By Denys Springer
COVID-19 has destroyed lives throughout the world in particular China, the United States, Russia, Italy, Spain, Holland, Sweden, Germany, France, UK and Canada that far surpasses 1918-19, and the economic impact since the 1930s, influencing negative oil prices, depleting national and personal reserves and purging financial fortunes.
Unemployment has risen to a dramatic level worldwide. Much of the world now has a serious problem derived from social/physical distancing that will not go away overnight and therefore the tourism industry will require a new business model.
“Mass tourism is not going to be the same and you’re going to be competing with cut-throat competition from many other countries in the region who rely on tourism,” said, international development consultant Deodat Maharaj.
Saint Lucia is not excluded in this equation and will have to look elsewhere, and re-focus in particular, on food security. That would mean producing food to feed ourselves (subsistence farming), reduce our food import bill, and increase export trade.
That is where our diplomatic friend Taiwan can help us build agribusiness with modern technology, and the requisite research and development capability (technology and engineering College or tertiary institutions).
Reviewing the throne speech by the governor-general, Sir Emmanuel Neville Cenac, at the joint session of parliament on Tuesday, April 28, 2020, in search of government policy on “agriculture and food security” he said:
“The priority focus areas set out in the Agricultural Policy Framework and Strategy (2016-2021) include the enhancement of national food and nutrition security, as well as agricultural diversification and reduction of the food import bill.
“The government intends to continue to emphasize these areas, together with the resuscitation of the banana industry and Building Resilience to Climate Change and Disaster Risk Reduction. The Plant Protection Act will be revised to prevent and control the entry of pests into Saint Lucia, adhere to the International Plant Protection Convention, and facilitate trade in plants and plant products.”
On Tuesday, May 29, minister for agriculture Ezechiel Joseph, quite amusing to most said that local farmers are overproducing;
“I am not concerned about a shortage of food. When I am hearing about food scarcity as far as local production is concerned – in fact, you are correct, we have overproduction now. That’s the problem we’re having – we’re having overproduction.” He further explained, “the mere fact that the hotels are closed, that is affecting farmers and the reality on the ground is not a shortage, but overproduction.”
The presumption that the minister is not concern about a food shortage given COVID-19 circumstances underscore the lackadaisical thought process and attitude to what I term man’s inhumanity to man – and a government found wanting like a pack of dreamers.
Martin Luther King Jr. was right when he said that “we are living on a lonely island of poverty amidst a large section of material prosperity”.
The Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), recently facilitated a virtual meeting for agriculture ministers of the Caribbean Community to establish a common sectoral strategy to address the crisis brought about by COVID-19. In attendance were agriculture ministers, Saint Lucia included.
Guyana indicated that it is a food secure country having met global targets in 1996 of the world food summit, and in 2000 of the UN millennium development goals and further explained that Guyana produces approximately 60 percent of its food consumption, meaning the country’s food import dependence stands at 40 percent and consists largely of processed foods, oils and fats, grains (essentially wheat and corn) and milk and dairy products.
It was also pointed out that Guyana’s food and agriculture sector may be affected through labour shortages caused by illness, quarantine, social distancing requirements, transport interruption, and similar food chain disruptions, including disruptions in food production which is dependent on pre and post COVID-19 measures.
With that, it is important to note that local, international trade and the food supply chain is severely impacted and not operating at normal levels. This suggests that commitments to open and predictable trade for agriculture and agri-food so that people and the region can have access to essential food and agricultural products is paramount to ensure stability and predictability.
This means, providing opportunities to build on existing collaboration, to ensure stability and predictability for our citizens and businesses in this uncertain time, and to confront deceptive rhetoric that is taking place before our very eyes in this tiny island of ours is a long and desolate corridor with no exit sign.