By Dr. Gillian Smith, FAO Representative in Guyana
The latest global economic figures indicate that impact of COVID-19 continues to be extremely sobering. In its recent outlook, ECLAC has noted that by the end of 2020, global trade of goods is expected to contract between 13 and 32%. In our region of Latin America and the Caribbean, a 23% fall in regional exports is predicted, as well as lower commodity prices on world markets. Remittances to the region are expected to continue dropping and most countries will see a contraction in economic growth.
Guyana is the only country that is expected to experience economic growth in 2020 – 44.3%. This is good news but still a very precarious situation. Despite this growth projection, Guyana must be prepared for the external shocks noted above, as well as internal shocks. The country is well placed to do so. However, COVID-19 infections here in Guyana, are rising, with special concern being cases in Regions 8 and 9. At the time of writing, there were 474 cases of COVID-19 recorded in the country; in fact, there were 44 new cases in 24 hours. The socio-economic position of many communities and households are constrained (some severely) and uncertain due to loss or reduction in income-earning activities.
Given the global and regional trends, it will be important to ensure that the country’s economic growth potential is not only realised but that it is also translated to sustainable development, for the benefit of all the people of Guyana. The agriculture and food systems provide an excellent opportunity and sound basis to ensure both food and nutrition security and better livelihoods and economic well-being.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations urges countries to undertake a coordinated and integrated response to COVID-19 and its potential impacts on their food systems. The suggested approaches provide guidance for an immediate response to urgent needs, as well as opening up opportunities that can be transformational in shaping and strengthening the emergent food systems that will be relevant for the future. These can be of immense value to safeguarding and more fully developing Guyana’s agriculture. Good nutrition is a goal that Guyana can support by making high quality, nutritious food more available to Guyana, CARICOM and global markets.
Here are a few matters for consideration.
Increasingly, throughout the Caribbean, more people are slipping below the poverty line as a result of the economic downturn being experienced as a result of COVID-19. Guyana is unlikely to be an exception, despite the economic growth that is projected to take place. A recent survey by CARICOM indicated that in June 2020, increasing numbers of persons reported facing greater challenges in affording food, compared to March. Therefore, even as the health response to the pandemic takes priority at this time, it is imperative that expanding and coordinating social protection initiatives must meet the dietary needs of the most vulnerable in the population. In this context, it is important that the country’s agriculture and farming system provide for a continuous and adequate supply of safe, wholesome food, inclusive of fresh fruit and vegetables, to satisfy the nutritional needs of all. As a related note, the relationship between poor nutrition and increased risk of problems from COVID-19 is well established.
Further, it is critical to support activities that quickly create and strengthen livelihoods and income earning, especially for smaller producers and distributors who anchor their local rural economies and communities. Coordinated public purchase from small producers to public institutions (schools, hospitals, social welfare distribution – hampers, etc) can provide a small but reliable, stable market for farmers while also promoting balanced diets of recipients. Bold thinking is required if agriculture and the local food system are to be resilient to the challenges of COVID-19, and are to respond to the long-term opportunities that may arise. Global and local food markets will be looking for more nutrition-sensitive, healthy foods.
Guyana is in the enviable position of having the right combination of resources that can truly create sustainable agriculture and food systems development.
The 2020 State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World Report encourages the global transformation of food systems towards affordable, healthy diets. This is the future of food systems which recognizes policies and incentives that promote nutrition sensitive investment, enhanced efficiencies across food supply chains, realignment of international and internal trade and marketing and re-orients consumer behaviour to more healthy, socially inclusive and environmentally friendly consumption patterns. This is where the agriculture market opportunities will be found, locally and regionally. Much hard work lies ahead, but the investment will yield a stream of benefits. A dynamic, efficient and sustainable food system leads to a healthy, productive population, who constitute the foundation of a progressive, resilient country. Food and nutrition security is fundamental to sustainable development. It is an achievable goal worth pursuing in the long-term interest of a resilient, cohesive and prosperous Guyana.