Guyana joined the rest of the world on Friday in observing World Food Day 2020, themed: “Grow, nourish, sustain. Together. Our actions are our future.” The year also marks the Food and Agriculture Organisation’s 75th anniversary.
This year’s campaign, the FAO representative in Guyana highlighted, emphasises global cooperation and solidarity to make sure that the threat of COVID-19 to food security and agricultural livelihoods is addressed. The Organisation highlights the need to help the most vulnerable to get access to healthy food and to regain their livelihoods quickly. Certainly, 2020 has not been like any other years as COVID-19 has stagnated the world. “The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World” report has stated that an estimated 820 million people worldwide did not have enough to eat. That report, which is done annually, is based on a global assessment by leading United Nations agencies on food security and nutrition in relation to the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which aims to end hunger and all forms of malnutrition by 2030. The report has found that hunger is increasing in many countries where economic growth is lagging. It also found that income inequality is rising in many of the countries where hunger is on the rise, making it even more difficult for the poor, vulnerable or marginalised to cope with economic slowdowns and downturns.
According to the report, the situation is most alarming in Africa, as that region has the highest rates of hunger in the world, and those rates are continuing, slowly but steadily, to rise in almost all sub-regions. In eastern Africa in particular, close to a third of the population (30.8 per cent) is undernourished. In addition to climate and conflict, economic slowdowns and downturns are driving the rise.
The report mentions that the largest number of undernourished people (more than 500 million) live in Asia, mostly in southern Asian countries. Together, Africa and Asia bear the greatest share of all forms of malnutrition, accounting for more than nine out of ten of all stunted children, and over nine out of ten of all wasted children worldwide.
Here, in this region, while agriculture and agriculture-related issues have dominated discussions at almost every level, many are of the view that regional heads have not taken the kind of action needed to ensure countries are food secure. It could be recalled that in 2002, former President Bharrat Jagdeo, who had lead responsibility at the time for agriculture in the Caricom quasi-Cabinet, had sought assistance from the FAO and the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) to boost the Region’s efforts in ensuring it is food secure.
One year after, Jagdeo proposed that the Region build on its past efforts to develop a common agricultural policy, and requested that the IICA and the FAO support the Caricom Secretariat in developing a framework for repositioning agriculture in the Region.
In underlining the problems the agricultural sector faces in the Region, Jagdeo had stressed that in the changing global environment, the sector was neither providing for food security nor earning the foreign exchange needed to cover the Region’s growing food import bill.
The declining role of agriculture in the Region, the continuing loss of preferential markets for the Region’s traditional products, and the rapidly-increasing extra-regional food import bill and now COVID-19 are among the serious challenges that have to be addressed.
There is need for countries in the Region to better organise themselves and their individual farming sectors, and encourage young persons to embrace new technologies to see farming and agriculture as a business.
While Guyana is now an oil-producing nation, and much attention is being placed on this new economy, it has already been noted by the new Administration that traditional sectors, among which are agriculture, mining and manufacturing, are not on the back burner. Guyana must continue to make the necessary interventions to ensure the country produces enough to meet the demands of its citizens, and to even take advantage of the export market.
The COVID-19 global health crisis has been a time to reflect on the things we truly cherish, as was said by the FAO rep, and likewise it has exposed individual and common vulnerabilities, but it has also demonstrated our resolve and resilience. We agree that food is the essence of life and the bedrock of cultures and communities. Also, we support the call by the FAO rep that farmers and workers throughout the food system, who are making sure that food makes its way from farm to table, even amid disruptions posed by the current COVID-19 crisis, must be supported.