Most Third World countries, including Antigua & Barbuda, cherish the relationships they have cultivated over the years with First World nations like China, United Kingdom, Japan, and the United States of America, mainly because of the gains they have been able to realise in terms of the quality and frequency of aid which flows towards them from these superpowers.
In recent times, the country has been forming new and mutually beneficial associations with a number of non-traditional countries, from which we have received tangibles in kind as well as intangibles such as educational scholarships.
Out of one such relationship with the Kingdom of Morocco, some two weeks ago the country received a gift of 75 tons – about 168,000 pounds – of nitrogen, phosphate and NPK fertilisers, otherwise referred to as the primary macronutrient fertilisers.
The fact that government, and in particular the Ministry of Agriculture, unveiled the donation in a somewhat lacklustre ceremony, without the usual fanfare associated with gifts to which the country attaches high import, suggests that the significance of this valuable gift might have effectively been lost on the island community.
With hardly any pomp and ceremony, this most valuable commodity was stashed away and it is yet unclear what will be the mode of distribution to the relevant people who will use the fertilisers to get the best out of the gift.
Fertilisers, we know, play a very important role in supplying nutrients to plants during different stages of their growth, in addition to revitalising the soil to make it more fertile and to correct yield-limiting factors. They have also proven to effectively increase plant yields by 30 to 80 per cent.
Minister of Agriculture Hilson Baptiste, who appears to take his mandate to develop the country’s agricultural sector seriously, knows the value of the gift for which his ministry has full control as he indicated the ministry welcomes the fertilisers. He said he anticipates it will go a long way towards assisting the sector to recover from the $12 million devastation caused by Hurricane Omar in 2008.
Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer also noted that the donation would go a long way towards providing the country with a certain level of food security.
“The prevailing negative effects of climate change, which have disproportionately affected regions, have far-reaching implications for agriculture and food production … we believe these efforts will ensure that Antigua & Barbuda boosts its production on agriculture and increase food security,” he said during the handover ceremony.
In recent times, the talk has been the steep rise in the cost of food and the resultant hardship and poverty facing the most vulnerable among the world’s poor. The United Nations FAO has advised countries to strategise to ensure a certain level of food security for its populace.
By donating three 20-foot containers full of fertilisers, the Kingdom of Morocco has extended a lifeline to the people of Antigua & Barbuda. It must be noted that at least one other Caricom country, Grenada, also benefited from a similar donation.
Besides creating a boost to this country’s agricultural sector, the gift will not only facilitate the production of healthier and more abundant food crops to satisfy the local demand, but might even leave enough for the export market.
Additionally, the potential exists for the introduction of a number of new varieties of crops to expand the existing pool. And once we are able, the authorities can heed the suggestion put forward by World Trade Organisation (WTO) Director of Information and Media Relations Keith Rockwell that countries should buy and sell their way out of the spike and explore avenues for exporting and so generate much-needed foreign exchange for the country.
We have no idea of the proportionate rise of the rapidly soaring food prices on the economy of this country, but according to the FAO, figures for the Food Price Index released last month paint a dismal picture for global food security.
The index, which measures monthly price changes for a food basket composed of cereals, oilseeds, dairy, meat and sugar, averaged 230.7 points in January, up from 223.1 points in December. Food prices were already above the 2008 levels. The recent price surges, the organisation said, have already plunged 40 million more people worldwide into a state of abject poverty.
We could not help but notice that the message of food security has begun to sink in. There have been numerous reports of householders starting and maintaining backyard gardens, which provide them with an income as well as helping them to feed themselves.
Just last week we featured a retired teacher who told of the spiritual lift she gets from growing her own food and making gifts of her produce.
We can only hope that this will be multiplied many times over as we endeavour to make ourselves food secure.