central america / caribbean |
Sunday February 24, 2008 18:03 by Denise Balgobin - Trinidad & Tobago's Newsday
Rising food prices in Haiti have reached the point where poor families are now resorting to eating mud cookies, according to recent reports in the international media.
Now citizens in this country are wondering if things will get so bad that we have to do the same. However, there is hope that the government will implement its plan to create several mega farms across the country to increase the local production of food and therefore combat high food prices.
At the Chaguanas market last week, Sunday Newsday asked some random shoppers and vendors what they would do if they couldn’t afford to buy food for their families and have to make these mud cookies, which the Haitians make out of dirt mixed with salt and vegetable shortening.
Cynthie Harriram, a 55-year-old mother of three young adults said she would never want to have to face this type of life. “That is a really sad thing to happen to humans. I came from a poor family, but my father taught us to make do with what we have. I live in Monroe Road, and we have a kitchen garden, so I don’t always have to buy vegetables.”
She said some people like to waste food, so they should think about the people in Haiti “the next time they are throwing away something. Somebody else starving and we are taking what we have for granted. I make sure my children get their education and now they could work, but they also have to think about other people who don’t have that opportunity.”
Another shopper, 32 year-old Marilyn Ali of Chase Village said the situation in Haiti was “horrible. This should make Trinidadians realise how lucky we are to at least be able to buy some food to eat. I can’t even imagine thinking about eating dirt. I hope Trinidad and Tobago never get like that. We have plenty more people working than before, so even if their salaries are not too high, they could still afford food, and people should try and plant something.”
When asked if she thought the price of food locally would become less when the government started the mega-farms which has been promised, Ali said that many people are anxiously waiting to see if this would work.
“If these farms could produce food for the local markets, then it would be better for the citizens to be able to buy everything they want, but I don’t know too much about the farms, only that they were going to be run with help from Cuba and India.”
Vendor Mahadaye Jagdeo said her family has more than one stall at the market and they buy wholesale produce together to get a good price from the farmers.
“I think if the government starts up the large farms, it would be good for everybody. Right now, we can’t always get the amount we want in some items, so this is why the prices have to be so high.”
She added that people in Haiti should find a way to make their own food. “They should be given seeds to plant their own food and the government there should start some farms too.”
A check at several stalls at the market revealed that even root crops such as cassava, eddoes, yam, sweet potatoes and dasheen, which were suggested as alternatives to rice and flour by a former government minister, are in short supply, and therefore also have high costs.
A source close to the Ministry of Agriculture told Sunday Newsday that this is because the demand for these items are not very high. “Therefore the farmers are not growing a lot. So when people start demanding more, it is not available and therefore what is there will cost more.”
He stated that the idea to eat more root crops made sense, with the only setback being citizens are reluctance to try. “We can grow these easily here and we have been exporting the available root crops at $4 per kilo, instead of selling it on the local market.”
He added that in turn, cassava was imported at the price of $9 per kilo, and then sold locally, which would mean local consumers paying a higher cost than necessary for foreign as opposed to locally grown.
The source suggested that local farmers need to grow more of these and encouraged consumers to adopt them as staples in our diet. “Cassava and any of our root crops are even more nutritious and tasty than some of the manufactured items we have available. If they become available for consumers in ample amounts, then I’m sure more people would buy them more often.”