MSJ leader David Abdulah

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With the projected 22 per cent increase in food prices coming and food protests already occurring, there are now calls for the Government to immediately develop a Caricom food plan.

Speaking at a media conference yesterday political leader of the Movement for Social Justice, David Abdulah, called on Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley to act now to prevent a food crisis.

He said Dr Rowley should call a meeting and develop a Caricom food plan which would encourage regional root crop production.

On a short-term basis, Abdulah said the Government could support the manufacturing of other types of flour such as breadfruit, cassava, sweet potato and yam.

He said there should be an increase of taxes on flour imports and subsidisation of the cost of local flour, which would encourage a shift in dependency on imported flour.

“We have to identify key areas of vulnerability concerning the importation of grains and wheat. We can by using root crops which are fairly short crops and increase our production in the region. We can encourage the development of flour utilising root crops so bakeries can use that,” Abdulah said.

He added that fast food outlets can reduce imported potatoes for fries and begin using breadfruit and sweet potato fries.

“The manufacturing processes are well established for those methods. We have to go on a massive buy local campaign to encourage our consumers to buy local. We need to raise the taxes on imported potatoes and fries to shift consumption with local produce.

“We can support local farmers with a price support mechanism by giving them a guaranteed price for their produce, which will enable them to have decent life so they can plant more,” Abdulah proposed.

Meanwhile, agriculture economist Omardath Maharaj said he has been encouraging local food production since the start of the pandemic. He said with the Russian/Ukraine war, a food contingency plan was needed now if T&T and other Caribbean nations are to survive.

“We need to have a serious rethink of development policy and planning in agriculture. We need to reduce our reliance on foreign food products and bolster our own capacity,” Maharaj said.

He added, “I would like to encourage the Prime Minister to utilise his experts to urgently move into contingency planning for our country, especially in the face of this and any other possible disasters to ensure food and nutrition security for our people.

“The luxury of planning is slipping. Planning and advancing food and nutrition security is a clear challenge for T&T.”

Earlier this year, Agriculture Minister Clarence Rambharat said global food prices were influenced by the pandemic, difficulties in the rising cost of shipping and climate factors that affected demand and supply. These issues he said were beyond the control of the government.

Last week, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation predicted a 20 per cent hike in the price of food and feed.

The FOA said Russia was the world’s largest exporter of wheat and Ukraine was the fifth largest. Together, they provide 19 per cent of the world’s barley supply, 14 per cent of wheat and four per cent of maize, making up more than one-third of global cereal exports.

Questions were sent to Minister Rambharat yesterday but no responses were forthcoming.