STAKEHOLDERS COLLABORATING TO GET CHEAPER HEALTHY FOODS ON BARBADIAN TABLES
By Emmanuel Joseph
The island’s manufacturing sector is collaborating with the Government and other stakeholders to create a more affordable basket of healthy food items for consumers.
President of the Barbados Manufacturers’ Association (BMA) John Marshall revealed to Barbados TODAY that his association and the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security on Wednesday embarked on the first phase of a joint venture that would allow small farmers to produce cheaper healthier foods and pass on the benefits to consumers.
The move comes against the backdrop of an ongoing public debate that the Government should make healthier foods more affordable rather than tax unhealthy foods.
Marshall said while making healthier foods affordable would not be easy given the world’s focus on producing processed foods in bulk, it is possible and that is what the BMA was aiming for.
“Just today, the Barbados Manufacturers’ Association and the Ministry of Agriculture had a workshop to train small farmers how to turn biowaste into feed pellets for animals to try and reduce the cost of inputs. It is not going to eradicate the need to buy feed from other places but even if it replaces 10 per cent of their source, it could still make a big difference…because the average livestock in Barbados, nearly 50 or 60 per cent of the cost of that animal is feed,” he told Barbados TODAY in an interview.
“If you are a small farmer and 50 per cent of your cost is in feed, the solutions that were presented today would really help them bring some of that cost down…. If you replace 15 per cent of that cost, it could have a significant impact on the cost of the end product to consumers.”
The BMA head also referenced another area in which work is being undertaken to retool manufacturers so the sector can also produce cheaper food products that are healthy.
“For us to be really making certain vegetables and produce cheaper than other places, it requires some different techniques from manufacturing. Ploughing the ground and planting is not really going to make it that much cheaper. We are not going to suddenly make it cheaper. We are going to have to come up with different ways – either aquaponics and things like that – and use different techniques to try and bring the cost down by increasing the yield per acreage, essentially,” he suggested.
Marshall also argued that the plans which the Government has to try to “bridge the gap” in terms of transportation of produce from Guyana to Barbados would also help.
“It is primarily the transport of getting [items] here that raises the cost. So, if we can get that cost down we can certainly get it to the table much cheaper than it currently is,” the representative for local manufacturers asserted.
In the meantime, he announced that the BMA was collaborating with another state entity to explore lower-cost production of healthy foods.
“We are working with the BIDC [Barbados Investment and Development Corporation] on looking at ways to retool our current machinery and so on, to be able to make products that are healthier for the country,” he disclosed.
“So, we are looking at it from many fronts to see how our current manufacturers and new manufacturers can supply nutritious foods to the country at a lower cost. It is key because we can’t only be talking about . . . people who could barely afford it now to pay more for nutritional food. We have to make sure that it’s at a good cost so we are definitely looking at all types of things to make that happen,” Marshall assured.
The BMA president announced as well, that the manufacturing community is also working with the University of the West Indies (UWI) on various kinds of research that would impact the cost of food products. However, he did not elaborate.
Marshall said while making cheaper nutritious foods available to consumers would not happen overnight, he promised that manufacturers were going all out to try to make it a reality as soon as practical, considering that other entities are involved.
“Ultimately, the goal is to make it happen, so that . . . if you go to a supermarket, that an item that is more nutritional, packed next to an item that is less nutritional, is at an equal or lower cost,” he said, although acknowledging that “we are a good ways away from that”.
He added that the association is working as much as it can with its membership and non-governmental organisations to make that happen.
However, Marshall identified public awareness as the “low-hanging fruit” which can be launched in short order.
“I think one of the first things is really education. There are more nutritional products out there. If you take beverages, for instance, we had the sugar tax which aims to be punitive since you are trying to make sugary items more expensive. But quite often, right next to them on the shelf are items that have much less sugar or no sugar at all at the same or lower prices already,” he said.
“Impulse could really make a big difference to try and make sure the supermarkets give more frontage to the more nutritious items,” Marshall added.