Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves is of the view that “we have too much food in the country for people in any part to be having a difficult time with eating.”
In a wide ranging exclusive interview on Sunday, PM Gonsalves empathized with the plight of Vincentians who may not have been directly exposed to the COVID-19 disease but are still suffering from its adverse impact on their livelihoods.
“There are a number of people, because of COVID, who are having a rough time; you know?”
This awareness of some average Vincentians daily struggle to make ends meet, particularly at this time, has inspired the Gonsalves-led Cabinet to establish a farm produce distribution program which would be piloted by Agriculture Minister Saboto Caesar.
“In the country side we have food – ground provisions, plantains, tomatoes, oranges; we have a whole set of things out there which we are accustomed to eat. So you’re not going to find people out in our area easily going hungry. Though you may have one or two people, particularly those that are very old and we have to look out for them because they mightn’t have family here and so on and so forth.
“But in the urban areas where if somebody want ground provision they have to go to the market and you know the prices at the market. Now a man who’s working day pay to day pay, weekly even monthly and he lose his job or he’s one week on/one week off; his life would be difficult even though we’ve taken a number of steps for instance if they have any loans at the bank they would get a moratorium, if they can’t pay their electricity and water bills – ease up the pressure nuh.
“But still it rough! So I tell Sabby I said listen, ‘we have to organize and buy food out there from the farmers. Let the farmers make an extra dollar, because we have the money.’ And as part of the social safety nets use the churches, use the Social Development Ministry, use RedCross and so on to give out boxes of ground provisions and fruits and vegetables and so on.”
From where he sits, PM Gonsalves has discerned that the local agricultural industry is producing “too much food” for anyone to go hungry here. He however recognized there are other factors that are aggravating people’s lives today. “It is the distribution plus of course individuals who don’t have the resources to go buy the stuff, that is the problem.”
The battle scarred politician also considered the value adding costs that must be factored into the final price coupled with the fact that comparative costs savings are perceived “per unit head of the family” may lead “a woman with 3 children” to decide to buy a “pound of rice with some chicken back in it. That might go longer than a breadfruit and 2 pound ah yam.”
Ultimately he settled upon the fact that, “we have food which we can help to share up because some food in the countryside is spoiling! And you see that too, so it’s a question of matching the thing – normally you use the market to do that, the economic system.
“But at a time of COVID, the market system breaks down really. It becomes difficult because parts of it not functioning. Parts of it where people can earn some money are not functioning – people are getting laid off and so on.”
Minister Caesar’s public announcement as per the roll out of this next COVID-19 soci-economic response is anticipated as he is said to have been, “running with the idea and putting some flesh onto the broad bones.”