The COVID-19 pandemic, along with the Russia-Ukraine war have thrown many spanners in the works of the old-world order. Gone are the days of unopposed unipolarity. We now live in an era of fast emerging multipolarity, seeing China, Russia, Turkey, Iran, South Africa, Venezuela, as well as Brazil all in their own ways emerging as poles around which parts of the world orbit.
The era of preaching in the dogmatic tone of a proselytizer about the benefits of offshoring has come to an abrupt end as supply chains shut down due to sanctions caused by war or outbreaks of COVID-19. The time of unregulated and single-minded domination by capital and capitalists is under question in a way which it hasn’t since the inter-war period, which gave birth to and led to the current rule of the CPC, CPV, Cambodia, Korea, and ANC.
The winds of change are so apparent that even our local political parties that have sold their souls or blindly follow US ideology can see the windsock changing direction. This is apparent in the PNP with the pandering by Mark Golding, who said the Government should allocate $40 billion to alleviate the impact of these global issues while doing other social investment. We can safely say it was pandering as no figures to challenge or force the Government were brought. Instead, when he was refused he ran with the soundbite as opposed to offering a firm rebuttal.
The Government also sees the changes in the wind and this is seen by the Agriculture Ministry’s “new” policy of eating smart, growing smart. This is just a new spin on the old “eat what you grow” resurrected by the Bruce Golding Administration and initially launched by Michael Manley all the way back in the 70s.
The plan has a banner programme of substituting wheat flour with other local flours made from breadfruit, cassava as well as flours from other produce. It will see not only the promotion of the flour locally but also see the flour geared towards export and being assisted by the Cuban Government who have a history in the technical areas of substitution.
This, on the face of what is presented, is a farce and not a serious proposal. It is pandering, and like Mark Golding, good pandering in the right direction but not a serious plan to do the thing they claim to do. In Mark’s case ease suffering during these times and in Charles Jnr’s case create/improve food security.
Why is this pandering, why do I say this is not a serious endeavour based on what has been shown? The first and obvious is the fact that to realistically do this substitution we would have to slap odious tariffs on wheat flour to stop its mass importation. I am for this. It would protect our farmers by providing a secure market and room to grow and experiment securely, but the JLP, as the PM has said, is capitalist to the core and such a move is not in vogue in the latest pro-capitalist readings.
Is the JLP now demanding that the State play a leading role in the commanding heights of the economy? I am for such a move, but I do not think the JLP is, even if the minister is of that mind.
On that note, has the minister spoken to the many industrialists who use wheat in their manufacturing? The feeling is that no word has been had with them, and while they, in theory, see it as a good move, they state — with proof — that they have been burnt by the State so many times in other areas relating to agriculture that they simply don’t trust them.
Companies were eager to get on board with cassava as a substitute in beer when the Golding Administration preached “eat what you grow” during the 2008 global economic crash, but after the global and local economies regained strength, they were left to flounder.
I have no time for industrialists who abuse their workers by paying them pocket money as wages, but they speak sense when they say that Jamaicans don’t want to pay more than the almost $500 they pay now for bread. Has the minister located the areas to be used as groves, or spoken to landholders that their properties are marked for cassava cultivation? Have ministry officials begun to source money to build the cold storage in strategic locations, have they earmarked the areas to be used for secondary production?
This is a noble idea and a great venture, but can we be assured that when wheat prices drop to rock bottom rates we won’t drop the venture? Have businesses given written binding guarantees on that front?
The unspoken issue is that of the US and its reaction to any potential move like the one spoken of by the minister.
The US preaches free market economics like a zealot. It will, with joy and pride, make martyrs of people who oppose it as the litany of dead or simply toppled governments in the region attest.
The JLP has stated that in this global chess game we are on the side of the US and follow its economic ideology. Do we think, based on both past and recent US actions, that Washington would allow such a move which would deprive the US wheat farmers of a guaranteed market as Ukraine and Russian wheat production remain offline?
I fail to see how this new iteration of an old idea will be sustainable. This is an administration which is beholden to banks and other financial groups which have failed to fund the Azan agri-project. Will this Government be demanding that banks reorient their loan portfolio or face consequences? I doubt that, simply based on the full-throated defence they put on when the banks and their fees are brought up in Parliament — an issue even senior Cabinet ministers want to be resolved in favour of the people.
With so many serious questions still left unanswered and with no concrete and visible discussion taking place between the ministry, the farmers, and the industrialists, we are left to conclude that this initiative will not be a long-term matter that the State is committed to.
That is sad, but that does not mean the idea should die simply because the two parties have no vision or the inability to stick to a long-term programme. The Jamaica Agricultural Society, as well as the various farmers’ organisations, must take the lead and not only lay the groundwork for successful wheat substitution, but also be the driving force behind its implementation.
It must be the farmers, those who will be affected by these changes, who must lead this venture so they, who have been ignored for decades, can reap the advantages. The farmers will know what land is best used for the various orchards and walks, it is they who will know the best locations for the cold storage facilities, and it is they who will know the best locations to set up the factories to make the flour. The farmers must take the lead for food independence. Their co-operatives and friendly societies must engage financial institutions for the capital so that Government welching does not spell the end of projects.
Communities must engage in the collective growing of foods as well as the distribution of the produce; they must engage in the processing of the raw material at the local level so as to stem the inevitable impact of rising food prices. They must ensure the elderly are provided for, schools have food, and that the communities’ needs are met.
The two parties have shown themselves to have no spine. They talk a good game and then disappear when the going gets tough. We the people must organise and ensure that this is seen through, we must make the changes needed to ensure that we can survive. This can be done with or without the State. It would be great if they got on board full time, but we can’t wait for them. We do this with or without them or we starve.