Agriculture: Food for life – especially in the interior of Guyana

By Stabroek News – Editorial – October 31, 2019

Last Friday, when she hosted a symposium for Region Nine (Upper Takutu-Upper Essequibo) farmers, Minister within the Ministry of Agriculture Valerie Adams-Yearwood was quoted as telling them that the forecast showed “a bright future… for agriculture in the Rupununi, if economic development is pursued in a way that conserves the region’s cultural and natural heritage…”, this is according to the Department of Public Information (DPI).

Economic development is crucial, no doubt about that, but there are several other factors that could very well shift the touted forecast and one of them, the main one, is climate change, which was referred to in the DPI press release.   

It was stated that some Region Nine farmers were pleased that they were able to grow rice, in the face of weather conditions which had made their cassava crops less than optimal. But rice is also susceptible to adverse weather conditions and switching to planting grain surely does not conserve the region’s natural and cultural heritage.

Meanwhile, migration is another important consideration. Shifting population numbers, either up or down, would definitely have an impact on food production. Higher population numbers could lead to food shortages, lower numbers would mean a scarcity of labour for farming. And if there is one thing that can be said definitively of people in general, it’s that they tend to move around, sometimes intentionally, but at times out of necessity also.

A case in point is the situation in Venezuela, which has seen its citizens leave en masse. Venezuelans migrated before for different reasons. The ongoing crisis has led to millions more leaving because they had to. While some have come to this country, the majority, once they had a choice, chose Spanish-speaking countries for obvious reasons. But every country which has had an influx of Venezuelan refugees has had to make adjustments to provide for them, at least initially, when they had no jobs or places to live. Food is one of the necessities they had to be provided with.

Every year, all around the world, food prices are continuing to rise as some of the readily available examples show. The Bureau of Statistics’ Georgetown Consumer Price Index shows a steady rise in food prices between December 2013 and August 2019, going from 124.1 to 146.4 according to information posted on its website. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, prices for food were 53.67% higher in 2019 than in 2000. In the United Kingdom, according to the British Retail Consortium, food prices have reached their highest rate of inflation in more than five years. Naturally, this is being blamed on Brexit and while that situation is likely increasing the country’s food inflation, it is obviously not responsible for what is happening elsewhere in the world. In Canada, for example, it was reported that the cost of food increased 3.7% in September as compared to the same month last year.

In May, Cuba’s Commerce Minister Betsy Díaz Velázquez had announced the rationing of chicken, eggs, rice, beans, soap and other basic products owing to shortages. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation, which, among other things, monitors food prices on a daily basis, reported that as prices go up more people will find themselves unable to buy even the basics.

According to the World Economic Forum, the World Food Programme estimated in 2017 that people in the developing world were spending between 60% and 80% of their household income on food. And yet, hunger persists. The World Health Organisation, in its The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World report released back in July this year, had noted that up to 2018, an estimated 820 million people did not have enough to eat and that this figure had grown from 811 million in 2017. This is despite several advances made in changing the way farming is done, including the development of seeds that are flood, drought and disease resistant; greater use of environmentally friendly fertilisers and soil additives; and using hydroponics to grow food, to take climate change and world population growth into consideration.

Shortages and higher prices for food continue to negatively impact the moves to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal of zero hunger by 2030. The goal aside, one thing’s for certain and that is the world cannot continue as is. Growing more food is not an option, but a necessity. But even more critical is the inculcating of proper management of what is produced, not only to prevent waste, but also to balance the scales as regards distribution.

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