By Raffique Shah
January 24, 2022
It didn’t take Nobel Prize-winning economists such as St Lucia’s Sir Arthur Lewis, or the USA’s Milton Friedman or Paul Krugman, to project that as the world economy emerged from an unprecedented virtual lockdown that lasted three, four, who knows how many years during the Covid pandemic, commodity prices, especially those of goods and services that are critical to the recovery of countries across the world, would rise rapidly, putting them beyond the reach of the poorest nations and the poor in every nation.
The pandemic pushes large numbers of working people into the ranks of the unemployed, as businesses collapse in jungle-like, survival-of-the-fittest environments. Others thrive on human misery. Devoid of hearts and consciences, they revel in price gouging which they blame on external factors such as shipping costs that have risen by up to 400 per cent over the past few months. Yet others exploit the gullible by peddling get-rich-quick schemes that target middle-income families desperate to keep up appearances in the face of diminishing bank balances and declining income streams, only to learn the hard way falling into the get-rich-quick traps that soon become their worst nightmares.
Greed enters the equation and people first lose their human dignity, then their houses, their vehicles, their savings, to the seemingly inescapable clutches of crooks. Lives and lifestyles that seemed attainable yesterday by all who persevered, evaporated. Too late, too many realise that there is room at the top of this dog-eat-dog world for only the few, that the many are cast aside, dreams wrecked, families disintegrated as they enter Dante’s purgatory, the signage proclaiming: Abandon hope, all who enter here.
I have painted a grim portrait of Trinidad and Tobago in the aftermath of the Covid pandemic with all its variants, because I have watched with an analytical eye the havoc the virus can cause, and has caused, dividing friends, tearing apart societies, wrecking nations, dividing families into camps, watching sensible people lose the trust they once had in one another and replace it with blind faith in stupidity, and suspicion, doubt and distrust in those they once cherished.
Does anyone know where we are heading in this new world disorder in which lawlessness and buffoonery seem to trump order and wisdom? “Prophets” are mushrooming like the Omicron variant of Covid across the world, reciting scriptures in strange tongues that make no sense to anyone, not even they themselves. But importantly, their seemingly entranced disciples claim to see the pathway to heaven in every word that comes from their leaders’ mouths.
Let me, however, say this: there is a time for ta-ta-talk and there is a time for serious business. I sense the new human variants devote all of their time to the former and none to the latter. When, as happened with the Miss World/T&T contestant in Puerto Rico recently, they are called upon to put concrete ideas on the table, they either lie outright, or fantasise in a make-believe world that has no bearing to the stark realities facing the country.
Take our challenges to put food on the table every day, what with rocketing prices and less money in consumers’ pockets. Kitchen gardens have a place at the table, but it’s too little to make any dent in trying to feed 1.4 million people. As someone who has been familiar with food production, let me state what our unenviable reality is.
Anyone who tells us that T&T can feed itself does not know his arm from his elbow. Our standard meals consist of scores of wheat products (flour, macaroni, etc); rice, which we have repeatedly but unsuccessfully tried to produce commercially; sugar (grossly uncompetitive), white potatoes (aloo); a range of meats, none of which we are successful at producing locally (all imported, including the poultry that we “assemble” here); huge volumes of legumes (beans, peas), and so on. All of the above, and many more I do not have the space to list, are imported, or in the case of animals, their feed and medications are imported.
If we are serious about eating what we produce, then we must eat large volumes of cassava, dasheen and similar “provisions”, sweet potatoes, plantain, bodi, seim, caraille, ochro… you get my drift. In the school feeding programme, attempts were made to introduce local content. Invariably school children threw away the local foods, preferring instead, “fries”. Most of those who are marching against vaccination eat fully vaccinated animals, especially poultry which they cannot do without. Pizza, fried chicken—dangerously overloaded with unhealthy components (antibiotics, trans fat, etc)—are almost a staple in our daily local diet. Yet we wonder why more than half the adult population and, increasingly, children are stricken with diabetes, hypertension, cancer and other morbidities.
Talk to me people about using our patriotism to rebuild our society. Any takers?