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Last updated: 25 April, 2008 - Published 09:04 GMT
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Coping with rising food prices
former Haitian prime minister Jaques Edouard Alexis
Prime Minister Jacques Edouard Alexis was the first Caribbean political scalp of the food crisis
The Haitian prime minister has been sacked and other Caribbean are appealing to retailers to absorb the cost of rising food prices.

The impact of rising global food prices has been felt across the entire Caribbean.

Double digit price rises have been recorded right across the region for numerous basic food items including rice and flour.

Increases in the price of fuel are also compounding the situation.

Have your say

What to do? What can be done?

  • What can the Caribbean do to deal with a global problem?
  • Should governments consider food and fuel subsidies?
  • Is it time to go back to the land
  • What methods have you found to deal with rising food prices?
  • Antigua's Finance Ministry argued that any price increase had to be as a result of negotiations with government.

What you've been saying

My greatest concern is the high cost of petrol, almost $100 per litre. The government needs to set the example and drive more energy efficient vehicle.
Portmore, Jamaica

Countries like St Vincent & The Grenadines will have to buck up on their agriculture sector to help out the rise in food costs. They also need to find a solution to drop back the cost of flour...Private businesses can help out by sourcing cheaper products to put on the shelves.
Tequila Ross
Barrouallie, St Vincent & the Grenadines

Back to the land for starters, because increases in the world population will bring increases in world prices which thus have an long term upward trend
Arne Barendregt
Willemstad, Curacao N.A.

Most governments in the Caribbean are applying short-term measures to combat the problem. This not the answer. They have removed the CET from a number items and this has not been passed on to consumers. What needs to be done is to encourage consumers to look for local substitutes, which may be even better in terms of nutrition. Also we seriously have to look a local production of food. Utilize Guyana's available land for production food, invest in research and development for value-added, a proper transportation system for distribution - and the Caribbean feeds itself.
Nerissa Gittens
Kingstown, St. Vincent

I feel governments in the region need to return to the drawing board and look at the real issues affecting the average citizen.
Lip service and the long term plans being drafted will not address the issues. Governments need to probably look in the direction of importing foods and sell at cost price so as to cushion the effects, since retailers and wholesalers have to make a profit. So, if it’s being done through the government it will be cheaper.
Edward Layne
Georgetown, Guyana

The Caribbean nations must develop a strategy to marshal their agricultural assets in such a way that they can behave as an 'engine' of production with a long range vision to feed itself.
We have instituted a mind-set of quick fixes, expediency and favo ritism that keeps the nations trapped on a perpetual 'edge' of existence and dependency. How, in God's name, have the Caribbean nations gotten to the point where our nations are seeking technical support from European countries? (Sarcasm intended. No offence meant).
The Caribbean with all of its God given resources should be a world leader at this time in agricultural science, creativity and technology. What are we waiting for? Are we waiting for our collective backs to be against the proverbial wall?
Feeding ourselves must now be taken out of the political arena. We cannot keep employing the same old ways and expect different results. I hope someone is listening. Or, may God have mercy on our collective souls.
Don Sharpe
Freeport, New York,USA

Beside the need to improve domestic production of food in the Caribbean, which many have already alluded to, one of the main causes of high price of food around the world is due to excessive hoarding, whereby wholesalers purchase large amount of grains and store them to create an artificial shortage; thus allowing them to substantially raise their price to make excessive profit. Governments in Indonesia and other Asian countries are already levying high penalties and fines to wholesalers who do that. So, the Caribbean countries should
think of similar strict measures to prevent the continuation of escalating prices of food when it is not warranted.
Boston, USA

The entire world knows very little about the plight of Haitians not just this month, but for centuries. Why is that? I'm scheduled a trip there soon and I can't seem to find any news past Sat. 4/ 19/08. I do know this is a nation with no sanitation system, no clean water, starvation is not new. Why are we as civilized people allowing this to happen?
Clarksburg, WV, USA

At the individual level families can begin planting their own gardens. Seasonings that we buy on a weekly basis: thyme, chive parsley. Other food stuff: lettuce, tomatoes, different types of peppers, cauliflower. Fruit trees that grow year-round: orange, grapefruit. The average person may not be able to grow staples in their yard, but by planting the little we are able to, we actually subsidize our own groceries. We need to make use of our local produce also. For example, cassava to make farine which can be used as breakfast cereal instead of the ready-made cereals we get in the groceries. We can limit our weekly rice intake by using provisions as the staple dish.
The demands we make on our governments such as subsidizing and using land for agriculture are things we can definitely do on an individual/family/community level.
Trinidad & Tobago

This article is very good and true.
Jimmy Jon
West Willow, USA

I believe that the Caricom region has the potential to be among the best trading blocs in the world. However, due to unity and integration this does not appear to be inevitable.
Nevertheless, this is a global crisis (food prices), and this is due to a number of variables. In order for the Caribbean countries to avoid this sort of inflation, they all need to seriously consider subsidies on food, not necessarily fuel, but food. This may be a serious challenge for the governments individually. But a serious, united, economic union is imperative in today's "GLOBAL" Economy.
Mark Wilson
St.George's, Grenada

I think that the time has come for ALL families to return to the 'land'-planting fruit and vegetables, raising animals. It does not matter how big or small your property is it should be mandatory that each household at least plants a vegetable garden! We all planted 30 years ago and it worked well ... look at all the centenarians in Barbados!
Christ Church, Barbados

I would like to begin by saying like many others... I knew it would happen some day but not so soon. In fact I would go as far to say I never thought we would have to wonder or grapple with rising food prices because we can feed ourselves. Is it because we became complacent? Is it because we allow ourselves to think that this type of work is now menial?? The question I will continue to ask is, if we are now heavily depending on tourism as our main industry how are we going to feed our tourists?
When we get back to be able to feed ourselves and cut back on the import bill, though prices will rise around the world, we would not have to staring each other in the face like people without hope. Maybe the oil producing countries of Caricom need to come together and see how they can help out since most of the problem comes from the hike in fuel.
Frankie Thomas
St. Mary's, Antigua

A good dose of reality, has been long in coming, and is essential to shake the Bajan citizen, and our Government, out of a skewed life-style of misplaced priorities. We easily buy excessive consumer electronics at HP rates of 30%p.a., and you are no-body unless you ride in a new BMW. Our Gov't has borrowed to the max externally, and each Bajan needs to get back to some basics of home budgeting; earning and spending our foreign currecy wisely; and giving our farmers the place in society they deserve, including protection from "wholesale" praedial larceny.
Tony Webster
Bridgetown, Barbados

I think there are 3 main components for this rise in food prices: 1)price of fuel
2)the world’s great demand for food, mainly in Asia
3)USA AND European subsidies for agriculture in their countries.

We need to look back at the things we used to eat, the things we used to used to feed our chickens, for example before we became so Americanized. Here in Jamaica we could grow almost all of the fruits and vegetables we need and if it were organic there would be no need for imported fertilisers. We have to look at these old-fashioned things like cassava flour, banana flour, bring back foods such as coco and yampies, create vegetable and fruit farms and cut out imports of many of these item. Rice used to grow on the island, so go back to that. We will have to become far more self-reliant, far more Jamaican and less American in our lifestyle. Maybe some people should by food instead of phone card, plastic fingernails and the like. And most important of all we need to reduce the country's energy bill by converting as rapidly as possible to alternative energies. Subsidies are short term stop-gaps that most small-island economies cannot afford. Those funds would probably be better spent in helping communities to set up their own vegetable and fruit gardens, chicken farms, etc. The food crisis is a wake up call to the whole world.

The Caribbean prides itself in its tourism, promoting stretches of white sand beaches, lush and push resorts and spa. So we prepare a paradise for our guests but hell for our people. This constitutes the general interest of Caribbean governments while neglecting the most powerful employment industry of the region: agriculture. Contrary to what many people might think, the tourism sector does not provide jobs to more people than agriculture in the Caribbean. There are more people who earn a living doing their subsistence farming, and send their children to school. Yet governments remain oblivious to that fact. This is why the region has become a fancy economic field with a serious lack of touch with the kind of economic policy that would help to alleviate poverty through sustainable action. Everybody seems to just laying back waiting for the next guest to bring a bread. What a vision!
Louinel Jean
Mandeville, Jamaica

Obviously, if the farmers start growing more food for home consumption, that may alleviate some of the problems. However, what West Indians need to understand is that you can't drink Arab Oil, but you certainly can grow more crops in the Islands. This is just the beginning of a world wide epidemic, and Govts, had better get ready, and if the rest of the Industrial world think that it would not affect them, then they had better think again.
Arkansas, USA

It is unfortunate at times when national/regional governments are blamed for this problem when clearly they are not culpable. I totally empathize with PM Alexis in spite of his actions/inactions to try and deal with the issue. As a region, I believe that we have to come to realize that this is a permanent economic shock that requires a serious behaviour change. Suspension/waiver of CET etc are all well and good but these are only emergency relief strategies. These I believe should be implemented alongside long term strategies that will address our food security needs. I certainly agree with going back to the land. I also support of the view of the Antiguan Finance Minister. We cannot allow businesses to behave like cartels with basic commodities like bread etc. While I am not advocating more price controls, but there must be a proper framework for determining prices in this environment.

Why sack the Haitian Prime Minister? Do the people not realise that its external/wider issues that are affecting food prices? Namely the Western Nations appetite for bio-fuels (alternative to oil/petrol/gas) The West realise they can longer secure their supply of oil from the Middle East so they want to use something other than oil/petrol. This alternative is ethanol - made from sugar there are other fuels made from Maize Western nations are putting pressure on farmers to produce these at the expense of ordinary food stuffs produced eg rice. This has caused a food shortage thus higher prices this is not entirely beyond the control of Governments there are measures that they can take to help alleviate the rising costs but the root of the cause is Western nations' appetite for bio-fuels explain this to the Haitians.
Monica Cummings
London, England

The impact

Food riots in Haiti left at least five people dead and 40 wounded as rising food prices caused people to take to the streets.

United Nations peacekeepers tried to stop incidents of looting at food stores, warehouses and government offices.

Hungry rioters are demanding that the government scrap all taxes on staple foods.

And a no-confidence vote led to the sacking of Haitian prime minister Jacques-Edouard Alexis.

The rising price of food has impacted on the entire Caribbean but, in Haiti, where the hemisphere's poorest live, the reaction has been the most extreme.

Rest of the region

UN patrol in Haiti
Apart from the peacekeeping, world bodies are urging more and faster food aid to Haiti

But while Haiti is the region's most extreme case because of its poverty levels, other Caribbean nations are also feeling the pinch.

Following the announcement of a 40 per cent rise in flour prices in Grenada, Economic Development Minister Anthony Boatswain stepped in.

"What concerns us as a the extent of the increase in those products," Boatswain said.

"I would like to ask the (Grenada Bakers) Association to really reconsider the extent of the increase in the price of bread and other products that our consumers rely on so heavily," he added.

In St Kitts and Nevis, the government said it would take concrete steps to ease the cost of living hardship.

The cabinet has approved changes to local laws allowing greater flexibility in price controls.

The changes work with a recent decision by the regional trade grouping, the Caribbean Community (Caricom), to cut the regional common external tariff which places a set tax on goods entering the region.

Across the region

Time to have your say

Even in oil and natural gas-rich Trinidad and Tobago, armed guards have been placed on National Flour Mills (NFM) lorries carrying flour and other goods after several robberies.

In Jamaica, bakers expressed concern that their sales could start to decline because of a proposed 32 per cent hike in the cost of baking flour.

Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves made an appeal as new prices rises were announced.

And Barbados too geared up for a new rise in the price of flour this week.

In Antigua, the government met the Eastern Caribbean Group of Companies (ECGC) to discuss the rising price of flour.

The government in the capital, St John's objected to what it said had been a unilateral decision by the St Vincent-based ECGC to increase the price of flour by 34 per cent.

The ECGC operates a flour mill which supplies the wider Eastern Caribbean.

In Guyana at the start of the year, workers from the country's National Milling Company (Namilco) protested over alleged dumping by two Trinidadian companies on the Guyanese market.

Now, it's your turn to have your say. Click on the form to the right of this page.

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