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Our View: Government should have been prepared for grain crisis

wheat

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the government has managed to get the general population to go along with lockdowns and other measures by throwing money at each problem as it arose, which has kept protesters from various interest groups off the streets for the most part.

By offering financial support to businesses and workers throughout the past 18 months or so, although the pandemic measures have nevertheless hit many businesses and workers, the true extent of the damage may not become apparent until the financial support runs dry and companies that are ‘technically still open’ close for good or see mass layoffs.

Into this already-fragile mix, a year or more of isolated disruptions to the global food supply chain is now coming home to roost as they all converge into a perfect storm of price increases across the board on a worldwide scale, all of which will end up costing the consumer.

This is not a problem the government can throw money at to make it go away. People being hit in their pockets is one sure-fire way of guaranteeing they take to the streets, even if there is a government decree banning such action. Hungry people stage revolutions, or to use a phrase someone coined: “A state is always just nine meals away from anarchy.”

If we were to listen to the farmers’ organisations, we’re all just days away from this nightmare but farmers tend to exaggerate at times if there is a chance of securing some money from the state.

However, this time, they might just be due some credence. This is a global problem, and even though things are not likely to reach famine levels – although the UN does not rule that out in some developing countries – there could be some unsettling times ahead.

The general-secretary of the Chambers of Commerce did not mince his words yesterday when he spoke of price hikes and a shortage of items people are used to having.  Purchasing power will decrease as prices rise while wages will not, he warned.

How long these disruptions will last is anyone’s guess, and how the government will handle it, is another question. Throwing some money at farmers to secure cheaper grains is one thing, but as they pointed out, having enough grains to buy is another issue altogether.

What is hard to grasp is how the government did not see this coming. The signs were all there for more than a year. Where are the experts? There were at least two areas in which the government could have acted pre-emptively. They could have, after axing the Grains Commission, ensured under the new law, that there were adequate grain stocks stored to tide us over for six months to a year. They didn’t.

The second was getting their act together on several fronts to ensure cheaper energy, instead as we saw recently, of going cap in hand to the EAC begging for a reduction for consumers after the fact.

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