A grocery cart full of goods in a supermarket

As the effects of COVID-19 continues to adversely impact international food prices and drive up the price of goods locally—the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) is urging nationals to expand local production efforts to reduce their grocery bills.

In a release yesterday, the MTI acknowledged that “The increase in food prices comes at a time when many households are experiencing economic difficulties as a result of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

However, they said while these increases are driven entirely by international factors, “It is an opportunity to expand our thrust towards increasing local food production which can be assisted by increased demand by consumers for locally produced goods.”

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Food Price Index (FPI), food prices are 40 per cent higher in 2021, than they were for the same period in 2020.

The MTI reported during the period July to December 2020, food price inflation averaged 2.5 per cent globally, which was driven primarily by an increase in the price of vegetables and vegetable oils, recording an average of 7.36 per cent over the six-month period.

This was followed by cereals which registered a price increase of 3.2 per cent during the same period.

Over the period January to June 2021, global food price inflation nudged up slightly averaging 2.68 per cent compared to an average of -1.3 per cent over the corresponding period January to June 2020.

This was also driven mainly by vegetable and vegetable oil prices increasing by 4.4 per cent, followed by sugar which increased by 3.4 per cent during the same period.

Notably, the increase in food prices during the second half of 2020 onwards into 2021, was due to the rebound in global demand, as countries reopened their economies and lifted their COVID-19 restrictions.

Secondly, the increase in prices was attributed to drought and extreme weather conditions in many producing countries, such as Brazil, the United States, Canada and several countries in Europe such as Germany.

According to the monthly food inflation data from the Central Bank of T&T (CBTT), food price inflation fluctuated over the period October 2020 to April 2021.

The MTI said it recently undertook an assessment of the movement (upward/downward/constant) of food prices from January to July 2021 and admitted, “The price of several items have increased to varying degrees over this period most notably soya bean oil, peas and beans, garlic, oats and other items.”

Outlining the Government’s response to rising food prices, the MTI assured, “Government has been proactively monitoring and addressing rising food prices, as far as possible, through targeted interventions including addressing the supply-side constraints of manufacturers and importers and effective price monitoring mechanisms for selected goods and services.”

Assuring that Government is committed to boosting agriculture output locally, the MTI said, “Government is currently implementing a $500 million Agriculture Stimulus Package. Funding from the Programme will support the rapid expansion in production and marketing of selected high-demand commodities with short production cycles such as vegetables, legumes, roots and tubers, grains, fruits and small livestock. It will also focus on developing adequate quality seeds and alternative feedstock. Land issues (such as land tenure and access to idle state lands) are also being addressed. The Programme will facilitate increased output from the Agriculture sector thereby lowering the food import bill, reducing prices and boosting output of locally produced agriculture in the short to medium term.”