Over the past several weeks, headlines have been dominated by news of the war in Ukraine, Russian involvement in that conflict, and the subsequent economic sanctions imposed on Russia as punishment. As this article will argue, these events have already had far-reaching effects on Caribbean nations and pose significant threats to their food security going forward.
In the Caribbean, economists and leaders are reflecting on how the conflict in the breadbasket of Europe will affect an import-dependent region that is still reeling from the financial impacts of Covid-19, amidst supply chain disruptions, hikes in oil and commodity prices, rising shipping costs and limited availability of vessels and containers.
The impact of food security is a major concern for Caribbean nations, said Minister for Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Senator Dr Carolyn Seepersad-Bachan at a recent conference held by NEPAD/Food Security Programme (FSP) in Jamaica.
“We have been trying to look at ways we can ensure food security within our own borders so that we don’t have to rely on imports, she added. Our vulnerability as a small island developing state means we must take advantage of all opportunities for sustainable development through diversification of our economy and strengthening local production capacity”.
The Caribbean imports more than 80% percent of its food from outside the region, spending approximately $4.75 billion in 2018. This number is expected to increase to over $10 billion in 2022 as the region’s population grows.
The impact of this war affects food imports in two ways. The first is the direct cut-off of Russian produce from the international markets, many of which is sent to the Caribbean. For example, imports of wheat and onions will most likely significantly increase. Additionally, as food prices increase globally because of sanctions on Russia, food prices in the Caribbean are expected to rise as well. In fact, Venezuela has already increased its exports to Cuba by a whopping 400% since Russia was sanctioned.
The second way that conflict in Ukraine could affect food security is through a reduction in tourism revenues for Caribbean nations. Although it’s not clear how much tourism revenue comes directly from Russia or Ukrainians travelling abroad (many tourists come from Europe), it’s safe to say that a decrease would be felt throughout these economies.
The Ukrainian war’s impact on the Caribbean and tourism almost directly relates to the increases in oil and subsequent fuel costs. Unfortunately, you might find it is a little more expensive to travel to the warm and sandy paradise islands of the Caribbean when you decide to take your next trip. The reason for that is because of where these countries get their energy from.
Most island nations do not have an internal source of energy production, which means they rely heavily on imports from other countries. In fact, many Caribbean nations import over 90% of their energy supplies from other nations.
With all that imported fuel comes a hefty price tag, which has led to some rather large increases in gas prices across several islands including Aruba and Curacao (which are up by nearly 40%). Of course, increased gas prices lead to higher transportation costs as well as higher shipping fees for goods being shipped into or out of these countries; unfortunately, those rising costs tend to be passed down through supply chains or end up being paid by consumers at retail stores throughout each country.
The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) made up of 20 nations, released a statement shortly after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine stating “it strongly condemns the military attacks and invasion of Ukraine by The Russian Federation and calls for the immediate and complete withdrawal of the military presence and cessation of any further actions that may intensify the current perilous situation in that country.”
CARICOM in their statement also criticized the recognition by Russia of the Ukrainian regions of Donetsk and Luhansk as independent, calling it a “violation of the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine.” The organization has also called for an end to violence in Ukraine and for negotiations between all parties involved. The group stated that they are ready to assist both sides if requested.
The Organization of American States (OAS) also condemned Russian actions in Crimea stating that it had no right to annex Crimea or any other part of Ukraine under international law. OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza stated that Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine constitutes a grave violation of international law. The OAS has urged dialogue between all parties involved and demanded that Russia cease its aggression against its neighbour immediately.
And lastly, what of Cuba in this crisis?
Though there are no current plans for Cuba to take on any diplomatic role as a peacemaker or peacekeeper (Moscow and Havana are on good terms), it’s easy to imagine how closer ties might be beneficial for both countries when it comes to regional security issues.