Local famers, fisher folk severely affected by COVID-19 – FAO survey
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Fishing vessels in Berbice (File photo)
Fishing vessels in Berbice (File photo)

– women’s workload increased, targeted interventions for vulnerable groups needed

THE majority of farmers and fisher folk in Guyana have reported a reduction in overall income from May to July as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and there was a noticeable decline in employment of daily or seasonal agricultural labourers.
This is according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations which utilised data obtained via an online survey to measure and respond to the impact of COVID-19 on Guyana’s food systems.

The survey was done in partnership with the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), FAO and with oversight by the Agriculture Ministry. The assessment was conducted from July to August 2020.

The respondents included Agriculture extension officers (167), farmers and fishers (741), vendors (88), and food traders (116). Participants were drawn from all 10 administrative regions of Guyana.

The main areas of focus were on production activities and the livelihoods of farmers, fishers, vendors of agriculture inputs, and food traders to assess income/production losses; inputs, marketing and supply chain difficulties and shifts in food consumption choices.

According to the FAO, the majority of farmers and fisher folk reported a reduction in overall income from May to July compared to the same period last year while livestock farming respondents revealed production difficulties with access to feed, supply chain, and processing and retail/market issues.

Farmers were unable to sell off their produce in the market during COVID-19 (File photo)

Fisherfolks and extension officers expressed difficulties to market fish, in decreased prices and other concerns and restrictions related to COVID-19.

Respondents, the FAO noted, also indicated a noticeable decline in employment of daily or seasonal agricultural labourers, the number of market traders operating on a regular basis, hiring of vehicles to transport agriculture produce and livestock, and daily market labour wage rate.

The survey also found that challenges to the food system regarding sales were mainly due to COVID-19 business restrictions, since producers and consumers were unable to access markets/shops.

“Some effects on food access were the closure of food shops, transport limitations, or lost wages. Overall, the reduction of income, access to markets and other difficulties within the food system varied across the 10 administrative regions. Limited availability of certain foods was also widely reported, while in some instances there were changes in demand,” the FAO reported.

The survey also disclosed that farmers and fisherfolks indicated that they have consumed lesser quantities of nutritious foods because there was not enough food or money to feed household members.

Meanwhile, the FAO noted that women’s workload increased (productive, domestic and care tasks, and community participation) despite the fact that their main productive activities are being affected by COVID-19.

“The majority of farmers and fisher respondents would like some livelihood assistance which can include cash assistance, seeds, fertilisers, animal feeds, and pesticides. All of these were also identified by the Extension Officers with the addition of marketing support,” the FAO report noted.

The impacts of COVID-19, the FAO stated, unfolded on top of different shocks such as heavy rains/floods, outbreak of pests and diseases, and dry spell/drought.

“This assessment also documented the systemic nature of disaster risk and establishes the need for building resilience of the agriculture sector against multiple hazards and risks—both familiar and unfamiliar,” the report stated.

Guyana, the FAO added, like most countries, is early in its pandemic response and the results from this assessment have already begun to help the Ministry of Agriculture in targeting solutions.

The recommendations provided will help the government, development partners, and the private sector to collaborate, rebuild and strengthen approaches to evolving hazards and shocks amidst the continuously fluid COVID-19 situation.

Targeted interventions to support the most vulnerable groups or households that have been most affected, have commenced.

Meanwhile, the FAO stated that recommendations were proposed for the provision of seeds, planting materials, restocking of livestock (small-ruminants, poultry), and supply of critical inputs mainly for most vulnerable and female-headed households.

“It encourages too marketing assistance, processing support, and fishing gears/tools to small-scale artisanal fishers; and emergency employment or cash-transfer (e.g. Cash for Work) programmes for most vulnerable and affected casual/seasonal workers. Overall, the listed recommendations align well to the 2020 budgetary allocations for agriculture and FAO priority areas for intervention,” the FAO emphasised.

Long term suggestions are to conduct a systematic stocktaking of experiences and lessons learned from COVID-19 and ensure that these are integrated into upcoming or interim updates of sectoral/multi-sectoral plans, strategies, frameworks, policies, and investment plans.

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