Minister of Agriculture, Land and Fisheries Clarence Rambharat said yesterday that people in T&T are eating themselves to death.
And he suggested that the population cut back on its consumption of mayonnaise, ketchup, maraschino cherries.
Rambharat was speaking during a “food price challenge” webinar yesterday, organised by the World Food Day National Committee.
Rambharat said decreased demand for imported food will lead to decreased demand for foreign exchange (forex) and to healthier lives.
President of the Supermarkets Association of Trinidad and Tobago (SATT), Rajiv Diptee, also spoke at the webinar.
Asked to comment on the ongoing scarcity of forex in T&T to purchase imported goods, Rambharat said: “When people approach me on this food import bill, I say to them send me a photo of your refrigerator. Not the outside, the inside. And your cupboards.
“The fact is that we’re eating ourselves to death in this country. Individual healthy lifestyle decisions really influence the food import bill. The farmers have made available to us green, leafy vegetables, fruit.”
The minister noted the price of local fruit is upsetting him, though.
But he added, “So, it’s not a matter of getting the imported food and getting the forex and paying for it.
“We have to make a decision on what we need to eat. We’re eating ourselves to death. Mayonnaise, ketchup, maraschino cherries, some aspects of dairy, you just don’t need it. We have to decide as individuals what is best for our health and make our purchasing decisions on that basis.
“We have to change what is on our plate. We have to go back to old school; green leafy vegetables, protein, small amounts of starch, rest, exercise and aqua.
“And what you would see happening is the demand for certain things in the supermarket falling off and you would see the need for forex falling off.
“It’s an easy answer to the forex situation, you know.”
Congratulating local farmers, Rambharat said they have been doing good in terms of feeding the nation over the past year amidst global rumours of food shortages.
“The most important thing is that local farmers have demonstrated their ability to feed the country.
“The most important policy decision we made (during the lockdown) was to make agriculture an essential service, which meant the farmers continued uninterrupted, their workers continued, the supermarkets continued, municipal markets, farmers’ markets, everything.
“So, we had what I call a flow of food in the country, in terms of the local supply.
“I think we’ve done very well. I congratulate the farmers, the supermarkets, the importers, the people of Trinidad and Tobago, the National Marketing Development Company.”
Rambharat also had some good words for Venezuelan migrants who, he said, have been providing labour for farmers.
He was happy for the extension of their stay in T&T and hoped they stayed here a long time, he said.
All panellists, including Dr Sharon Hutchinson, head of the Department of Agricultural Economics and Extension at The University of the West Indies, agreed while there were some incremental food price increases, there was no explosion.
Hutchinson said: “Yes, there has been an increase. Between January 2016 and January 2018, we saw a 10.4 per cent increase in prices. But between 2018 and 2020, prices were relatively stable. Only a one per cent change in that time. So, things were looking good.
“And then between January 2019 and January 2021 there was a 3.1 per cent increase. A small increase.
“So, we’re not seeing an explosion of food prices.”
Diptee said, “Certainly, prices have increased. There’s no denying that. But at the same time, I would say there has been no explosion of food prices, that these are continually incremental in the background based on prevailing trends in the larger economic climate.”
He said increases in basic imported food items like flour, rice, oil, sugar, were increases passed on to supermarkets by suppliers.