This post was first published on Cari-Bois Environmental News Network (with the support of Climate Tracker and Open Society Foundations‘ Caribbean Climate Justice Journalism Fellowship) as part of a series aimed at giving Caribbean scientists, explorers and nature enthusiasts a platform to express themselves. A version of the article is republished below as part of a content-sharing agreement.
By Richardeen Williams and David Papannah
Globally, traditionally marginalised communities and low-socioeconomic status (SES) households have been feeling the brunt of rising food prices. As the cost of basic commodities like rice, wheat, and vegetables continues to soar, it has become increasingly difficult for people to afford their daily meals.
While small island developing states (SIDS) like the Caribbean have attempted to ramp up food production to combat rising food costs, climate change has been hindering these efforts. In both Guyana and St. Vincent and the Grenadines, efforts to scale-up food production have been affected by rising sea levels, soil degradation and increasingly extreme weather events like floods, making strategic action critical in order to ensure that food producers in these countries become more climate resilient.
St. Vincent and the Grenadines
Food exports are vital to the economy of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, but in recent years, despite ongoing efforts to strengthen the country’s food security, farmers have had to contend with the effects of climate change.
Farming has been Admarie Bobb’s main source of income for over 10 years, but keeping up with the changing weather patterns in Greggs and Richland Park, the areas she farms in St. Vincent, has become a struggle. Production of substantial yields during the dry season, for examples, has been increasingly difficult, and her attempts to boost irrigation have fallen short as crops either wither away in the blistering heat, or fail to produce sufficient harvests. During recent droughts, Bobb said it has also been a challenge to feed her herds of sheep and cattle, as the grass doesn’t grow sufficiently on the mountain during the dry season.
When it comes to changing weather patterns, soaring temperatures aren’t the only issue Bobb contends with. While the intense heat of the dry season makes growing crops like potatoes and cucumbers challenging, the intensity of rainfall during the wet season has affected the ability to grow crops like christophene and tomatoes, to the point where many of her peers have stopped farming. She, however, is determined to persevere, even though it continues to be a struggle to bring in sufficient income for herself and pay her workers.
Commonly called the “breadbasket of the Caribbean,” Guyana has normally been able to produce a variety of produce and meet a substantial amount of its food needs, but in 2021, farmers failed to meet market demands. In the face of devastating floods, their lands simply could not be cultivated in time.
For weeks — and even months in some areas — floods inundated farms, resulting in the loss of a substantial amount of crops. This led to a high demand for quality produce, causing a significant increase in food prices. The cost of celery, shallot, bora, callaloo, cabbage, pumpkin, and ground provisions, all staples of a Guyanese diet, skyrocketed, as did the prices of other produce, including sweet peppers and eggplants.
Yog Mahadeo, a consultant to the Guyana Consumers Association, said the effects of climate change on food production and prices continue to place a strain on consumers. Making reference to Guyana’s emerging oil and natural gas sector, Mahadeo added that no amount of monetary wealth can replace a country's food security and sovereignty. He noted that moving forward, authorities must strategically ensure Guyana continues to produce a substantial amount of its own food.
To do this, however, there must be continued efforts to support farmers in becoming more climate resilient and insulate food prices from spiking, especially important given that climate change will also affect the spending ability of consumers. After all, the effects of climate change, whether floods or droughts, have a ripple effect that will continue to impact various aspects of society.
Experiences like these highlight the importance of building climate resilience, and strengthening food security in these two CARICOM nations. The challenges faced by small-scale farmers underscore the urgent need for global efforts to mitigate climate change and its detrimental effects on all aspects of the food supply chain.