FOOD PRICES TO RISE

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By Steve Thomas

Observer Nevis Editor

(Charlestown, Nevis) – The question is not if food prices on Nevis are going up, but when and by how much.

During a Feb. 14 public ceremony at the Nevis Food Supply Store, Deputy Premier the Hon. Hensley Daniel, said the government was working to hold down consumer food prices while wholesale costs continued to climb.

“We keep basic supplies at a reasonable rate and price,” he said.

Prices will increase, though he could not specify when or by how much.

“We expect our government to hold it within an acceptable level,” Mr. Daniel said.

Part of the problem was common to post-colonial nations, he said.

“We consume what we don’t produce and we produce what we consume,” Mr. Daniel said.

The government is interested in finding more partners in the private sector and with non-governmental organizations to find ways to get quality goods to Nevis, he said.

The government is moving ahead with its work to monitor food prices, he said.

“People are counting on us to come up with the food basket,” he said.

Junior Minister the Hon. Dwight Cozier elaborated on the government’s efforts.

“We have initiated a review of products to reduce the cost of living in Nevis,” he said.

The government is identifying key food products, working on a food basket guide and evaluating nutritional values and needs, he said.

Making sure items remain affordable for the less fortunate is a priority, Mr. Cozier said.

“We’re also appealing to our local grocers, our local farmers, to continue the drive to produce more local products,” he said.

The purpose of the ceremony was to honor the Eastern Caribbean Group of Companies as Partner of the Year for their work to improve the Nevis Supply Store.

“We are happy to collaborate with the Department of Trade,” Betty-Ann Gilbert of ECGC said. She also spoke about rising prices, saying that wheat costs had risen sharply in about a year.

A recent report from the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization points toward continuing high food costs.

Some excerpts from the FAO report:

Early prospects point to the possibility of a significant increase in world cereal production in 2008, but international prices of most cereals remain at record high levels and some are still on the increase, FAO said today.

The forecast increase in production follows expansion of winter grain plantings and good weather among major producers in Europe and in the United States, coupled with a generally satisfactory outlook elsewhere, according to FAO’s latest Crop Prospects and Food Situation report.

With dwindling stocks, continuing strong demand for cereals is keeping upward pressure on international prices, despite a record world harvest last season, the report said. International wheat prices in January 2008 were 83 percent up from a year earlier.

Although prices are high, total world trade in cereals is expected to peak in 2007/08, driven in great part by a sharp rise in demand for coarse grains, especially for feed use in the European Union, according the report.

Cereal imports for all Low-Income Food-Deficit countries in 2007/08 are forecast to decline by about 2 percent in volume, but as a result of soaring international cereal prices and freight rates, their cereal import bill is projected to rise by 35 percent for the second consecutive year. An even higher increase is anticipated for Africa. Prices of basic foods have also increased in many countries worldwide, affecting the vulnerable populations most, the report said.

In North Africa, early prospects for the 2008 winter cereal crops are mixed, but in Southern Africa the overall outlook is satisfactory, despite severe localized floods. In several countries of Eastern Africa, another bumper cereal crop was gathered in 2007, but poor secondary crops are expected in Kenya and Somalia, according to the report.

In Asia, early indications point to a 2008 aggregate wheat crop around last year’s record level.

Overall prospects for the 2008 maize crop are satisfactory in South America, although the outlook remains uncertain in Argentina.

In Bolivia, severe floods have adversely affected over 42 000 families, who are in need of emergency humanitarian assistance, with numbers on the increase. Large cropped areas have been partially or totally lost.

Worldwide, 36 countries are currently facing food crises, according to the report.

CEREAL IMPORT BILLS

2007/8 forecast

Africa up 49%

Asia up 25%

Latin America up 31%

Oceania up 25%

Europe up 53%

Source: FAO

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