Barbadians Urged to Plant Crops as Food Crisis Looms

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Produce as much of your own food as possible, and consume local carbohydrates such as yams, sweet potatoes and breadfruit.

That is the strong message coming from the Ministry of Agriculture, Food, Fisheries and Water Resource Management, as the possibility of another food crisis looms on the heels of the worst drought faced by the United States of America in 56 years.

A statement from that Ministry is also calling on local farmers to take advantage of the opportunity to expand local food production; and on importers of food items to avoid exploiting the moment by increasing food prices.

The statement outlined that recent reports showed that corn production was expected to drop by 11 per cent from last year’s with yields 23 per cent below normal. In addition, soya bean yields are due to decline by nine per cent below the 2011 harvest, and wheat yields will also decline.

"The shortage of these commodities on the international market has already prompted other countries such as Russia to consider imposing export bans on their supplies," the statement said.

It added that the situation had already resulted in increases in food prices in some countries, with the future price of corn anticipated to increase by as much as 60 per cent, as stocks shrink to their lowest levels since 1973.

"There is global alarm that there could be a repeat of the 2008 food crisis because data shows food prices have jumped six per cent last month. The FAO Food Price Index, which measures monthly price changes for a basket of cereals, oilseeds, dairy, meat and sugar, averaged 213 points in July, up six per cent from the 201 points reported in June," the statement indicated.

It warned that the situation threatened to increase prices of food to levels never seen in Barbados before, and urged all citizens to act urgently. "…The Ministry will [also] be expediting the distribution of planting materials, seeds and other inputs in order to stimulate local food production," the statement read.

In addition, the Green Paper on the sector recently received by the Ministry outlines specific actions to be taken in the short to medium term.

These include the establishment of a market information system to determine supply and demand for local food; the establishment of a wholesale market for farmers; the establishment of a Farm School and a model farm to demonstrate new technologies; strengthening farmers’ organisations; working with the Ministry of Tourism to promote the consumption of more local food in the tourist industry, and promoting linkages between farmers and local supermarkets.

In addition, it has also been proposed that the National Agricultural Commission provide the Ministry with its view on the way forward to avoid a spike in food prices in the country.

"The situation presented by this world food situation brings into the focus the importance of agriculture in the world today," the statement said.

It noted that while there were those who believed the agricultural sector should be abandoned due to its decline and the removal of the preferences for sugar in the European market, it was still fundamental to the country’s food security.

"No matter what industries we develop in this country, no matter how developed we may become, we still have to eat and a dependence on others to supply our food is not a sensible strategic option.

"We are, therefore, convinced that our agricultural sector is essential in helping the nation combat the effects of the global economic crisis, and the impending world food crisis," the statement indicated.

julia.rawlins-bentham@barbados.gov.bb

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