that the current price of fuel would fall and the problem would dissipate. Undoubtedly agro-energy and the production of biofuels is a technologically proven alternative that would enable countries like Guyana to expand and modernise agriculture, offering producers new options with guaranteed market prices without jeopardizing food security. But how can we be really sure that food security would not be jeopardized?

The issue of food security cannot be properly discusssed outside of an appreciaion of climate change. Climate change is one of the most critical global challenges of our time. Recent events have emphatically demonstrated our growing vulnerability, and particularly so, since rapid climate change will impact on a range of human activities. While modest temperature rises may increase food yields in some areas, a general warming risks damaging all regions of the globe is a negative to production.

The quest to build a modern nation state reveals within itself a quest for positive change. Our efforts in agricultural diversification must reflect such high levels of innovativeness. The success of this venture is our truest hope.

The reality is that the ability of a country to follow a sustainable developmental path is determined to a large extent by the capacity of its people and its institutions to critically address the prerequisites, which guide social, political and economic achievement. Whilst the prerequisites may be easily detailed through a quantitative or qualitative analysis of current realities, the implementation of carefully configured and organized polices will make the difference between those who only preach and those who practice.

However, central to the sustainability of a modern nation state reflecting the characteristics of a competitive post-colonial economy is an understanding, embracing and calculated implementation of critical effective governmental policies, and private sector enterprise. As it pertains to the public service, all civil servants must become familiar with the general policy framework within which we work, so that there will be a significant reduction in the disconnects experienced from time to time as we attempt to move our nation forward.

Saboto Caesar is a lawyer and Unity Labour Party Senator.