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ON THE OTHER HAND: Libya, oil, food prices

Peter Laurie

ON THE OTHER HAND: Libya, oil, food prices

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I’m puzzled by two Caribbean reactions to the exploding struggle for freedom and democracy in North Africa and the Middle East.
One warns that it could happen here.
Say what?
First of all, this is not some nasty virus that must be contained. This is a cry for freedom from oppressed peoples living under dictatorships.
Second, Barbados has a well entrenched, functioning democracy. In 1991, 10 000 people peacefully demonstrated against a grossly incompetent Government (Prime Minister, really). Three years later Parliament legally and peacefully dumped that Government (Prime Minister, really). That’s democracy.
The other reaction is that of CARICOM leaders. They are violently cautious and firmly spineless in their pronouncements on Gaddafi, one of the most brutal and corrupt dictators in the world.
But then I remembered that Gaddafi has for decades doled out large sums of money to “leftist” groups and individuals in the Caribbean. Any Caribbean leftist worth his pseudo-Marxist salt has made the pockets-lining pilgrimage to Tripoli. Gaddafi still dishes it out to cooperative, appropriately mendicant, scruple-free Caribbean governments.
Maybe Gaddafi, if he can’t find a safe haven in Zimbabwe, Iran or Venezuela, might be persuaded to come and live in St Vincent and the Grenadines – bringing, of course, a stash of money.
Hey, that’s a thought. Convert Mustique into an offshore refuge for nasty but wealthy ex-dictators!
The chattering classes of Europe and America – long complicit in the oppression of the Arab people – are already making alarmist noises about the threat to Israel’s existence from Arab democracy, takeovers by suicide-bombing Islamists, how Iran will be the only country to benefit from change, and the rising price of oil.
Frankly, the best thing that could happen is for the price of oil to rise steadily to around $300 a barrel over the next five years. Admittedly this would create sharp shocks, but it would put the world economy in transition to a more sustainable basis of renewable sources of clean energy and help to assure our planet’s ecological well-being.
In Barbados we go round and round in circles arguing about high food prices and the future of agriculture. The fact is that the high cost of labour, energy, water and other inputs in Barbados (not to mention predial larceny) lead to agricultural products that are either high-priced or subsidized by the taxpayer. This is unsustainable.
The long-term solution is staring us in the face.
Let a group of Barbadian entrepreneurs buy or lease land in Guyana (where inputs are relatively cheap) and grow food (both vegetable and animal) expressly for domestic markets, supermarkets, the hotel and restaurant sector and food processors in Barbados. Result: lower food prices and more healthy food.
What are the objections of the naysayers?
First, they scream food security. That’s an anachronistic political concept that’s nonsense, especially in the context of the CARICOM Single Market and Economy. Does Bridgetown have food security?
Second. What will our farmers do?
Well, let those who want, share in the new enterprise. Let those who want, produce for higher priced niche markets: Blackbelly lamb, sugar cane products other than sugar, sea-island cotton, goat milk, organic vegetables, or whatever.
Third. What about transport? It’s an opportunity for Caribbean entrepreneurs to invest in passenger and freight sea transport in the Caribbean.
The last hope for CARICOM is pan-Caribbean entrepreneurial projects, if the regional bureaucracy will not stifle them.
Fourth. What to do with current agricultural land in Barbados?
This is the crux of the issue.
A comprehensive land use policy is fundamental and urgent.
It affects not only agriculture, but every aspect of our life and our ability to earn a living whether from tourism or the international business sector (landscape and seascape matter).
So we have to come up with a land use plan that allows for tasteful and community-inspired residential and commercial development while keeping Barbados beautiful and green.