The Russia/Ukraine conflict and Caribbean food security

With several Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries now having openly admitted that the fallout from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine will impact – to an extent that is still unclear – on the food security of the region, the question arises once again as to whether the region, as a whole, does not continue to ‘play monopoly’ with its food security to an extent that seriously threatens to retard its development, pushing us even further behind much of the rest of the international community than we are at this time.

Both Russia and Ukraine are among the major players in the production and export of wheat and over the last week or so we have seen statements from several countries in the region seeking to provide assurances that, for the time being, at least, imported wheat supplies upon which Caribbean countries depend heavily as part of their culinary culture, are assured; and yet the point must be made that the longer-term security of the Caribbean extends far beyond the availability or otherwise of one commodity or another, moving into the realm of how far we can go in continually ramping up our own overall food security status so that we can incrementally reduce our existing high dependence on food imports.

Setting aside the ongoing Russia/Ukraine conflict, to which no time lines for an end can be attached at this stage, the changing nature of global society not least, considerations like climate change, pose an ongoing threat to global food security. These are more than sufficient indicators that ought to serve to trigger far more urgent responses to Caribbean food security than are apparent at this time. What the Community appears not to understand is that the transformation in the region’s food security status in the absence of which the long-term viability of most CARICOM states could become seriously  questionable, will not be realized through the declarations and attendant elaborate undertakings  that customarily emerge from meetings of CARICOM Heads and other high officials, in circumstances where a lack of diligent follow-up action make a mockery of the platitudes that are mouthed when officials sit together.  Indeed, it appears, sometimes, that the theatrics of CARICOM Heads, including the anointing of a ‘lead’ Head of Government on regional food security are no more than   manifestations of that decorative fringe that has always attached itself to political behaviour in the region.

The various challenges that now attend global food security and by extension Caribbean food security and which may now be further accentuated by the outcomes (some of which are yet unclear) of the Russia/Ukraine conflict, has now become an illuminating backdrop against which to set the abysmal failure of the region to either seriously ramp up both its agricultural and agro-processing sectors or to make any seemingly serious effort to reduce a food import bill that stands as testimony to the inactivity of the ‘fiddling’ by the Community even as the proverbial Rome burns.

Neither regional governments nor the CARICOM machinery itself have been able, over the years, to provide concrete responses to questions regarding particular timelines for moving forward meaningfully on the issue of regional food security. Those responses are almost always swathed in pronouncements that are attended by little that is either clear or concrete. Indeed, the available evidence would appear to suggest that individual member countries of the Community have not gotten the point about the overbearing leaden-footedness of CARICOM on the food security issue. This raises serious questions as to whether, in matters to do with the implementation of critical issues on the regional agenda, there is not, at this stage, an urgent need for taking a serious look at the existing machinery.

The ongoing conflict and what we know to be its particular implications for the rest of the international community, in various areas including the issue of food security ought to be sufficient reason for the region to end the talk and the theatre on food security. There is more than ample evidence that the resources that are now, collectively, at the disposal of the Caribbean, positions it to begin to take serious collective steps towards becoming a food-secure region. Much of what has impeded the realization of that goal is the overbearing posturing and prevarication of the governments of the region. That has to end.

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