A Look at Food Insecurity in Guyana Then and Now

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SEATTLE — Sherry Ismail-Jailall grew up in Grove, Guyana in the 1970s and experienced food insecurity in Guyana firsthand. While meals consisting of rice, lentils, roti and vegetables were part of their everyday meals, what Ishmeil-Jailall and her siblings looked forward to most were the weekends where her parents treated them to meals where meat was the main component. She explained to The Borgen Project that “we were only allowed to eat [meat], like the other families we grew up with, on weekends every now and then. Most frequently, it would be Saturdays.”

High Prices Created Difficulties for Impoverished Families

Back then, the average cost of purchasing one chicken was $2,000 (in Guyanese dollars), while the cost for a pound of finer meat such as lamb or goat was $10,000. For families living in poverty, making as little as $500 a week, the ability to purchase high-quality meat with protein and nutrition was low, making food insecurity in Guyana common.

Ishmeil-Jailall explained that when income was especially low, bread, biscuits and water were what filled their stomachs. “We didn’t have enough money to afford the fancy sodas and juices,” nor were there many imported products. Products that were not made or cultivated in Guyana were often brought in through illegal trade and referred to as ban items. Looking back, she expressed confusion, saying that “To me, that doesn’t make sense, banned products should’ve been things no good for us, not things we made a living off of.”

According to Food for the Poor, those living in urban slums or rural farming areas, such as Garden of Eden or Craig, are often deprived of basic needs such as food and healthcare facilities. In terms of poverty, those living in such conditions are more prone to living below the poverty line.

In 1992, Randolph College reported that 43.2 percent of Guyana’s population was living in poverty, with 28.7 percent being in extreme poverty. By 2006, the poverty rate had decreased to 35 percent, an almost 10 percent drop, but Ishmeil-Jaillall explains that while there is more access to foods, domestic and foreign, the prices are out of reach.

Poor Accessibility a Contributor to Food Insecurity in Guyana

Agriculture makes up 17.5 percent of Guyana’s gross domestic product, so it can be concluded that that is a common employment source. However, according to Ishmeil-Jailall, “It requires a lot of labor, especially with the weather in Guyana. It was hard and many of the planters were of older age and had health issues. Plus, most of the crops had to be sold for profit, not eaten by the planter and their family.”

Currently, many crops are packaged and must pass safety protocols, resulting in high costs and taxes. If already unable to provide for their families, these additional costs would only sink families deeper into poverty in the process of trying to make a living.

Ishmeil-Jailall provided an example of the issues relating to food insecurity in Guyana through a popular product in the 1970s and 1980s, Chinese fried rice, which used to be $500. In 2017, the same product was being sold for $1,000. While the quality and quantity of food have improved, accessibility has not.

Many in Guyana still live as Ishmeil-Jailall and her family did almost three decades ago. Therefore, it can be concluded that while food insecurity in Guyana is improving in the sense that there is more food available, there is still a long way to go to achieve food security. This is due to issues surrounding employment, income, modern techniques and overall accessibility.

– Jessica Ramtahal
Photo: Flickr

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