Saturday, March 2, 2024

EDITORIAL: Where are we with cutting food prices?


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IN THE face of the burdensome cost of living, aggravated by rising food prices, Barbados, like other Caribbean Community member states, has been encouraging increased food production and buy-local initiatives.
Realistically, Barbados suffers certain evident constraints, including land availability, that do not pose problems for a number of its CARICOM partners – such as Guyana and Jamaica.
However, the rising food prices that contribute to the cost of living woes in so many CARICOM states are evidently influencing governments to focus more on breaking the heavy dependence on extra-regional food imports and encouraging more intra-regional trade in agricultural commodities.
Widely consumed fruits and vegetables now come at constantly rising prices in supermarkets, as well as at vendors’ markets, in the absence of official mechanisms at even random monitoring of prices.
Popular fruits like banana, papaw and pineapple, as well as widely used vegetables and ground provisons, among them pumpkin, yam and cassava, come at distressingly high prices.
To the moans of consumers, retailers, supermarket owners and the mercantile community in general often go on the offensive, pointing to rising costs of imports, transport, storage and deliveries. It is such a familiar pattern – with even the politicians engaging in their own word games.
In the circumstances, it is quite urgent and appropriate to get some clear assessment from CARICOM governments on new policies and programmes introduced and being implemented by member states to inspire confidence that the challenges facing the region’s vital agriculture sector are indeed being pursued.
In this context CARICOM’s second trade protocol on agricultural commodities for exports, which offers a more realistic admissible list of what are appropriate for marketing, in accordance with international criteria, ought to be vigorously pursued to help provide consumers with wider choices and, hopefully, less costly prices.    
In his report on Towards A Single Economy And A Single Development Vision, done in cooperation with the CARICOM Secretariat, the regional economist Dr Norman Girvan has highlighted the major challenges facing the Community’s agricultural sector.
The “guiding principles” for transformation of this vital sector are usefully outlined in what has been approved by CARICOM as The Jagdeo Initiative (so named after Guyana’s President Bharrat Jagdeo who has lead responsibility for regional agriculture development).
It is time for an update on this project.
Next month’s Inter-Sessional Meeting of CARICOM Heads in Grenada should be the occasion to do so. Let the public know what programmes are on fast track for implementation.


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