30 June 2009
The world achieved a dubious record recently. For the first time in its history, a billion people--that is a thousand million children, women and men--are seriously underfed. To put it clearly, they are really hungry. Most of these starving people go to bed hungry each night and the majority of them will face the very same empty stomachs and pain the very next day.
Of course, some of this billion people are found right here at home. The current international financial breakdown, the money tsunami, has hit right across the nations of the world. Our small country has not escaped this pain! Some of our own people more than ever before are suffering the same lack of food and it will get worse before it gets better.
How many of us remember this time last year when the rice price finally hit the $200 mark for the first time. Immediately, Honiara's residents, demanded that government do something about it. Poor people couldn't live with such a price hike. Yes, there were signs that government had become alarmed. Rice import taxes were lowered and in some cases slashed, other leaders turned to Thailand for cheaper import only to find that transport costs more than made up for the original cheapness and still others claimed that the nation must grow its own rice.
Paying more than $200 million yearly for overseas' rice was not a healthy national plan for the long term. Then, Taiwan offered $25 million for the Solomons to become a serious player in the planting, harvesting and rice processing business. As good as this thought was, the idea that the Solomons could in a short period of time become almost self-sufficient in rice production was unrealistic.
Of course our people could grow, harvest and process rice as good as anyone else. But a rice culture is something more, it's a way of life. Labour intensive and exacting, rice growing is a grain that developed over centuries in southeast Asia. It takes years and years of practice before rice cultivation becomes second nature.
Yet at the same time we have in our midst experts in other kinds of food production. Our women's ability to produce food through their expertise in planting, caring for and harvesting the nation's root crop product has had a track record of hundreds and hundreds of years. Yet, rarely have our decision makers turned to them, assisted, helped and offered a helping hand to make their potato, yam, taro, cassava, etc. plantings more and more plentiful and profitable
Currently a billion people go to bed nightly with little hope that the next day will see them eating more than a single meal for many days in the future. Some of these billion would give their back teeth to be assured that tomorrow would bring them ONE meal for the whole family.
While thanking Almighty God for His blessing of plenty upon us, he usually does not reward us by performing a miracle or two. What He does expect, however, is for us to use the gifts already given--healthy farm lands, abundant rain, pest free areas and expert farmers--to make the best of these gifts not only for ourselves but others not so well blessed.
Our Parliamentarians occupy a special position in this hungry business. Their 2 million dollar grant--the Rural Constituency Development Fund and other funds under their care--could not be better focused than increasing food production. The financial meltdown that makes food more and more expensive world wide, will not go away this year. In fact, this time next year it will only begin to lessen. By mid-2010, if we are lucky, the world will begin to see a modest up turn. That's for the world! Our own case, however, well might take longer.
That is why focused efforts by government decision makers, rural farmers, women gardeners and the rest of us have to realize that the problem of One Billion Hungry People stares us in the face this very moment. The nation has a chance to pull itself up and get cracking with agricultural policies that deliver food security for all. No longer can we depend upon Australian rice, Asian biscuits, noodles and starches while our own people already know how to grow enough food for all of us . . . and at an affordable price.