The region’s heavy dependence on imported foods means it will be significantly impacted by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
That is the view of Ambassador Dr Richard Bernal, Professor of Practice at the Sir Arthur Lewis Institute for Social and Economic Studies (SALISES), who pointed out that most countries in the Caribbean had little domestic food production.
He made the points today during a roundtable discussion entitled Caribbean Food Security and the Ukraine Invasion which formed part of the 23rd Annual SALISES Conference held virtually over the last two days. The theme of the discussion was Caribbean Lives, Disruptions, Resilience, and the Way Forward.
Dr Bernal said prior to the war in Ukraine food prices had risen significantly, a situation that had been exacerbated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine which has led to increased shipping costs.
He said the region would be impacted significantly because the diet of persons living here were based heavily on imported foods.
“The diet in the Caribbean has always been based heavily on imported food and it goes back to the colonial period of the slave plantation economy which was based on cheap imported food from the US and Europe and Canada, at the expense of domestically produced food…The result is that the diet of Caribbean people continues to be heavily dependent on imported food,” Dr Bernal said.
“It is unlikely that the diet of Caribbean people is going to change very significantly so they will be seriously affected by the price of imported foods.”
He said it was estimated that CARICOM spends over $5 billion annually on food.
Additionally, he said imports accounted for more than 60 per cent of total food consumption in almost all CARICOM member countries.
Dr Bernal said most of those countries were importing over 80 per cent of the food they consume with the exception of Belize, Guyana and Haiti. He lamented the lack of domestic food production in the Caribbean.
In fact, he suggested there was “severe food insecurity” in the region.
“Caribbean countries, although some of them are generously endowed with land and adequate yearlong water, have a high dependence on imported food and even the domestic food production and those for export have a high import content,” Dr Bernal said.
Senior lecturer at SALISES, Mona Campus, Dr Patricia Northover said the situation merited “3-D thinking” .
“We will argue in this short intervention that our global food system is indeed in a fundamental crisis and that our food futures call for policy that endorses ‘3-D’ thinking; that is thinking that is divergent, disruptive and de-colonial. This form of policy thinking is considered necessary in order to deconstruct the untenable, neoliberal agenda in food politics that sustains what I refer to here as saving clauses, silver bullets and a sublime forgetfulness in order to preserve a neocolonial and plantation logic reproducing racialized and unsustainable food systems,” she said.
Dr Northover maintained that food systems globally and in the Caribbean were fundamentally unsustainable.
She said it was of grave concern that the world currently depends on only 12 plants and five animals to supply 75 per cent of the world’s food supply.
She further pointed out that of the 250 000 plant species that could be used for agriculture, less than three per cent are used and of the
30 000 edible plant species only 150 were being used. (RB)