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Poor food on our tables

EditorialPoor food on our tables

Everyone knows that what we eat is important to the health of our bodies. If we eat sufficient healthy food and, of course, get regular exercise, we are doing the right thing; and if we don’t eat right and exercise, we are inviting illness. All the right foods and exercise won’t stop sickness if we live long enough. It is natural that the human body breaks down after a period, and no amount of care can stop that. What we have much control over is our allotted productive years. During this period, good food and exercise go a long way toward keeping us healthy.

More and better food on the table would translate to healthier, more productive Belizeans. We would be happier. There would be less crime. The economy would grow. There would be benefits for all.

Our environment is favorable for us being outdoors, so if we want to pinpoint who bears the blame when we aren’t sweating enough, we need only go and look in a mirror. But we won’t find the entire culprit in the mirror when we aren’t putting sufficient wholesome food in our bodies.

Our economic systems being artificial, they sometimes don’t work that well. Fortunately, there are things we can do to remedy our situation when our economic system isn’t serving us. We can’t complain about the staples. We’ve always had a plentiful supply of affordable corn, rice, and beans. But a table deficient in vegetables, fruits, fish or meat is unhealthy, and it is in these areas that our governments have fallen flat. Old poverty model, new poverty model, we weren’t eating sufficient vegetables, fruits, fish and meat before the pandemic, and with the world in upheaval because of nations at war, and climate change, that part of our diets has worsened.

On the matter of imported foods, whose prices have increased considerably in our present unstable world, our governments can’t do much besides fighting price gouging. Most of these imported foods aren’t wholesome anyway, and opportunity is banging on the door for us to replace them. While our governments’ hands are tied re: the price of imported foods, it’s an open field for locally produced foods, which are all wholesome if they are properly handled. Our governments have not been doing a great job. At times our governments have boasted about our agricultural production. But pretty graphs, like the ones presented by ASR/BSI to our cañeros, don’t tell the entire story. The bottom line is in the money in the pockets of the farmers when their 65% share is distributed, and the bottom line as it relates to food is in the amount of proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins and minerals in non-carcinogenic foods on our tables.

One of the legends about the Father of the Nation, George Price – Happy Birthday, Father of the Nation! – was that on his frequent travels throughout the country he would check the kitchens, to see what was cooking. He must have liked eating; he definitely wouldn’t have passed up any of our special local dishes, but he couldn’t taste from all the pots. The primary interest of the Father of the Nation was to see how his people were eating, because healthy food in the nation’s pots is a priority, next to the protection of life and limb.

Belizeans used to eat better then. We are forever “hung up” on pigtail and white flour, but in bygone days that little “food vice” was complemented with plentiful fresh, wholesome, cheap produce from our land and sea.

GOB’s responsibility

Economic systems being designed by humans, we have to look to our leaders who run the machinery that delivers the goods, for explanations when we are not getting the food we need. GOB has a responsibility to intervene when things aren’t going smoothly, when there isn’t plentiful, wholesome, affordable food in our country.

The government is failing in its obligation. There can be no excuses in a country with ample arable land and water. When the people aren’t eating right, the government must look closely at its economic system, and tweak it, or make a wholesale change.

The government could easily ensure that more, better food is on tables across the country if it were to start producing on the prime lands at its agricultural stations in every district. GOB could select a few crops it considered essential, and in its controlled system, and with the advantages it would have with its control of a greater market, it would drive the cost of production and distribution down. After private farmers were driven out of business, there would be no more wasteful gluts, and that would result in even lower prices. Of course, government doesn’t want to drive farmers out of business, and shouldn’t. But government MUST secure better food for tables across the country.

Failing logistics

Small economies like ours experience logistical problems that bigger countries don’t face. Logistics, as explained by Will Kenton in Investopedia, is “the overall process of managing how resources are acquired, stored, and transported to their final destination.” We have to win, and to do so we need innovative solutions to address and overcome our problems. We are doing a poor job. There is too much waste in our present system. There are gluts and shortages, and our transportation costs are excessive.

In relation to gluts and shortages, there is the seasonal nature of crops. There will be periods when certain fruits are not in season. Some vegetables, especially those that are not native to Belize, don’t produce well outside of the cooler months. Government can introduce incentives so that it is profitable to preserve our surplus.

In relation to transportation costs, lowering the price of fuel would definitely help, but not go far enough. The price of vehicles (and machinery), spare parts, tires, insurance, and repairs also contribute greatly to the cost of transportation. This is an area that needs a lot more subsidies from government.

Traditional Mennonites still use horses to haul their produce to market, and their success is unquestioned. Some small farmers were more successful when they transported their goods via dory or on small boats on the river. On the matter of moving locally produced foods to market, it’s not impossible in our small economy that old-time low speed railways might be the best solution.

The best logistics in the agriculture sector belongs to the Mennonite group. The Mennonites in their tight cooperatives have the production of their crops well-organized so that they maximize profits. Mennonite leaders know what each farmer is doing; what crops and how much of it they are planting; how many farmers are raising chickens, for meat or for eggs; how many milk cows are producing for their factory and how productive they are. The group has an efficient system to supply and repair equipment, to provide cheap funds to farmers, and distribute their products. There are questions about the high prices for the group’s milk and cheese, which are produced within their highly efficient system from beginning until it ends up on the shelves in the market. But with no competition in the country, the group only needs to price their goods at or just below the price of imported food.

The capitalist system loses some of its brightness in a small economy like ours. Government must put its hand on the wheel wherever we are falling down. Our people aren’t eating right. If we don’t win on any other economic front, we must win on this one. Our people need affordable, wholesome food, plenty of it, and the government must become very aggressive about its delivery.

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