Press release -The impact of COVID-19 on Guyana’s food systems

In times of a pandemic accompanied by a global economic shock, food security is a key concern for governments and development partners throughout the world.

To measure and respond to the impact of COVID-19 on Guyana’s food systems, the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) with oversight by the Ministry of Agriculture conducted an assessment from July to August 2020. 

This assessment which is presented in a final report, utilised data obtained via an online survey. The respondents included Agriculture Extension Officers (167), Farmers and Fishers (741), Vendors (88), and Food Traders (116). Participants were drawn from all ten 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. 

Key findings 

Loss of income -Majority of the farmers and fisherfolks 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. Fisherfolk and Extension Officers informed of difficulties to market fish, decreased prices and other concerns and restrictions related to COVID-19.

Labour shortage – Respondents 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. 

Limited consumer access to markets/shops -These 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 differently across the ten administrative regions. Limited availability of certain foods was also widely reported, while in some instances there were changes in demand. 

Limited access to food – Farmers and fisherfolks respondents also indicated that they have consumed lesser quantities of nutritious foods because there was not enough food or money to feed household members. 

Gender issues – Additionally, women’s workload increased (productive, domestic and care tasks, and community participation) despite their main productive activities are being affected by COVID-19. 

Need for financial and technical assistance-The majority of farmer 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 impacts of COVID-19 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.

Outcome

Guyana, 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 who have been most affected have commenced. Meanwhile, 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 results compiled have since helped with quick response and recovery actions, as well as medium to long-term resilience-building programmes and policies. 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. 

FAO Representative, Dr. Gillian Smith said “the success of this survey is attributed to the close working relationship and support received from the Ministry of Agriculture”.

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