A BBC Report in mid-February stated that some 500 million children are at risk because of malnutrition. According to the article, half a billion children could grow up physically and mentally stunted over the next 15 years because they do not have enough to eat. The report warned that much more needed to be done to tackle malnutrition in the world’s poorest countries.
According to the findings of a survey done, many families could not afford meat, milk or vegetables which are protein-rich foods necessary for healthy living.
The survey covered families in India, Bangladesh, Peru, Pakistan and Nigeria and found a significant number of children who were forced to leave school to help out their parents by working for food. A third of parents surveyed said their children complained about not having enough to eat.
The survey was carried out in the five countries where more than half of the world’s malnourished live. Rising food prices are only adding to the plight of the poor. In addition, there is an increase in the number of children who have stunted growth, meaning that their body and brain have failed to develop properly due to malnutrition.
It is a sad situation when 2.6 million children die each year due to malnutrition. The situation is all the more depressing when consideration is taken of the billions of dollars that are spent annually on wars and on the military. These billions of dollars are more than adequate to send every child to school and to provide them with enough to live healthy and intellectually stimulating lives.
Guyana with its abundance of agricultural land, waterways and pastures makes us not only self-sufficient in terms of meeting our food requirements but provides us with a comparative advantage in terms of food exports to the wider Caribbean and beyond.
Yet, our food import bill is relatively high due mainly to our eating habits, which to a large extent is conditioned by our colonial past. We still have a preference for imported foods even though our local products are much more nutritious and palatable.
Even a cursory look at our supermarkets will indicate the wide array of imported food items on display which not only consume scarce foreign exchange earnings but also work against our domestic economy since it creates employment opportunities not for our local farmers but for those in the developed north.
One can argue that the banning of food items under the Burnham era was an attempt to change the consumption patterns of Guyanese and to promote the production of local food. This, however, was not the case.
Those of us who grew up and experienced life under the days of indiscriminate bans on essential food items would know that even the locally produced items were beyond the reach of the average Guyanese, and in some cases, were more expensive than imported items. This was largely due to failed and misguided agricultural policies and mismanagement by the then PNC regime.
Actually, wages were so low that a basket of goods necessary for a well balanced diet was unaffordable for the vast majority of Guyanese, many of whom could hardly afford the barest necessities of life from their meagre earnings.
Those were the days of what was known as the ‘underground’ economy. Many Guyanese in order to bring in food items were subjected to all kinds of humiliation at airports and points of entry. I recall on a return visit to Guyana as an in-transit passenger at the Piarco airport in Trinidad, we were all bundled in a separate room and were not allowed access to the airport shopping facilities unlike in-transit passengers from other countries. This type of differentiated treatment is still prevalent at some Caribbean airports, even though much has changed for the better, thanks to representation made by the Guyanese authorities.
Guyana has come a long way in terms of food sufficiency over the decades. During the colonial days, a survey done since the 1940s found that Guyanese were not consuming a healthy and balanced diet, due to high intake of carbohydrates as compared to protein and fats. The Nutrition Committee in 1948 found roughly 25% of school children necessitous.
As mentioned earlier, we are blessed with rich, fertile agricultural lands and many rivers and creeks from which we can have a wide array of fish which is rich in protein. Our vast hinterland pastures, especially in the interior savannahs, have the potential to provide enough meat for the entire Caribbean. It is clear that we have a comparative advantage in terms of meeting the food needs of the wider Caribbean.
This would require huge capital investments and cheap energy which currently is a limiting factor in terms of being competitive on the market. The generation of cheap energy is a critical factor in terms of agro-processing and other linkages, both vertical and horizontal.
With the harnessing of hydro-power in the years ahead, Guyana will be better positioned to take advantage of its unlimited potential as the breadbasket of the Caribbean.
Oct 16, 2018By Sean Devers in Trinidad In association with Regal, Vnet, Noble House Seafoods & Cascadia Hotel In murky conditions and played before virtually empty stands, Guyana Jaguars, led by a 79-run...
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