By Diane Phillips
A year or more ago when we first heard the words supply chain interruption, the idea felt distant, like someone else’s problem. It’s the way we used to feel about climate change. Surely, someone would fix it in time. Then along came Dorian and we knew climate change wasn’t someone else’s problem. It was ours AND everyone else’s.
Dorian taught us we weren’t as special as we thought. We weren’t protected by the gods that always seemed to shine on The Bahamas and pull us through. We were just a small nation with many blessings, but we were as vulnerable as a tiny, shy child on the first day of school.
Like climate change, supply chain interruption was, and is, real.
If you don’t believe me, go to your local pharmacy and check out the empty spaces. Talk to a retailer and listen to their woes about how long they have been waiting for goods they ordered months ago. Talk to a wholesaler who is worried she won’t have enough inventory to satisfy demand for the holidays. Call a grocery store manager and you’ll hear some grocers are struggling more than others, but all are worried.
Shoppers are settling for second choices when the product label they are accustomed to isn’t there.
If you are reading this in hard copy, even the newsprint you are holding in your hand was backordered, a shortage that affected both dailies in recent weeks.
But perhaps nowhere is it hitting harder locally than in light industry manufacturing which is totally dependent on products from abroad to make what they sell locally or export.
In the words of one frustrated businessman: “What used to take me 10 days to order from Miami is now 30 days out or more,” says the manufacturer who has plenty of work but not the materials to complete jobs fast enough to keep customers satisfied. The three-fold delay in delivery is bad enough for what he orders from South Florida. Arrival of metal that originates in the Far East is so unpredictable that he has no idea in a six-month range when it will hit his shop. Freight charges are rising so fast that they are impacting the ability to price goods without risk of losing more by taking on more work. “In the old days, you’d get a catalogue and prices would be good for six months or, in some cases, the full year. About a month ago, our suppliers sent notices that their quote was good for 24 hours,” says that manufacturer.
We know some of the reasons why there is a shortage of the goods and supplies needed to fill the shelves, starting with a tariff trade war between Trump and China, complicated by COVID which shut down factories and ports, all of that compounded by the blocking of the Suez Canal in March when a 200,000-ton cargo ship straddled the entrance, leaving hundreds of ships trying to get through trailing behind as far as the eye could see.
What led up to those empty spaces in the pharmacy was a perfect storm, a Dorian of delays. But knowing the cause does not provide answers about how to manage consequences and that’s where our focus must be for the next year until we rebound.
I’m not a financial analyst or an economist of even the most basic level. The simple thought of balancing a cheque book induces sleep. But I do think that this is a time when we are all going to have to be more creative. We will become less dependent on the outside world and more self-sufficient. We will grow a little more in our back yard or front porch in vertical farms. We will recycle an old skirt, turning the best of its material into a scarf. But on a larger scale, I believe we will return to a system that has worked in extreme or challenging conditions before, bartering.
Bartering has been around forever. In the Middle Ages, furs and silks were traded or bartered for spices and other necessities. During the Great Depression of the early 1930’s when money was scarce, bartering became the new currency. Nearly a century later, we are hauling the ancient bartering vehicle out of mothballs, thanks to the technology that lets us trade what we don’t want and buy what we do on sites like Mama’s Marketplace here or BizBuySell, Craig’s List or Shopify globally.
Given empty shelves today, can bartering be far behind? I’d be happy to trade a garden full of seedlings for someone just to cook a week’s worth of dinners. And that manufacturer? Maybe he would trade a few tools for a few strips of metal he needs that one day will make it to the dock in Miami and on to Nassau.
To barter or not to barter – it isn’t a matter of principle. Supply and demand just like always. It’s a matter of what you have that I want and what I am willing to pay. If the trade is fair, it sounds like a deal to me.
Congratulations, Coral Vita
When two Yale School of the Environment graduate students named Gator Halpern and Sam Teicher landed on Grand Bahama with the idea of helping to save the world from the impact of climate change by growing and rebuilding coral reefs, they probably got the same nod of “Sure, you will, and good luck,” that most young men with a dream get.
This week, Halpern and Teicher, founders of the Coral Vita project, brought glory to The Bahamas when they won the inaugural Earthshot Prize in the ‘Revive Our Oceans’ category. Supported by Prince William, Halpern and Teicher will use the £1 million prize to replicate the work Coral Vita is doing in Grand Bahama in places where coral reefs are found around the world.
All of us who have in one way or another touched or been touched by the craving to do our part to sustain the fragile beauty and biodiversity of this place we call home put our hands together to congratulate two men with a dream who found a way to grow climate change resilient coral up to 50 times faster than ever before. We thank them and wish them and the team they built every possible success.
In a dramatic speech on a world stage, they thanked The Bahamas for welcoming them. We thank them for choosing The Bahamas.