Indigenous Caribbean Network

The Global Food Crisis, the Caribbean, and Cassava

I will be writing about this in greater depth soon in The CAC Review, concerning the skyrocketing of food prices worldwide, food riots, and the deepening of hunger in places such as Haiti. In Trinidad's case, there have been serious price rises on a range of basic foodstuffs, without the increased ability of large parts of the population to afford the increases. In addition, issues of food security have been revived, as they must be, once again. Relying on imported foods, when it seems cheaper to import than to grow yourself, is constantly proved to be a flawed strategy, something akin to buying your groceries with a credit card, like getting a loan to have a meal. In Trinidad, finally, the government has promised a range of new investments to revitalize local agriculture, maybe not enough, perhaps not too late. Amazingly, in such a situation of diminished local production and previous lack of sufficient state support, the Carib Community continues to be stalled and stonewalled in gaining access to land, primarily so they can grow cassava commercially. I will also refer to published newspaper articles in Trinidad that displayed the reigning bias against cassava, the kind of bias that has landed Trinidadians in the current situation, dependent on expensive, scare imported wheat flour. All of this could have been avoided, instead of tying even the contents of one's stomach to the workings of the global capitalist market. More later. Feel free to post your own thoughts, either here, or on the blog that comes with each member's page.

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Comment by Maximilian Forte on May 11, 2008 at 12:21am
It's amazing that imported rice and flour are still cheaper, and now I have to wonder why local ground provisions would cost so much when, presumably, one can grown them in one's yard (if one has a yard). I also recall a story about the last Spanish governor, Don Jose Maria Chacon, planting all public spaces with fruit trees, so that at the very least one would get both a cooling shade and free fruit.
Comment by Zeeska Lee on May 10, 2008 at 11:36pm
Despite the increase in food prices, it is still cheaper to buy rice and flour than cassava and ground provisions. Personally, I don't agree with the approach to developing the agricultural sector in the region. An acre of land will only produce a its maximum yield regardless of how much money is invested in it. Achieving econonies of scale has been a major challenge with small scale farming and unless farmers are given the kind of support that allows them to specialize in production and harvesting, prices will continue to soar.

I think there is a need for government-operated wholesale/retail markets to regulate the distribution, pricing and wastage of produce. That is not to say you do away with the traditional markets, but it would compel vendors to sell at competitive prices.
Comment by Maximilian Forte on May 2, 2008 at 3:54am
I have had taro only once in my life, as a child, and I still remember how much I liked it. I wonder if taro is to be found anywhere in the Caribbean--breadfruit certainly is, and likewise cassava was transplanted to the Pacific and Africa as well.
Comment by Lesley-Ann Brown on May 2, 2008 at 1:51am
I'm assuming taro is the same as cassava--that's the Hawaiin term and I can't remember if it was creamy or stringy...I'll investigate further when in Trinidad this July. Will you be there?
Comment by Maximilian Forte on May 1, 2008 at 9:17pm
Incidentally, and I mean incidental to the point of being trivial--I noticed a real difference between boiled cassava in Trinidad, which can be tough and even stringy, and boiled cassava made by Cubans in Florida, which is almost creamy in comparison. I wonder what the reason is for the difference. I have also seen very fine cassava flour, indistinguishable from wheat flour when you see it or touch it, and I wonder if anyone tries to make "white bread" from it.
Comment by Lesley-Ann Brown on May 1, 2008 at 3:10am
Thanks for this. Interestingly enough--cassava plays a large role in the lives of local, indigenous Hawaiins as well. I write a lot about cassava in my own fiction (I'm in love with it) and really hope that we in the Caribbean make the connection between what we put on in our mouths and how this, in the long run, effects our dependence on the control of the global market.


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