The current COVID-19 pandemic has caused many to rethink their approach to their own food supplies. At the beginning of the pandemic, there was a mad rush to stock up on food supplies as there was a fear that stocks would become scarce due to the emergency measures that were implemented. This saw supermarkets and other retailers jacking up prices for their items which in effect contributed to households facing more financial pressure.
However, an important lesson that could be learnt from the pandemic is the need for persons to become less reliant on imported products. One way in which this could be done is for families to get involved in growing some of the items they consume, especially in terms of vegetables and fruits. Not only would this ease the financial burdens on families, but it also means that persons would be consuming healthier foods.
In addition to planting their own kitchen gardens, etc, to meet the demands of their own household, there is a need for persons to support local manufacturers so that they would thrive and be able to meet local demands and to export, if possible.
It continues to surprise many to see the number of foreign products which are on offer in supermarkets here as against the same type of local products. A quick glance at the shelves in most of the supermarkets in Georgetown and its environs will show that in spite of several campaigns being carried out to encourage consumers to ‘support local’, more foreign products are being offered to consumers, sometimes even at higher prices.
In the past, supermarket managers, though not dismissing the quality of local products, have claimed that it was easier to stock foreign products and that consumers have a preference for such products, and as such, there is greater turnover. It should be noted too that many local producers have claimed that the supermarkets would buy only limited quantities of their products despite the fact that their prices were competitive.
The Guyana Consumers Association (GCA) has been pushing local products and has even suggested that if the local product is of good quality and being offered at a competitive price when compared to foreign ones, then it would be in the consumer’s own interest to support locally-produced items. The GCA had stated that when consumers go into supermarkets, they should ask for local products, noting that if they keep buying foreign products, the supermarket owners will continue stocking foreign products.
Buying local products generates wealth and employment locally and is as much of social as economic benefit to communities and the country as a whole. Supporting local is something which all countries, even the wealthy ones such as the United States, advocate in one guise or another despite talk about globalisation and free trade.
Buying local is of ultimate benefit to the consumer himself; and it is easy to buy local if one analyses and compares the local product with its foreign equivalent. While we are not advocating that supermarkets or other retailers should limit the choices to consumers in any way, many consumers would agree that some local products are as good, or even better than the foreign ones, but yet, as a result of long indoctrination, they almost mechanistically buy the foreign ones.
That said, we just cannot assume that consumers would change their attitude to local products overnight. It requires much effort from both the Government and the mainstream Private Sector to encourage persons to support local products. While there have been campaigns in the past to encourage persons to buy local, such efforts were limited; they were basically ‘food fairs’ with minimal participation from local companies and citizens.
Additionally, some analysts have pointed out that the vast majority of the local manufacturing initiatives have been undertaken on a small scale, with minimal financial investment. In most cases, there is hardly enough money allocated towards ensuring that those local products are effectively marketed. We urge the authorities to take the necessary steps that would really begin to see local products being pushed on the market.