Looking into our history to find solutions to food security

By: Neil C.A. Paul

As we continue to be confronted by the unsustainable food import bills around the Caribbean, there continues to be little effective interest in arresting the sliding food security situation. I say this because we see the struggling economies of the Caribbean and while the worst of the recent Financial Crisis seems to be behind us in the more advanced economies, it appears that we are still struggling in the Caribbean for the most part. In addition, we continue to hear and read of the challenges but there seems to be little implementation of the many strategies developed over the years. I have intimated elsewhere that perhaps part of the problem is linked to our adherence to economic theory developed in the advanced economies and is perhaps not suited to our circumstances.

Allow me to suggest here, even for purposes of discussion, that just perhaps, we need to look backward into our history, not for nostalgia but more so, to identify strategies employed by our ancestors to survive the “hard times”. This is perhaps the key to developing theory for our development purposes. I refer here to the strategies of the “SOU SOU” or Meeting turn as it is referred to here in Barbados, the cooperative movement and Marketing Boards to allow for greater planning, sequencing and marketing of agricultural produce and ensuring that economies of scale are effected through the benefits of cooperation. The important concept of value chains is also very pertinent here. Another important antecedent is the practice known in some parts of the Caribbean like St. Lucia as the Koudmen, which is defined as a help, a free work day, a group work project. This concept is often seen in the aftermath of a disaster where communities or friends get together to repair a damaged dwelling without formal payment, except for food and drink. The point I am trying to make here is that there is certainly a few strategies used in the past but now, not so commonplace which we should revisit to assist us in our development imperatives.

One of the least practiced imperatives of sustainable development is the consultation with relevant stakeholders and the development of home grown solutions. Often, well meaning technocrats implement strategies based on theory without the involvement of stakeholders’ buy-in and as such, chances of success are slim. We only have to look around and see how many projects have not met expectations. Quite recently I listened to a BBC programme on the success of a small village close to the Gobi desert in China (the largest desert in Asia and perhaps the world) in halting the spread of the desert and in fact greening of the area through planting of trees etc. The success was related to the efforts of one woman who eventually convinced her neighbours and the village through her individual efforts to create green spaces and actually develop agriculture in the area, and begin to reverse the adverse effects of climate change. The point is that success in such situations is related to meaningful consultation and example.

The foregoing is a small teaser, if you will, to create some discussion and generate some ideas on how to begin to implement and solve our looming food security situation.

Neil C.A. Paul is the Director of the SRC.