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Guyana’s agricultural sector has been significantly affected by the Novel Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said Monday.
According to the FAO, over 1000 farmers, fisherfolk, vendors and others in the agriculture sector have reported that the COVID-19 pandemic has affected them through loss of income, labour shortage, limited access to markets and shops, limited access to food, gender disparity and inefficient access to financial and technical assistance.
The challenges faced by those in the agricultural sector were documented by the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and FAO with oversight by the Ministry of Agriculture following the completion of an online survey done from July to August 2020.
The respondents included 167 Agriculture Extension Officers, 741 Farmers and Fishers, 88 Vendors, and 116 Food Traders. Participants were drawn from all ten Administrative Regions of Guyana.
Meanwhile, the main areas of focus were on production activities and the livelihoods of those who participated to assess income or production losses, inputs, marketing and supply chain difficulties and shifts in food consumption choices.
Regarding loss of income, the report stated: “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. Fisherfolks and Extension Officers informed of difficulties to market fish, decreased prices and other concerns and restrictions related to COVID-19.”
Labour shortage was also a key issue as respondents indicated a noticeable decline in employment of daily or seasonal agricultural labourers, the number of market traders operating on a regular basis, the hiring of vehicles to transport agricultural produce and livestock, and daily market labour wage rate.
Compounding this was the limited access to markets or 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,” the report stated.
Additionally, farmers and fisherfolk respondents also indicated that they have consumed lesser quantities of nutritious foods because there was not enough food or money to feed household members while women’s workload increased regarding productive, domestic and community participation, though their main productive activities are still being affected by COVID-19.
The majority of farmer and fisher respondents desire some livelihood assistance which can include cash assistance, seeds, fertilizers, animal feeds, and pesticides. 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.
The FAO has noted that the listed recommendations align well to the 2020 budgetary allocations for agriculture and FAO priority areas for intervention.