Foods for your table

By Raffique Shah
June 07, 2021

Raffique ShahWarnings of food crises post-Covid-19 are dire. According to one study on global food security by the Centre for Strategic International Studies (CSIS), dated March 15, 2021, one year into the pandemic, ‘…at least four countries are facing…famine, …with 13 close behind…’ The study noted that one year ago, the UN World Food Programme executive director David Beasely, warned the UN Security Council of ‘famines of biblical proportions’ and of possibly 270 million ‘people experiencing crisis levels of hunger’.

Ironically, though, the study says, ‘…a global food shortage or price spikes have not accompanied Covid-19…’ In fact, the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) estimated that in 2020, ‘a new global record for grain production was hit-some 2.7 billion tons of rice, wheat, corn and barley…’ So, why the threats of famine, starvation, extreme hunger in the midst of what appear to be adequate supplies? The CSIS points to breakdowns in the food supply chains in individual countries that were aggravated by interruptions caused by pandemic ‘lockdowns’.

Interestingly, this study notes that ‘…so far, it hasn’t been the direct impact of the virus on global food production that has brought the developing world to its knee and caused global hunger to spike…instead, Covid-19 has disabled the already sputtering economic engines of many low- and middle-income countries, eroding the incomes of many poor families already living hand-to-mouth…’

Ouch! That hurt. But wait. In the first wave ‘lockdown’ in 2020, didn’t we see millions of Americans facing starvation? According to a report in the UK Guardian, dated December 2020, ‘…tens of millions of Americans have long faced hunger, but the pandemic has worsened lack of access to sufficient food…’ This report estimated that 35 million Americans faced hunger every day before the pandemic. When the crisis struck, the number increased to 50 million, among them 17 million children.

I recall television images of miles of vehicles queued up in communities across the US, motorists spending the night to secure a box of basic foods from some charitable organisation. This pitiful scene was replicated tens, hundreds of times, as Americans of every race who lived on minimum wages or less, swallowed their pride in order to feed their children and themselves.

This was happening in the richest country the world has ever known. It was happening, too, inI ndia, Indonesia, the Philippines, most of the Americas, parts of Africa, in a region that was and remains etched in our psyches as the most advanced civilisations in the world, Europe. And it was happening here, in Trinidad and Tobago.

Yes, we, too, experienced, and continue to experience, existence on barely above starvation-level incomes.

Something must be radically wrong with an economic system, or systems, since there are varying models across the world, that pauperise people who have spent their lives, sometimes generations, working hard in order to improve their living conditions, to make a better world for their children and their children’s children, only to see their dreams evaporate into nightmares in a virtual flash.

Far too many decent souls suffer interminable purgatory before they exit into the hereafter. Mine cannot be the serenity to accept that which I cannot change, but rather the courage to change that which I cannot accept. Fool that I am, I shall die trying to make a difference. While food is critical to our existence, man does not live by bread alone, but by every thought that emanates from deep inside him, which identifies the structural problems that mankind faces, and every effort he makes to discuss and debate such ideas. Who knows? One or more of them might offer solutions to our most intractable problems, shine a light to show the way forward.

Bear in mind that the systems under which we have lived for all our respective lifetimes have been handed down to us not from our ancestors based on their experiences. Our governance and economic models have been sculpted by our colonial masters, having originated in ancient city-states, fiefdoms and monarchies. They have been tweaked, re-touched and re-polished by the fathers of our nation, but they have turned out to be far from perfect.

Don’t tell me that generations later, having seen our economy make the predictable cycle—boom, flourish for a few years, then bust—that we are too dumb to formulate new pillars, to design and develop economies that take us higher and higher every so-many years.

Since I started this column with the post-Covid food conundrum and possible shortages, maybe even hunger, I ask readers to focus on two or three carbohydrate crops that we can produce quite easily, which can ease our heavy dependence on wheat products, imported rice and huge amounts of maize for livestock feed.

Think cassava, sweet potatoes, hill rice, ground provisions…Think differently.