Earlier this year, the World Bank warned developing countries to brace themselves for a long period of volatility triggered by a slowdown of the global economy, the lingering crisis in the Eurozone, and high oil prices.
Adding complexity to this dire outlook is the fact that the United States is experiencing its worst drought in 50 years and poor yields from the Black Sea breadbasket have caused the price of corn, wheat and soybean to soar.
The World Bank has recommended that countries like Jamaica concentrate on medium-term development strategies as they prepare to meet the tough times ahead. As recent as Thursday, members of local small and medium-size enterprises took to the airwaves to complain about the strain high gasolene prices were having on their businesses, thus threatening their viability. As one scans the business horizon, there is no sense that the administration recognises the potential in this group to expand and drive economic growth.
We have seen in the past how economic difficulties in the First World have spilled over into countries in our region. It happened as recently as 2008. So where does that leave us in formulating a response to the impending dangers? Does the administration have a plan to carry the country forward, or will we simply make the same mistakes of the past?
Predictably, high grain prices will affect commodities like chicken and its by-products, and agricultural inputs like fertiliser. It is ironic that a so-called 'agricultural country' like Jamaica should be worried about a significant hike in grain prices. One could argue that the Jamaican consumer ought to be relying on domestically grown crops which are generally competitive in price with imports.
when will rhetoric meet reality?
However, the truth is that although policymakers have been advocating the 'Eat What We Grow' concept for many years, the message has not been fully absorbed by majority of Jamaicans. Successive administrations have not done enough to articulate the benefits of eating locally grown produce. But it is time to close the gap between the rhetoric and the reality.
There has not been the necessary investment in agriculture to give the sector the profile of a worthwhile endeavour. But we must also acknowledge that one of the factors inhibiting investment in agriculture is the scourge of praedial larceny. Law enforcement is not as aggressive as it should be in identifying these thieves and putting them out of business.
So what should the individual response to this food alert be? Are there lessons that have been learnt from past initiatives? Are the virtues of self-reliance passť? Have we encouraged enough people to start kitchen gardens, or delve into container planting, or even rooftop gardens?
These are important questions in a country of rising unemployment and poverty. For in the absence of an agreement with the International Monetary Fund, it is difficult to see how the Government will ever be able to put the kinds of programmes in place to protect the most vulnerable persons in society. And who will the vulnerable turn to if not the Government?
It is almost certain that volatility will remain with us until we are able to produce enough to feed ourselves.
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