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Rising Food Prices
Mavis:
promoting a wider appreciation of information and knowledge management for agricultural development generally and specifically, support for the IICA/CTA MEAgrISys project.

Oh gosh, the price of bread gone up again? Ent just last week it rise, is yeast or what? Glenda: Yeah girl, but wait until you reach by de rice and cereals? I get so accustomed eating dem cornflakes, is instant! I doh have to sweat over no hot stove stirring porridge.
This scene is being repeated in too many supermarkets in most, if not all Caribbean countries. News headlines, locally and internationally, highlight that food prices will remain on the high side for the foreseeable future. The major factors driving this trend are:

#5, 2008
Research and Preparation: Caribbean Agri Products and Solutions Ltd. Concept, Artwork, Editing: Diana Francis
Trade Policies and Negotiations Programme IICA Caribbean Region

Financed by: Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA –ACP)

Petroleum Prices: which have increased by more than 200% in the last seven years. This has raised the costs of inputs, such as, fertilizers and pesticides used in food production and the cost of transporting and distributing food, both domestically and from foreign sources. Higher Demand on the World Market: especially from India and China is expected to continue into the future. This makes it opportune for the region to dust off the many reports and implement the recommendations for producing what we eat and eating what we produce, including composite flours; Higher Cost of Business: especially as ocean freight rates have increased by 62% in 2007, due to rising oil prices, new international transportation regulations for vessels and post 9-11 security systems at ports and price premiums for availability as China’s and India’s demand diverts transport to those lucrative routes. Lower Supplies on the World Market: due to lower stocks of the major staples related to climatic factors and disease outbreaks and the diversion from food to non-food (bio-fuel) uses; Diversion of Crops from Food to Fuel: such as corn from food to biofuels is resulting in escalation of prices on world markets. US and Europe policy to gain a higher degree energy security and other countries, such as, Brazil will result in the continuing high food prices in the short to medium term.

The Views expressed herein are not necessarily those of the CTA and IICA

These factors are beyond the control of small Caribbean states and make our populations highly vulnerable to food crises - whether due to rising prices or disruption in trade flows. The solution: Invest in agriculture!

A million dollar question is: Is imported food really cheaper? We answer that question with some questions: How do we 'cost' imported food? Is the price quoted on the supermarket shelf the real cost? The answer is NO! This is only the 'visible' and 'calculated' aspect of the 'cost' of imported foods. Of current concern, is the health cost associated with diets heavily built on highly refined and processed imported foods that are substantially based on sugar and white flour. Another more fundamental cost is captured in the emerging concept of "Carbon footprints' that relates to the long-term costs of environmental pollution caused by transporting food from as far away as New Zealand to the Caribbean. But probably the more critical cost to the Caribbean is of slowly but surely losing our capacity to feed our selves - that equates with losing our agri-culture. A major factor driving the high food import bills is our growing dependence on imported foods. It is relatively easy to import a container-load of foodstuff from Miami that it is to send root crops from Dominica to Barbados; it is more convenient to serve cornflakes for breakfast than it is to prepare porridge, using the region's indigenous food crops, such as arrowroot. But we have a further problem: over 80% of the region's population is absolutely unfamiliar with arrowroot, its nutritional qualities, its various forms of preparation and its uses. This goes for too many of the foods produced in the region. The preference to 'letting others feed us' and in that vein, using our agricultural lands in more 'productive' ways, such as housing, sports and entertainment facilities, hotels etc, is a recipe for disaster. According to Chelston Brathwaite, Director General of IICA, "...the region does not risk its health services, education and security to others. Hence, why should it continue to risk its food security – the basis of the existence of its peoples - to others?"

What are some national-level issues to consider to making local food products more readily available and convenient?
production stabilization in terms of balancing out the annual seasonality effects of gluts and shortages; research and development and collaboration among producers are key distribution networks- availability of local foods is a major problem. Farm produce must get to the consumer in the most convenient and efficient ways possible; attention to packaging- in terms of appearance, safety features and serving size options; product development, promotion, marketing and public education are key;

What are some coping strategies that can be used by households to deal with rising food prices? Check your diet? Are you eating what you need, or what you like? Eating wisely can also save on your overall budget. Grow as much of what you eat: Backyard gardens, especially most vegetable and fresh seasoning, can considerably reduce your food budget. Urban methods, such as, tyre gardens are also practical; Buy in bulk: neighbours, offices, etc., can buy in bulk directly from farms, farmers' market or wholesale outlets. If stored properly, this will significantly reduce your food budget; Home based processing even if it's just freezing, drying (dehydrating), salting (putting in brine), ingredients, cooked meals, vegetables, etc, reduces cost.

Should we not develop an Agricultural Knowledge and Information System (AKIS) to monitor food production, distribution and prices?
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Building a Viable AKIS: Information for Life
What does rising food prices have to do with promoting an information project?
Food prices don't rise overnight! The pending rise can be 'predicted' based international and local factors such as weather patterns, developments in other key industries, including the petroleum, grain and other bulk commodity futures markets, and the pace of growth in emerging economies. Locally, examining factors, such as, the demand for labour by other sectors and the price of inputs, will allow one to predict the trend for food prices. In fact this food situation has been 'predicted' by international experts based on their own examination of the trends. Such trends can only be examined when information systems exist. Developing information systems in the Caribbean, that gives decision makers, especially government, private investors and producers, is a must for the development of agriculture and for providing a stable and manageable food source. The solutions will also not come overnight! But good information will provide countries with the most cost-effective and quickest way to resolve the situation.
'Affordable', rather than 'cheap' food should be the goal and part of an overall strategic objective of sustainable human development and preservation of the earth's resources. This can only be achieved from an agriculture and rural life that integrates competitiveness, environmental sustainability, equity and governance issues. The AgRu-Matrix platform is a tool that can assist in analyzing the agri-food system both at the regional and national levels to ensure that challenges to food security and poverty reduction are comprehensively addressed. Rural Competitiveness • How competitive are rural enterprises? • What are the risks to rural enterprises? Environmentally Friendly • Do rural enterprises pollute the environment? • Do GAP recommendations exist for rural enterprises? Improved quality of life • Do rural communities have equal access to: health, education, transport, and electronic communication? Strong Pub./Priv. Relations • Is the public sector fulfilling its role in stimulating private sector investment in the agrifood sector? Stakeholders Integrated • Is research and extension integrated with rural areas? • Are development agencies present in rural areas? Integrated Management • Do farmers have knowledge of integrated pest mgt.? • Is indigenous knowledge promoted? Better innovative capacity • Are technologies adapted for targeted areas? • Is the capacity for research and development enhanced? Commitment via Dialogue • Are there effective channels for public - private sector communication? • Are rural concerns heeded? Pro-investment environment • What factors inhibit investments in rural areas? • Do rural enterprises benefit equally from incentives? Sound eco-framework • Are laws and regulations for pollution enforced? • Are watershed policies effective? People friendly policy • Do rural people have equal access to land? • Are policies discriminatory to minority groups? Appropriate Agri-policy • Is the agricultural policy effective in enhancing food security and reducing poverty?

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Information
and the Agricultural

“Not much can be done about high prices"
Minister Mariano Browne, ...

Development
Agenda - The Bigger Picture!
Development is a long-term process that requires partnerships at all levels and among all social partners. More important than ever before, is the need for information that leads these partners to practical actions. Investment is the vehicle for effective actions in solving the food crisis. Information is the lighthouse for landing viable investments that lead to and sustain growth and development. Food is a basic physiological human need. Rising food prices consume a greater percentage of the household income especially among the most vulnerable in society, resulting in less or no resources to cater to other basic needs such as shelter, education and health. Investing in agriculture at all levels will reduce our food prices by ensuring more food is produced efficiently correcting the supply imbalance that is currently driving prices upwards: These include: • In primary agriculture: investors are opting to invest in the less risky aspects of the food chain – at the processing, marketing and distribution end consequently disinvestments are taking place at the primary level. There are several such success stories to be found in the Caribbean. Developing an AKIS that documents and promotes these success stories will stimulate more such efforts and effectively stimulate more investment in agriculture.

There are some truths that suggest that the above newspaper bye line will continue to be our reality in the Caribbean for the foreseeable future. These include our limited land and in particular agricultural land, the demand for land by the industrial and other sectors and our consumption patterns, it is unlikely that we will be completely self-sufficient in food production as individual countries in the region. Importation will always be part of the strategy of supplying food to the nations within Caricom. However, as a region we collectively have the land and other resources to meet our food needs as carbohydrates, proteins and other nutrients. Unfortunately, as noted by Mohandas Gandhi, we don’t have enough to meet everyone’s greed. As such there is much that could be done to encourage more food production. Firstly, at the national level we must develop sustainable land and water policy which must be enforced. Many countries in the region are now suffering from a failure to enforce strict land use planning resulting in the loss of our best agricultural lands to non agricultural uses. The short term gains will not compensate for the long term losses to the society in general. While at the regional level, which under the new SME regime, the regional now becomes local we must collectively develop the large land masses in Guyana, Suriname and Belize to satisfy the food needs of the Caribbean region. The legal and business impediments that is currently styming the development of an efficient intra-regional transportation, both air and sea, for efficiently moving food within the region must be removed. If it requires direct government support for it to flourish this must happen since this is a classic example of the decision to invest in the agrifood sector often has little to the issues within the sector but rather with factors outside of the sector. This fact has been noted for many decades without a proper plan being devised to resolutely deal with this issue. Research and development on the indigenous crops is at least 30 years behind crops produced in developed countries. This can be adequately demonstrated by use with the maize crop. In develop countries their agronomists have worked out the precise time and amount of fertilizers to apply and at what depth. Similarly they have worked out the precise amounts of water to add an at the various critical growth stages. Also the control measures that effectively manage the various pest and diseases that affect the maize crop have been clearly worked out. Similarly, our agronomists must work out the precise practices for producing the crops that must feed us. In addition to the science of production the business and other networking aspects must be worked out as well. Pg.4

……. an information learning process for a difference!
Information binds all of us in the agricultural development process. We all play a role in providing key pieces to fill the agriculture information puzzle. Building that puzzle takes partnerships! MEAgrISys is> . . . a project on “Building a Monitoring and Evaluation Agricultural Information System” managed by IICA and the CTA to strengthen the quality of information generated by and used for decision making in agriculture. MEAgrISys development philosophy is that> . . . agriculture has evolved “beyond the farm, food and rural areas”; . . . development must be built on principles of ‘full participation, integration and sustainability”; . . . information must evolve beyond statistical economic indicators”. MEAgrISys originated from> . . . a hemispheric wide process in 2001 that recognized agriculture as of strategic importance to sustainable development and took a political decision to include it on the agenda of the Summit of the Americas. In 2003 Caribbean Heads of State and Government and Ministers of Agriculture endorsed actions towards improving agriculture and rural life, including the development of an information system to facilitate the process and follow-up on progress. MEAgrISys is built on three pillars> . . . Expectations of leading social partners that express the opinions of their peers on progress and prospects for developing agriculture; . . . Experiences (actions, results and challenges) of social partners, including Ministries of Agriculture, as they implement development projects and activities for agriculture; . . . Performance Indicators that measure, in quantitative terms, the results, progress and impact of these projects and activities against the stated objective. Integrating these three types of information into an information system can provide, for example: a more balanced explanation on the situation in agriculture; more actor-specific issues, challenges and development requirements leading to more practical and focused interventions and actions.

The Bottom-Line…Absolutely!
“No more Cheap food” as pointed out by the Trinidad and Tobago Minister in the Ministry of Finance for all the reasons highlighted above. Dissemination of Information is central to getting the general public and the agriculture sector to understand this and to respond to this reality in a positive way. All must now understand that the option of concentrating on other productive sector to earn money to buy essentials such as food is not an option in a scenario of world wide food scarcities. Food security based on domestic production must now be put firmly on the national development agendas of the counties of the region. Food and nutrition security is fundamental therefore griculture can and must co-exist with tourism, manufacturing or mining based economies. Hence investing in information systems that allows us to change the dialogure and debate from high food prices to fair food prices that will help to sustain our local producers is a must for agriculture. An information system has a role to also highlight information that changes values. In this regard our value that demand cheap food while glorfying expensive clothes, cars, jewelry etc. while paying little value to what we eat, which determines our health and well being must be addressed.

Information is a right! Its use is not an option! We must work together to build good information systems. MEAgrISys will help build the puzzle. What can You do to fill the missing pieces? What’s in it for YOU!

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