Sunday, December 21, 2008

Cuban lessons

I'm going to venture a prediction that we will look back at this year as the last normal one, despite the challenges and tribulations that beset us. It may not seem so now, but we will look back at 2008 with nostalgia and longing. We've had a few intimations of what's to come but i daresay most people don't realize just how much life as we know it will change. It doesn't matter whether you're in Kingston, Karachi or Kalamazoo, globalization has seen to it that you will be affected.

Friends in Jamaica were complacently reassuring themselves that they were out of the loop so it would be business as usual. The pundits there said the financial market and economy would be minimally affected, nothing more than the usual fluctuations that could be accommodated, some stock market losses and a few tourist cancellations, that's all. Now we see the Golding government has announced a bailout package, for what it's worth. When Golding paid a visit to DC in August or thereabouts, i thought of going to the town hall meeting at the Embassy to ask him what plans he had to deal with the coming crisis. I didn't bother to attend since i doubted that my input would have made any difference, especially as the PM has abjured advice from homosexuals.

The suggestion i would have put forward had i gone was that he should immediately create a Task Force comprising the Office of Disaster Preparedness, and the Ministries representing Energy, Labour, Transport and Agriculture to devise a plan to deal with the end of cheap oil. The adjustments that Cuba made in the Special Period when their oil supply was cut off overnight following the collapse of the Soviet Union holds many lessons for Jamaica.

Take an hour to watch this video The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil.

I was gratified that Agriculture Minister Tufton visited Cuba and shortly after made his cassava proposal and promotion of backyard gardening. It was a small gesture but headed in the right direction, but doesn't go far enough. Food security becomes an increasingly critical issue as Jamaicans depend on imports for most of their food and the Jamaican dollar is grovelling at 80 to 1. Middle class consumers, let alone the poor, will be faced with nutritional deficits and starvation. Having lived through the 70s and experienced rice, flour and cooking oil shortages and the supermarket riots these engendered, i shudder to think what the coming deprivations will spawn.

The developed countries are not much better off as they depend on oil-based inputs and food imports in a globalized economy where the price of oil and commodities is increasing along with the temperature, salinization, desertification and inundation. The present US industrial agricultural situation in which the average meal travels 2000 miles from farm to plate and takes 10 calories of energy to produce 1 calorie of food energy is patently unsustainable and on its way to join finance, manufacturing and housing in sequential collapse.

For a better grasp of all this, i recommend you read The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, one of the most important books around. There was a proposal that author Michael Pollan should be chosen as US Secretary of Agriculture. He has modestly declined but remains at the forefront of those demanding reforms in agriculture.

No comments: