After eight consecutive months of increasing global food prices, the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) Food Index predicted that food prices will continue to rise, even though the index dropped in the month of March 2011.
President of the Supermarket Association of Trinidad and Tobago, Vernon Persad is therefore urging consumers to change their buying patterns and spend wisely. “At the end of the day the power is at the hand of the customer, as they have choices,” said Persad. “We have to look at how we eat and what we are eating.”
According to Persad, fruits and vegetables are a large contributor to food inflation because of weather problems, increasing cost of fertilisers and other aspects of production. He suggested planting a small vegetable garden instead of flowers which may save at least $100 at the end of the month. Persad noted that India and Pakistan recently closed off their exports on rice, and other countries that have traditionally been suppliers of TT have also cut off their supplies. “One of my greatest worries in food is food security,” said Persad. “Not if we would have enough money for food, but whether items would be available at all. That is why we have to start looking at producing our own food... I think it is important that we go back into rice production,” he added.
The Ministry of Food Production, Land and Marine Affairs has been implementing measures to deal with the crisis. However, most of the benefits will come in the long term. Persad believes that, in the interim, home vegetable gardens would hedge the international prices.
“I know it sounds strange, the Supermarket Association telling customers to plant instead of buy, but when customers don’t have money to spend, it will affect us also,” said Persad. “By educating our customers on how they buy, it will ensure everyone’s survival.” Persad also pointed out that 81 per cent of the country’s food products are imported. Therefore, what happens on the international markets — floods in Australia, earthquakes in Japan, unrest in the Middles East — affect us. He suggested customers take a proactive approach, and buy products, products such as rice and oil, and the supermarkets are catering to such.