‘The cost of Covid’  

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A vendor who works along with Mark Sukhai sanitizes his hand

-Bourda Market vendors face financial setbacks from pandemic  

By Lisa Hamilton  

Though COVID-19 in Guyana is now more than a year old, vendors at the Bourda Market in Georgetown are feeling the financial squeeze as a result of loss of sales tied to the reduction in shoppers and are hoping that some form of relief can come soon so that they can make ends meet.

“Since COVID-19, the market ain’t really seeing no proper business, business very slow,” said Sonalall Amin, a vendor who sells mostly fruits and vegetables. He has been operating at the location for about 25 years. He explained that the prices of goods have been fluctuating but, without doubt, some items are more expensive to acquire which affects the cost at which he can re-sell to customers. Coupled with that, customers themselves are only trickling in compared to business pre-COVID.

MAKING ENDS MEET  

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Sherryann Selman holds up a bundle of pakchoi as she speaks about the fluctuation in prices

“Maybe like one-third sales gone. I come out here every day. As a family person you got to try with it, you gotta try make ends meet,” he said.

Not far up, three women sat looking out for customers in front of a stall that sold almost everything you could find in the average Guyanese kitchen cupboard. The women wished not to be identified by name but spoke freely about their concerns.

“It [sales] deteriorate a lot! Nothing ain’t coming on much but you got to try cope with the little that you getting, make do with it,” said one woman who added that she was making much less than before but her mortgage remained the same and had to be paid.

She continued: “When you got bills to pay it’s stressful, it’s stressful. This is my main source of income, I got mortgage to pay, I got light bill, phone bill, internet bill…right now all the goods keep going up, you can’t lower anything because the prices keep going up.”

Giving an example, the woman pointed to a large bottle of soya oil which she said was for $2,100 the week prior but was now for $2,200. Other items the women with her noted have seen an increase include milk and sugar, the latter which moved from $80 to $120 per pound.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), international food commodity prices rose for the 11th consecutive month in April, with sugar leading the increase. Another vendor, selling mostly vegetables and herbs said that some days she has to send her leftover vegetables to the St. Ann’s Orphanage on Thomas Street or they would simply spoil before her eyes.

“People ain’t normally coming out like before and shop. Nuff people afraid of the crowding up and so on so people prefer go in supermarket. What we fighting here so now is the market that open up at Alexander Street, the market extend till to Robb and then it goes on Alexander Street. That’s what slowing things for us. Most people, by time they reach here they almost get everything. I cut down half of me buying and still things does leave back,” said Sherryann Selman, a single parent.

Mark Sukhai says he remains positive despite the pandemic

Holding up a bundle of pakchoi, she said that while it previously cost her $2,000 – $2,500 for 100 bundles but now it costs $5,000 – $6,000 a bundle. Selman has been at the location for over 27 years and said that when COVID-19 came to Guyana, things have not been the same for vendors. She told the newspaper, also, that when gas prices rise so does the cost for the produce she buys and, therefore, so does the cost for customers who repurchase.

Further up, the owner of Rhonda and Daughter’s Fruit Stall said: “For a lil while, the market was okay. Because when they did give we the lockdown we used to come out and sell from 6 o’clock to 2 o’clock and we had better sales than now, when it was a set time. But since the normal thing the market get slow, not like before.”

When fruits are in season she said that she can purchase them for resale at a normal price but once it becomes scarce, the price changes. The woman said that she had applied to the Small Business Bureau (SBB) for a grant for a separate poultry business since 2017 and is still awaiting word. “I registered with Small Business since 2017. They did giving out $500,000 grants, we full up [the forms], we had to give them certain requirements because we [submitted] for poultry. That was long till I even forget about it…I carried in my paper [again] earlier this year but we still waiting and it’s a lil while,” she said.

IT’S A DAILY RISK 

Meanwhile, keen on the COVID-19 guidelines as it relates to social distancing, sanitizing one’s hands and wearing facemasks were those selling along with vendor Mark Sukhai.

Speaking with Sukhai, he told the newspaper: “Everything changed since the COVID…some people will say it’s bad but whatever you got you gotta say thanks, it’s better than nothing because if we had to be home it would have been less than nothing but we’re still coming out.”

Central to the fight against the virus and long before it came about, the business only sold fruits and fruit juice. Sukhai said that while he understands it’s a daily risk coming out to sell, he does it so that he and his family can make a living.

“As long as I’m out here I’ve been telling them [workers] wear their masks, sanitise, wash your hands because this is our livelihood, we still have to be out here,” he said.

Opposite him, an old Indian woman stood cutting eddo leaves for packaging in clear plastic bags for sale. She told the Village Voice News that she only sells carrots and eddo leaves.

“I content with the little I sell. The persons that come and buy its normal people that come and buy,” said Selmattie Davy, who noted that, thankfully, the price she pays for the eddo leaves has remained the same.

A LITTLE MORE WON’T HURT 

Sonalall Amin arranges some of his produce on sale

All of the vendors interviewed noted that they would have benefitted from the COVID-19 cash grant but some wished that there was more the Government could do in the form of grants to keep them afloat. “They should have come a little bit more with that cash grant because they get a lot of money to give. $25,000 is like a slap in yuh face. My household is three people and that $25,000 can’t even feed me for a week,” said one of the women who sat among the three.

Speaking to the same, Selman said: “That would be a help. At least even if it’s once every two-three months it would be alright because we ain’t expect the Government to give we every month but everything just raising.”

Davy said that her daughter received the COVID-19 cash grant but utilized it for the household, She said an additional grant from the Government “would be nice”. “I would use it to buy my produce that I normally sell,” she said. Under the COVID-19 Emergency Measures set in place by the Government, markets, supermarkets, fruit and vegetable stalls, bulk food stores, and neighbourhood grocery shops are allowed to be opened between the hours of 4 AM to 9:30 PM.



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