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Going up

CEO of the Barbados Agricultural Society, James Paul

by Shawn Cumberbatch

Barbadians already peeved at the high cost of living should get ready for an imminent hike in food prices.

That’s the grim forecast from experts in a section of the Ministry of Finance and Economic Affairs and the head of the Barbados Agricultural Society.

Chicken and other poultry products, as well as other items produced by the local farming community are among the items likely to cost more, as are a number of imported commodities including meat products.

Barbados TODAY investigations confirmed that with the United States now confronting its worst drought in 50 years, resulting in a substantial drop in corn production, local consumers were on the verge of feeling it in their pockets. Corn is a primary ingredient in the production of animal feed, and BAS CEO James Paul revealed this evening that with local manufacturer Pinnacle Feeds Limited already signalling that the cost of this commodity would increase this month or early next month, some farmers would have to pass the price hike on to Bajans.

The Research and Planning Unit within Government’s Economic Affairs Division shared Paul’s concern, and is advising policy makers that “once fiscally possible” they should introduce “buffers to minimise the effect in a timely manner”.

“Clearly the impact of the drought is going to be felt in Barbados and basically in the Caribbean as a whole … We have an indication already from the feed company that prices are likely to go up as soon as this month or early next month,” a concerned Paul told Barbados TODAY.

“What we are hoping for is that consumers recognise that this is a temporary rally in the price of corn. We are hoping that if production goes back to normal next year that there will be ample supplies.

“The only way we can deal with it is that we have been working within the poultry association to encourage farmers to be as efficient as they can be because that is how I think we will have to tackle the whole issue of the increase in corn prices.

“We cannot control the price, but we try to reduce costs as much as possible. A lot of poultry producers have actually invested a lot in new technologies such as the wind tunnel pens, even in the conventional pens we are trying to ensure that farmers do things that will help to keep their costs down.

“But there is a limit to which that can happen and I think we are reaching the point where some farmers will have to pass on those costs to consumers,” he added.

In a new analysis on the matter, the Economic Affairs Division’s predictions were no better and they advised Government to take action to protect local consumers. “Already, there may be some possible effects on Barbados as local farmers are increasingly worried about the implications of the 30 per cent increase in corn prices on the local live stock industry,” it stated.

“With the absence of any kind of cushion on which to fall back on, it may mean that any increases in food products will have to be passed on to the local consumer. Close monitoring of the situation will have to continue.”

The Barbadian researchers also said while the situation had not yet become “a major crisis” doing nothing was not an option.

“While some will surely benefit from higher prices, Barbados and other developing countries that are major food importers will feel the impact,” the analysis stated.

“In the case of Barbados, efforts to strengthen the local feed programme, further support the cassava production, and expanding the Barbados Mills capacity, are just some of the initiative that could help to buffer the impact of increases in grain and food prices, which could become a consistent trend,” it added. The team said the drought in the US was so bad that it had “destroyed one-sixth of the country’s expected corn crop threatening a surge in global food price inflation”.

Paul said it “definitely seems” that food prices here would return to 2008 levels, but he told local consumers there was little Government could do about it because “we basically are price takers when it comes to certain ingredients”.

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