Food crisis hits Venezuela, can Trinidad be next?

Food crisis hits Venezuela, can Trinidad be next?
Photo : Ramdath Jagessar

Trinidadians who have been shocked at the spectacle of starving Venezuelans dashing into the country to buy food should start to ask themselves a dread question “can it happen here?”

Starving and Venezuela are two things we never thought to see together. But Venezuela is oil rich and so is Trinidad. Google food crisis in oil rich Nigeria and the web page starts with the sentence “Hunger is ravaging the land.” It seems around 80% of the Nigerians are living in poverty, and “awash in oil dollars, Nigeria has been taking the easy way out with food imports.”  Agriculture is in a bad way and Nigeria imports $22 billion US annually despite a “comatose economy” and this is “neither sustainable nor wise.”

Sounds familiar, anyone? We have plenty oil money, we will buy the food and to hell with those miserable farmers!

Check the Trinidad list and find that oil production is down, oil income is down severely, foreign exchange is in short supply, our only oil refinery is down and TT is importing gasoline, agriculture is comatose ie dead out and the food import bill is $8.91 US billion.

So what happens if Trinidad runs short of foreign exchange to import food? That could happen by the end of this year.  We run to the World Bank or IMF for a bailout, right? What do we say when they ask politely how TT intends to pay back the loan?

I hear Marabella is a ghost town, and San Fernando half way there. My friend from the old Rice Growers Association tells me there is one farmer still growing rice! One. Food prices keep rising, and yes TT has 20% of people living under the poverty line, 250,000 mostly from the rural areas according to the CIA World Factbook. TT’s credit rating has been cut and nobody is ruling out a devaluation of the Trinidad dollar.

The ordinary Trini on the street throws up his hands and asks what can he do about this bad picture, this Venezuela-Nigeria syndrome, and the answer is clear. He can do nothing about oil production, agriculture decline, food import bill and foreign exchange shortage. It’s out of his hands.

Is that it? Surrender. take a stiff shot of rum  and wine down the place for a chutney or carnival fete? No sah, the ordinary man and woman must take a shot of the “old time religion” when it comes to food.

The ordinary man and woman with an eye to the future must make a serious effort to produce in his own backyard or apartment as much food as he can. Those living in the country areas where they have backyards have an advantage here, but even those in apartments can produce some food in window boxes and pots. There must also be a huge program to plant fruit trees, hundreds of thousands of them.

Those living out in the country will remember  the time when everybody had a garden with fruits and vegetables, and the only items bought in the grocery were those unobtainable in Trinidad such as flour, salt, potatoes, smoked herring, salt fish, baking powder and so on. They will have to go back to those times.

I remember well how my mother would go in her garden on a morning to get some ochro or bodi or tomato or baigan to cook for breakfast. If she had extra she would give it to the neighbour when he returned from his garden nearby. Neighbour would do the same with us when he had extra vegetables. It was a friendly barter system that required no money. We also had a cow that would give a large bucket of milk every day, more than we could handle, chickens that gave eggs, and goats that could be killed for meat on special occasions. Everybody else in my little village had some version of that subsistence food production and sharing program.

I have seen homes in Toronto with several window boxes and pots in the living room blooming with things to eat along with flowers for their puja. In the tiny backyard they have a few rows of beans or tomatoes and they tell me these rows often yield tremendous amounts of good food. And in the summer when some foods are oversupplied and prices are low, they buy large quantities, preserve them in mason jars and keep them for the colder months when outdoor farming is not possible. This takes place in a country where cheap food has always been the order and where there is no prospect of food shortages or foreign exchange to buy food from abroad.

Food is one of the few items most people need to get three times a day. Any prospect of shortages is a warning bell for the entire country.  I declare that Trinidad and Tobago has gotten that warning bell, that the government and the large agencies cannot fix the problem. The ordinary man and woman in the street must take food security in his/her own hands and do something, anything, to protect from a Venezuela/Nigeria future.