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Responding to the high price of white bread

EditorialResponding to the high price of white bread

In the face of tough times, Belizeans have proven that they are a resilient people. We have weathered numerous hurricanes, and our ancestors didn’t shrink during the two major wars in the last century. In the tough times in the aftermath of the First World War and during the 1918-1920 influenza pandemic; in the 1930s, after the world’s economy collapsed; in the late 1940s, after the Second World War; our ancestors were firm where firmness was needed, changed where change was needed, thus they were able to overcome and carry on the job of building our nation.

This generation of Belizeans just came through some of the toughest times ever, which were brought on by the pandemic which began in March 2020. The government of the day had to drain the treasury to provide for those thousands of us who lost our jobs as our country and the world shut down to focus on halting the march of the deadly virus, Covid-19. The pandemic caused the toughest of times, and in its aftermath our wages have stagnated while the cost of living keeps rising. Just a couple weeks ago, a reluctant government, after resisting as vigorously as our governments do to deny us anti-corruption legislation, gave in to an increase to the controlled price of white bread. While white bread should not be a Belizean staple, it is, so the baal that went up was countrywide, because every hog geh di lik.

Former Prime Minister, Dean Barrow, whose party held the reins of government through the worst of the pandemic, said, during those frightening, uncertain times: “We are in the middle of an economic shock the likes of which the modern world, let alone our beloved Belize, has never seen.” And speaking on Independence Day 2020 about what our country would need to do to recover after the pandemic was over, he said it would require action on our part, and “comprehensive debt relief” from the global lenders.

Educator/historian Ms. Sandra Coye cautioned us, in a call to the WuB morning show on XTV (formerly Krem) at a time when the pandemic had just begun loosening its grip on the world, to keep our belts tight because the developed world would use our backs to pay for the massive debt that had been incurred to defeat the disease. To add to the weight we have to carry, horrific wars involving the countries that control global trade have erupted, Russia invading Ukraine and the US-backed Israel unleashing its terrible arsenal on Gaza.

As foretold, despite almost three years passing since the virus started to lose its virulence, we are still experiencing serious economic pressures. It’s no consolation that the times are tough in many other places in the world. That other people are in the same boat that we are in, experiencing similar hunger pangs, doesn’t ease the pain in our bellies any.

Our present economic struggles aren’t solely because of the pandemic and the rulers of the world being at war. For decades, engineer/economist Mr. Bill Lindo has been warning us that we were living above our means, that the types of economic activities we were engaged in couldn’t pay for the equipment and fuel we used in our industries, and the luxury goods and foodstuff we were buying/consuming. Mr. Lindo argued that tourism, which accounts for 50% of our economy, and primary production – bananas, sugar, citrus, and marine products — couldn’t pay Belizeans sufficient salaries for them to afford good housing, imported luxury goods, and the machine tools and other inputs we need to be competitive. Mr. Lindo advised that we produce what we eat, and manufacture the tools our economy needs.

The PUP came to power on the promise that all of us would win, and many would agree that we have seen quite a few new initiatives from this government. Those who gush for the government would say that if not for the times, all of us would have won, or be well on the way there; and those who are slow to praise, or are downright cynical, would be forced to say that, like NHI, this government di try.

The government has introduced many new initiatives indeed, yet most Belizeans find it difficult to make ends meet, and the percentage of Belizeans who are poor is still in the double digits, if we use the old measure. We should have been doing better. And we would have, if not for some climate issues because of the globe warming, and inflation, a massive hike in the price of imported goods that has hit the value of our dollar harder than the devaluation of 1949. The cost of construction, building houses, one of the basic needs of human beings, has gone through the roof, upward of 20% over 2019. And the price of imported food has also increased over 20%. The price of imported goods is obliterating the value of Belize’s currency.

One response from government to inflation has been to “attack” grocery stores all over the country to ensure that shopkeepers are not charging more for staples than the mandated controlled price. In respect to the effort to keep the cost of food in the stores down, there was much disappointment for consumers recently when the government yielded to the bakers and allowed a price increase for what is considered a staple of the Belizean diet, the one-pound loaf of bread. The victory for the bakers was limited; they wanted an increase of 75 cents, but GOB held them to 35 cents.

No one is celebrating. The bakers say the increase doesn’t cover their costs, and the already reeling consumers don’t know where that extra 35 cents per loaf will come from.

But we really shouldn’t be having a row over wheat flour. It’s actually a moment for strong leadership to step in and wean our people from a food we don’t produce. For decades our progressive agriculturists, economists, and nutritionists have been pushing banana, cassava, and corn flour, to be prepared separately or mixed with wheat flour to increase that foreign product’s nutritional value and make it healthier.

No one has to tell us that apples, olives, barley, table grapes, and strawberries are luxuries because we don’t grow them here. Wheat doesn’t grow here either. Presently, there is no variety of wheat that can be grown in Belize economically.

We are addicted to a food that played no role in the sustenance of our ancestors in this part of the world prior to the coming of Columbus. For hundreds, thousands of years, the peoples of Central America and the Caribbean were sustained by corn, beans, pumpkins, sweet potato, cassava, bluggoe, and chaya.

Refined wheat flour, the kind used in the one-pound bread, is not wholesome food. WebMD says “refined flour promotes fat and prevents the body from burning fat for fuel. It may also promote inflammation in the gut … refined carbohydrates [white flour] increase the chance of getting insulin resistance, followed by diabetes.”

We need to “check” ourselves for groaning about the price of white bread. We must face the facts squarely. The price of a loaf made from wheat flour will keep rising. The price of imported food, imported anything, never goes down. The war between Russia and Ukraine will end, the fields in Ukraine will be covered with wheat, but the price we pay for it will keep rising. That’s what history tells us. That white bread is a luxury, not a staple. We must curtail our palate for luxuries, if we want to win.

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