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THE ISSUE (ON THE LEFT): Foreign exchange key


Mark Wenner

THE ISSUE (ON THE LEFT): Foreign exchange key

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Are Barbados and the region still challengedby food security issues?

Food security can be defined as existing when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food to meet dietary needs for a productive and healthy life.

According to United Nations statistics, the world population is predicted to grow from 6.9 billion in 2010 to 8.3 billion in 2030, and food demand is predicted to increased by 50 per cent in 2030.

Since 2002, the world of agriculture, food, and nutrition has entered a new phase, characterised by increasing volatility in food availability and upward trends in real food prices. Furthermore, the emerging fresh water scarcity in major agricultural producing areas could make price volatility even more pronounced.

Given these new developments, the majority of Caribbean states, which are net food importers, will have to rely on expanding export earning capacity, maintaining market access, and avoiding debt distress to be able to afford their food import bills and maintain food security. The Caribbean today enjoys food security for the most part. Haiti is the only state that records average dietary energy supplies less than 100 per cent (89 per cent). All the other Caribbean states with statistics available record percentages greater than 107 per cent and the average for the subregion is 113 per cent.

Net food importers

The vast majority of Caribbean states are net food importers. This means that the majority of the states have to earn sufficient foreign exchange from the export of other goods and services to be able to afford their food import bill. Between 2000 and 2011, the food import bill for CARICOM states jumped from $2.08 billion to $4.25 billion. Between 2012 and 2014, food prices have moderated but are not expected to return to the levels seen between 1960 and 2002, the era of “cheap food”.

If we were to fast forward to 2030, what might we say about how agricultural production systems, risk management capabilities, intra-regional agricultural trade flows, and economic dynamism will interact and impact the ability of the Caribbean states to maintain food security and rebuild agricultural sectors that have been declining except for the net food importers? How can the lethargic political and economic systems of today be energised and changed to effectively face the looming challenges that will be very pronounced 15 years hence?

In 2030, a variety of different factors – new emerging technologies, climate change, demographic changes, and a shift in the energy matrix – will have unfolded and are likely to impact the lives of all in a very disruptive manner. Whether the net impacts are positive or negative for the Caribbean states will depend squarely on the response of policy makers today, on the quality of governance, on the depth of institutional reforms achieved over the next decade and a half in the region, and on the amount of investments made to foster innovation and build resilience.

Changes will be fast-paced, largely driven externally, and the effects are likely to be larger than the sum of the parts. Looking into the future, and analysing the likely interactions that can inform the present, instead of reactively chasing the ball in football, Caribbean leaders and business persons need to envision where the football will be and make plans accordingly.

Mark Wenner is a Caribbean economist.

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