With all the excitement over the performance of Jamaica's athletes at the Olympics, we would not be surprised if Roger Clarke is unaware of, or forgot about, a collateral event taking place in London today, but to which he, and the Government, ought to be paying attention.
David Cameron, the British prime minister, is hosting a summit of global leaders, non-governmental organisations and campaigners on global hunger.
Many Jamaicans, including, we suspect, even members of Portia Simpson Miller's administration, would be tempted to dismiss this as being about Africa and Asia and, thus, of little relevance to Jamaica. They would be wrong.
For beyond the longer-term development policies that will occupy those attending Mr Cameron's get-together, there is also the immediate matter of rising food prices that place Jamaica, and other countries, at risk.
The US Great Plains region, the world's major food basket, is facing its worst drought in nearly 60 years, affecting the growing of crops such as corn, soybean and sorghum. Indeed, the US Department of Agriculture has estimated a decline in yields of 12 per cent that could translate to a shortfall in the output of grain of a 180 million tonnes.
Experts fear that the world could be facing food crises similar to that of 2007-2008, when rising prices led to riots in more than 30 countries. Already, the prices of commodities are on a sharp upward trajectory, and in Jamaica, producers have warned of coming higher costs for foods such as poultry, pork, milk and eggs. Naturally, our near US$1-billion food-import bill will increase.
Substantial policy issues
But this is not merely a matter of food inflation, with consumers having to dig deeper into their pocketbooks. It points to substantial policy issues that demand the attention of our Government.
First, many more Jamaicans are likely to be at risk of poverty and hunger. Our Government, using consumption as a proxy for income, estimates that nearly 20 per cent of the population lives below the poverty line, from approximately 10 per cent five years ago. The International Monetary Fund estimates Jamaica's poverty at more than twice the Government's figure. The fact, though, is that many people live on the margins and will demand short-term help.
More fundamentally, however, hunger is an index of poverty, which, in Jamaica's case, is the outcome of more than four decades of anaemic growth of gross domestic product and inadequate economic policies.
The shame is that we discern no coherent effort on the part of the Simpson Miller Government to do better: no clear ideas for tax reform; pension reform; managing, over the long-term, the public-sector wage bill; or for modernising the bureaucracy. The Government appears to be on autopilot, set on a course to meander.
On the specific matter of the burgeoning food crisis, Mr Clarke, the agriculture minister and newly minted Commander of the Order of Distinction, appears to be equally at sea. He has talked broadly about increasing food production, but without a clear strategy or tactics to channel investment into the sector or making agriculture sexy. Nor do we perceive a policy on food security.
Many people are fast coming to the conclusion that this is a Government without coherence, bent on squandering the mandate it received merely seven months ago.
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