A fairly recent UNICEF report confirms what most Belizeans believe, that the majority of our people aren’t eating right. Food (and water) is the number one need of all living organisms on earth, with good, wholesome food being essential to the proper functioning of the many organs of the human body. Our diet has been slipping for decades, and the evidence of that is the number of relatively young Belizeans who are suffering from debilitating diseases.
UNICEF says “the world’s children are getting progressively heavier, with 18 percent of children and teens aged 5-19 overweight in 2018, compared to only 4 percent a few decades ago, in 1975. In Latin America and the Caribbean, 7.3 percent of children are overweight by age 5; globally, this accounted for almost 40 million children in 2017.”
The study says 11% of Belize City children under five are overweight, and 9% of those overweight children are found on “the Southside, where poverty is highest.” It also says that 7% of children in Cayo, Orange Walk and Toledo, 6% of children in Stann Creek, and 5% of children in Corozal, suffer from obesity. A whopping third of children in Toledo have stunted growth.
One consequence of sedentary living is obesity, and a key factor which leads to that condition is bad food. Bad food affects the learning ability and energy level of children, and in later life bad food leads to diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular problems and other diseases.
A recent report by the Statistical Institute of Belize (SIB) stated that poverty in our country was extremely high, upwards of 40%, a little over a decade ago, and it had increased to 52% prior to the pandemic.
Poor Belizeans not only can’t afford good food, but they also can’t afford low-cost food to fill their bellies, and to allay the latter condition the last government instituted a pantry program. The pantry was merely stopgap, the foods provided in the program being cheap substitutes for the wholesome food our people need. When the Covid-19 pandemic gripped the world in 2020, thousands more Belizeans joined the 52% who were getting by on an insufficient diet.
In its 2020-2025 manifesto, the present government promised to create more opportunities for the people, and one of the promises was to deliver a $5-per-hour minimum wage for workers. The pandemic will prevent that from being realized for some time yet — our government actually had to reduce the earnings of its employees to keep our finances afloat — but when we do arrive at a $5-per- hour minimum wage and vastly improved employment numbers, those won’t be nearly sufficient to allow the majority of Belizeans to eat right.
The cost of wholesome food is way out of the reach of most Belizeans. Money is what it can buy, and the cost of food is going up, not down. Neither Price’s mixed economy nor the various forms of laissez faire under Esquivel, Musa, and Barrow have delivered plenty of wholesome food on tables across our land. Even if the Briceño version of capitalism could deliver the full prize for the masses, and in our present economic structure we don’t think that possible, it won’t do so in the short term because of the pandemic, and our people need better food, NOW.
There is sufficient good land, and our farmers have the technology to flood the markets with cheap, wholesome food, but that reality has never been the fortune of the masses. Ignorance of the worth of cheap, wholesome food is not the explanation for this failure. We are all taught in school about the importance of a good, balanced diet rich in proteins, vitamins and minerals, so our leaders know what they should deliver for the people.
The richer countries in the world know the importance of providing plentiful, wholesome food, and their solution is simple: in the richer countries they subsidize their farmers. Countries like the UK and the USA experienced food rationing during times of war, and in response their leaders placed massive emphasis on food production. British and American farmers are heavily subsidized, and those countries’ leaders don’t worry about trade agreements or the impact their surpluses have on less wealthy countries. They are about ensuring that their people have the best food, and our leaders need to think like that too.
We don’t have the finances to subsidize our farmers, nowhere near to the extent that the richer countries do, and we cannot brazenly practice forms of protectionism (they would surely punish us), but our people have to eat GOOD FOOD, and they need that good food—NOW.
It is possible that our economists are fat cats, possible that they have never seriously considered the many less fortunate Belizeans. If they have looked at the situation of their brothers and sisters, seriously, then their methods keep coming up flat.
Health is wealth; it is proven that what we put into our bodies can give us the energy to think creatively, and to work hard physically, or it can poison us. Our people need coconut oil, but they can only afford 1-2-3. We have to fix that.
The present government, while it is chasing its tourism and other big business dreams, must know that its aim of creating more jobs and establishing a $5 per hour minimum wage won’t go very far toward making good, wholesome food on every table a reality. In the last thirteen years, dreams not dissimilar to theirs saw our poverty rate increase by 11%.
We know the problems, how the cost of transportation is out-of-this-world high, and how we have poor capacity to process and preserve produce. We all know the cost disadvantages associated with a small population. Even highly populated countries try to increase their market size by joining trade associations, and Belize is no different, with membership in CARICOM and SICA.
What we need to address the food needs of our people from the Hondo to the Sarstoon is a down-to-earth homegrown plan that is separate from our present economic structure. We have good land, sufficient water, and a resourceful people. If we desire it, if we have the political will, it can be done.
Until such time we are like the thirsty sailor in Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner who looked at the expanse of water and said, “Water, water everywhere, Nor any drop to drink.” It is unacceptable that with our potential, with our fertile land and with our resourceful people, more than fifty percent of our people aren’t eating good food.