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Contributions for What is the role of social relations and networks in household food security and nutrition?

UG Agricultural Economics Focus 2014 University of Guyana, Guyana
UG Agricultural Economics

This post answers the question “What are some of the Challenges facing Social Relations and Networks in food and Nutritional Security” from a realistic perspective out of Guyana.  

Social Relations and networks were once an important aspect in food security in Guyana, especially rural communities. Today, communities located in the the hinterland regions still rely heavily on subsistence farming and hence social relations and networks prove to be necessary in garnering essential food security. The indigenous farmers each farm a staple crop; either cassava or peanuts, while others hunt and fish. It is in their best interest therefore to maintain good relations within their small communities so that they can trade and supply each other with the needed food items.

However, out upon the Coastal plains of Guyana, urbanization has been rampant. This has posed some challenges to the general social relations and networks in food security. Two challenges have been identified that reduced the once admirable level of social relations that Guyanese once displayed.

Firstly, the growing urban population has led to a decrease in the rural population. It should be noted at this point that almost all of the agriculture based produce are farmed in rural areas. Hence a growing urban population has led to the increase in demand of all agriculture products including cash crops, poultry, and fish. Farmers in the rural communities now focus on maximizing profits from their farming. Hence the competition that has arisen from market prices has led farmers to be more focused on their own well being than that of their communities. For example, farmers in the Mahaicony area have experienced an increase for “Hassa”, a sweet water fish, which carries an expensive price. Prior to the great increase in demand families and friends would fish together and share the catch among each other, trading what they had for what they didn’t have and even sell fellow farmers at relatively low prices. However, today, fishing in now more of job than a hobby. Individuals are very careful to mark their area of fishing, keeping the area where “Hassa” is abundant a secret from other fishers.  From this it is clear that a rise in market prices, leads to a competitive industry which gravely affects the social relations and networks in food security that were once present. Group 4 of the University of Guyana rightfully identified such activity as profit seeking which drastically reduces the social relation and networking with specific relation to food security.

Secondly, it was found that as urbanization has increased the number of extended families has decreased. Children are no longer staying at home to work on farms but are going to school, heading to the University and are starting small nuclear families in urban and sub-urban areas. Unfortunately, such families do little to no farming. All produce consumed are bought from markets (where sellers come from rural areas) or from supermarkets. This often leads more than not to generations of children being brought up who are not capable of planting a kitchen garden.  A personal example can testify to this. My father grew up in Mahaicony where his family planted, fished and caught birds for their home needs and for marketing purposes. He later moved to a sub-urban village where I was brought up. Due to the nature of his current work he no longer farms nor fishes, so no knowledge of those have been passed on to me or his other three children.  How can families in urban communities support each other in food security through social relations and networks if the “know how” hasn’t been passed on or isn’t being passed on to current and future generations?

Even though social relations and networks haven’t been completely wiped out it should be a concern that it has been decreasing. It is in the view of the members of this group that measures can be taken to restore some levels of social relation and networking in both urban and rural areas to increase food security and nutrition. One such way is to have workshops and peer education training that would encourage locals to farm small kitchen gardens from which they can get fresh, organic produce. In 2008 a “Grow more food” campaign was launched which was successful in allowing families to plant one crop in their own yard. A variety of seeds were given to each home and farmers in every community which aided in their production of cash crops.  A more intensive approach in this same regard with similar input policies on a community basis should encourage a revival in social relations and networking in food security. 

UG Agricultural Economics Focus 2014 University of Guyana, Guyana
UG Agricultural Economics

The role of social networks and social relationships do play key role in ensuring food nutrition and security. Many studies have proven that social interaction and relations is absolutely necessary for us to live healthy lives. The issue that is being raised by the moderator is one we fail pay attention to and I'm so happy that we have the opportunity to look at how it impacts food nutrition and security. There are many issues that hinder the development of productive social relationships among farmers ranging from racism to government efficiencies that force us to pick sides and battle it out to show who is superior and we all end up losing because there is no real victor other than poverty its self, which, is not only limited to material lack, but it is also a state of mind that is an infectious disease.

The essence of social relations and networks is that it creates linkage that are necessary for cheap and quality produce that would promote better and more reliable food sources that would benefit the nation and abroad. It has been proven time and time again that only as a unite force can we tackle the issues of food nutrition and security for all - as my colleague made mention of cooperative and how necessary they are in to create linkages to better the farming community.

 An example to these linkages being formed is Shigam Inc which commenced its operations is 2008 on the Linden highway in Guyana. Shigam Inc produces fruits and vegetables using a technique called drip irrigation which was not used in Guyana at the time. Using this system they were able to produce vegetables that would far superior than anything else been produced at the time. Since then they have team up with different Government agencies to encourage local farms to use this technique and have taken up a project of build a larger farm and package plant to export their produce. They are  also providing training and information for other farmers to learn this technique to produce up to international standards. This would lead to improved produce that is available on the local markets and would allow local farmers access to the packaging plants leading to them being able to export more of their produce around the world. Through this example we can see that we must work together and network to move our agriculture sector to place were we have effectively address the issue of proper food nutrition and security for all.

Information taken from:

Emilia Venetsanou freelancer, Italy
Emilia Venetsanou

I am a sociologist, working since 1983 in African countries on food security as well as on participatory rural development. So, a big thanks for this public debate and the really interesting views exposed. Let me bring some “critical” points.

  • Poverty is related to inequalities and inequality does not stop at rural communities’ gates. In poor rural communities relying on subsistence agriculture not all poor are equally poor.
  • Social relations, inequality and growth are in a strict relation of inter-dependency.
  • Inequalities taking place within rural communities lead the most vulnerable to starvation through complex practices of access to labour, land and food stocks; (assets and endowments). Remember; e.g. A. Sen and “food entitlements” or Devereux and the analysis on “food security as a social and political construct”.
  • Social differentiation is underpinned by institutional constructs and social relations.
  • Policy-makers and development practitioners should not turn a blind eye to the dynamics of social differentiation and their consequences to food security.
  • If the reasons for the human shame of one billion hungry are several, interconnected and mutually reinforced, so have to be all the attempts of interpretation and remedy.

Concerning inequalities within communities, for instance in Mozambique, “the largest part of the variation in per capita farm sizes and poverty levels in rural Mozambique is found within villages rather than between them” (Analysis of Adult Mortality within Rural Households in Mozambique and Implications for Policy; Research Paper No.58E, Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development; Directorate of Economics; 2004).

Inequalities taking place within rural communities lead the most vulnerable to starvation through complex practices of access to labour, land and food stocks; generally assets and endowments. This is about social and power relations within the traditional system / community.

Social relations have much to do with labour, enter alia. Labour access is a major determinant of structural hunger in rural communities in Sub-Saharan Africa. Labour inequalities in rural communities lead the two lowest quintiles to trans-generational poverty and actual hunger. Labour control is much related to land control even when land apparently is “accessible” to all members of the community, even the foreigners. Much of the traditional institutions aim at regulating and controlling man-power / labour.

To give an example from Mozambique. In the Macua society, Northern Mozambique, a coping strategy through traditional social relations, called “o’lola”, takes place. This practice of “exchanging labour for food” enables considerable accumulation to those who benefit from the work of others. Suffice it to say that one day's work under "o'lola" can be paid with 3-4 kg. of cassava or sometimes with just a plate of beans, while the average flour production per workday corresponds to 7-9 Kg for cassava. Under these circumstances, a process of land concentration on the hands of few within the rural communities is taking place. For instance, in 1993, in Nampula Province, about 40-50% of the total land was held by only 25% of the subsistence producers that farmed between 4 and 5 times more land per household than the smallest 25%. The land accumulation has to be understood not in terms of property rights on land (in Mozambique the State is the only owner) but in terms of farming capacity, i.e. the capacity of a farmer to have access to labour during the peak season.

I disagree with any analysis that does not seriously rely on inter-disciplinarity and that takes a naïve approach to the traditional societies’ internal dynamics, picturing out a kind of Christmas-card image of an ideal word of perfectly functioning solidarity. This is risky when policies have to be designed and strategies implemented. Let’s take the case of the Social Safety Nets / SSN and schemes of social protection promoted in rural areas. Turn a blind-eye to social differentiation and internal inequalities, assuming, e.g. that traditional leaders are immune from any risk of power abuse, can be fatal to the most in need.

UG Agricultural Economics Focus 2014 University of Guyana, Guyana
UG Agricultural Economics

Greetings from Georgetown, Guyana!

Ms. Omosa makes a lively point that social relations facilitate access to food through loans, bartering and gifting among families and tribes. As our colleagues in University of Guyana Agricultural Economics Research Group 1 hinted, however, the degree of altruism upon which the food trade, the type of which the Graduate Research student experienced during her childhood in Kenya, is predicated exists in very few places. 
This is not to say that social relations have no role in facilitating food security, though. Food security is not obtained solely by making food directly accessible and available but, as we indicated in the discussion thread preceding this one, by promoting income growth and strengthening economic security. A community-oriented construct that facilitates economic empowerment and that is more driven by mutualism, trust and a sense of business purpose than altruism is the cooperative. 

As much of the bastions of the developed world, Europe and North America (yes, inclusive of the United States of America), have demonstrated over the past two hundred years or so, cooperatives were formed: to strengthen bargaining power; maintain access to competitive markets; capitalize on new market opportunities; obtain needed products and services on a competitive basis; improve income opportunities; reduce costs; and manage risk. Perhaps surprising for a stalwart of capitalism, so significant are agricultural cooperatives in the United States that in 2002, they were estimated to control US$ 111,553 million in gross business. (Ortmann and King)

Our group’s thesis is premised on the notion that food security could be strengthened through fostering linkages between farmers and value-added processors. Cooperatives, made up of communities of farmers, can and do play a role in fostering this linkage, either by seeking out processors to buy farmers’ produce or by processing it themselves. 

When dealing with processors (buyers), farmers often face high transaction costs – which encapsulate the costs involved in searching for and obtaining information on these buyers; bargaining and decision costs as they (farmers) may have to hire lawyers and advisors, and policing and enforcement costs which, for instance, are incurred when farmers have to take to court buyers who default on their payments. These transaction expenses are susceptible to economies of scale so, for instance, if a group of, say, cocoa farmers hire a lawyer to bargain with a processor on their behalf, they will incur lower legal costs on average than if they were to each retain counsel separately. 

However, even when farmers do find buyers to purchase and process their produce, these processors often leverage their quasi-monopsonistic position to obtain rents by paying unfairly low prices to farmers for their produce. To ensure fairer returns on their produce, farmers can form themselves into cooperatives and move up the value chain themselves, as is done in the United States where dairy farmers form themselves into dairy cooperatives that engage in milk bottling, drying and cheese manufacturing.

Our country, Guyana, has had a lengthy ideological love affair with cooperatives, which perhaps peaked in the 1970s when the country was officially renamed the Cooperative Republic of Guyana and an ambitious economic development model of cooperative socialism was embraced. The experience with cooperatives has been mixed, to say the least. Alongside a few notable successes, there have been many failures. However, it would be disingenuous for the country to take the instances of weaknesses as justification for not re-embarking on a drive to revive cooperatives in the rural agriculture sector. 

Rather than toss the baby out with the bath water, we should look to countries that have successfully deployed this uniquely democratic and community based way of organizing business and take their experiences as lessons which we may inculcate in our own bid to revive cooperatives. 

Ortmann, Gerald F and Robert P. King. Small-scale farmers in South Africa: Can agricultural cooperatives facilitate access to input and product markets? Staff Paper Series. St. Paul : Department of Applied Economics, University of Minnesota , 2006.

Group 4 University of Guyana, Guyana

A view from one of them members in Group 4. 

I once heard a statement by a lecturer of mine that goes something like this “change is inevitable; everything changes, the only thing that doesn’t change is change itself”. The Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, also said it brilliantly: “change alone is unchanging”.

Social relations as one of the most important contributors in obtaining nutritional food types is and has been pervasive mostly, if not only, in the rural areas.  It dates back to the era of bartering where economic animals survived from what was and still is known as subsistence farming and bartering. Obtaining nutritional foods through social relations differs, however, from bartering.  It is a cultural act that has the main trait, generosity, imbedded in it. Generosity in the sense that one does not contribute to ones nutritional diet with expecting a likely return as would be the case of bartering but by gaining self satisfaction from the act. This way of living, however, has been altered by the introduction of money and the likelihood of one being able to profit from selling a good at a higher value than its cost.  As a result of profit seeking, the pervasiveness of this cultural and generous act has depleted.

One of the main factors in Guyana that has been observed that is responsible for this change in behavior with regards to social relations as mentioned above is that of profit seeking. Often times it is the extra units beyond ones need that is ‘given’ to others through whatever social relations that may exist among the parties, but with the increase of information of the markets these surplus have been shifted from being ‘given’ to sold at a profit.  The demand for the surpluses is mostly attributed to the urban areas. As we move from a rural setting to a more urban setting, social relations tend to decrease and in order for one to survive and have a nutritional diet one must purchase those foods from supermarkets and the like as would have been brought out in the examples given by Group 7. The increase in urban settlers therefore increases the demand for agricultural produce and other nutritional foods produced in rural areas resulting in a decrease in the surplus that was once shared through social relations. Farmers in rural areas have now up their production in an effort to capitalize on the increase demand for their produce in urban cities.

Living in a community (Strathavon, Cane Grove; located in Region 4, Guyana) where social relations have been altered by those that are now seeking profits it still does not have a significant impact on the community as a whole. One still benefits at harvest time from receiving fruits and vegetables from neighbors. Even meats such as fish and even live chickens are shared among residents. It is a community where the social relations is so strong that at any point a neighbor or even a resident from a street away can send  and request  and obtain any required seasoning for their meal, fruits and the like from other residents at no cost to the recipient. The generosity has been present for years and is still present today primarily because it is a small community and everyone interacts on a regular basis. Rural areas are more likely to have high social relations among its members due to their small numbers and ever so often interactions. In contrast, urban areas are known to have large amount of settlers who have little time to interact with their surrounding people. Their social relations with others in close proximity tend to be less and thus produce a burden on them in regards to obtaining nutritional foods at low costs.


Likely soultions will follow

Olivia Muza Consultant, Zimbabwe
Olivia Muza

Many thanks for this important discussion.

I see social networks and relations as an evolving agenda. The quality of social networks is the major determinant of whether they ever help in ensuring food security: in the primitive era when work was group/community oriented, these support systems were reliant.

Also the quality of these support systems tends to also be location specific. It has been observed that the rural environment facilitates quality family life which, in turn, promotes a quality community and society (Refer to Buttel, F.H., & Flinn, W.L. Sources and consequences of agrarian values in American society. Rural Sociology, 1975,40, 134-151) and (Miller, M.K., & Crader, K.W. Rural-urban differences in two dimensions of community satisfaction. Rural Sociology, 1979, 44, Fall, 489-504).

Of course within rural and urban communities there are also marked differences in terms of the quality of social networks.

In conclusion, social support systems are critical in food security but their quality is an important factor. The extent to which one invest in them detemines the extent to which one can harvest from them. In Zimbabwe, it's often said 'kandiro kanoenda kunobva kamwe'

loosely translated to say 'when you give, you also get'


Olivia Muza

Eileen Omosa University of Alberta, and Centre for Basic Research & Networking Africa, ...

Dear participants,

There are six more days before the end of our discussions on the topic of social relations and networks in food security and nutrition. You have done well so far by sharing your knowledge and experiences, thus brought out the many and different roles of social relations and networks as detailed below.

Emerging Issues:

To date, your contributions have focused on the following issues in relation to the role of social relations and networks in food security and nutrition:

  • Helps define the quality of our communities.
  • Provides caring social support systems.
  • A channel through which to better understand social-economic dynamics at the household and community levels.
  • A critical determinant of outcomes/success of development projects.
  • Enables members to spread risk, and move from a situation of isolation and vulnerability to inclusion and risk sharing.
  • An important vehicle for education and information sharing of best practices.
  • Defines the different types/levels of trust that in turn help build quality and caring communities.
  • The best way to understand a people is by knowing their food habits.
  • A very important but undervalued topic to date.

Summary of issues covered so far:

Many of you have made contributions in relation to the need and role of quality communities, best achieved through the establishment and maintenance of strong social relations and networks. The quality of community and its core element of care have an influential role on food security, especially the food security of people with low incomes (Kent George and Claudio Schuftan). Kent, in his draft paper on `ending hunger locally’ introduces the concepts of caring communities and strong social support systems, achieved if we establish strong relations through which to protect the vulnerable in society from outside exploitation, establish local food systems that are sensitive to the nutritional needs of members, therefore an effective way to reduce hunger in the larger community/world ( The quality of community, partly measured through its social relations and networks plays an influential role in the outcome of development objectives. Pamela Pozarny draws from her experience on the FAO supported PtoP project, evaluating the LEAP programme in Ghana (Livelihood Empowerment Against Poverty) to illustrate on the need to understand and incorporate existing social relations and practices into our policy and programme design and implementation strategies. The reason being that an understanding of social relations and networks helps in the promotion of inclusiveness and equitable access to assets and resources by providing an understanding of how decisions are made, resources are allocated and how benefits are shared within households and communities. To quote the words of Pamela, “social networks in rural communities in Ghana serve as a safety net in themselves and an avenue towards increasing inclusion, participation, voice and engagements among all members of the community, including the most vulnerable.” (

The need to focus on social relations and networks within any community is further provided in the writings of Etkin Nina in Foods of Association. Drawing on field experiences from West Africa, Etkin provides an illustration of existing linkages in food, culture and society; especially on the different ways in which foods contribute to our well-being (physiologically and socially) by defining one’s personal and cultural identity, and how people `make’ themselves by eating food. To eat food, one must have access to food, and one way of having nutritious food by supporting integrated agricultural production which will in turn result in sustainability of food production and nutrition (Subhash Mehta). Sustainability in food production implies sustainable communities that are linked through strong social relations and networks and in turn are better equipped to identify the food and nutritional needs of their members, and subsequently a better focus on agricultural production that will meet the needs of the people i.e. cyclical interactions where strong social relations and networks help identify people’s food and nutritional needs, and in turn helps create a market for targeted  agricultural production, whose consumers forge more relations and networks in the social and market space:

Diagram conceptualized by Eileen Omosa

Therefore, linked communities through social networks will result in better identification of people’s food and nutritional needs.

Is the concept of social relations and networks limited to particular areas; more to rural than to urban societies? The UGAgri Group 1 notes that social relations and networks should be considered important in both rural and urban areas. The nature of majority of our societies is that a slight shift in social relations can alter one’s level of hunger and poverty. To Group 1, social relations increase as we move from urban to sub-urban and are at their strongest in rural areas. That social relations and networks decrease as distances between rural and urban areas increase, situations elaborated on by examples of lived experiences from Liza and Tonnica (urban) and Shermain (sub-urban).

Social relations and networks are an important instrument for education, the sharing of information and best practices among people and over generations, thus creating and maintaining trust over time (UGAgric Group 7). Group 7 elaborates on the issue of trust, which is abundant in rural areas where it results in more acts of caring for one another, demonstrated through gifting or loaning of food and other products and services to those in need. On the other hand, urban settings are made up of people from different communities, classes, ethnicities and professions resulting in fewer interactions, less trust leaving ‘every man on his own’. The result is less sharing and caring among urban dwellers resulting in higher levels of vulnerabilities of individuals and groups that do not have the cash to purchase food from the market. In such situations, anyone in need of food is forced to spend time and resources traveling to their rural homes to receive food as gifts from family and other networks in rural areas. Either way, rural or urban based, people still need strong social relations and networks for their survival.

What else we can talk about in the remaining days:

Social relations and networks are alive in both rural and urban areas, where they play an influential role of enabling people (rich and poor) lead a satisfying life.

  1. How do people who already have access to food security and nutrition utilize social relations and networks?
  1. What role do social relations and networks play in education, information sharing and policy formulation and implementation?
  1. To what extent have social relations and networks been considered/incorporated in the design of development projects, and what role do you see relations and networks play in future development endeavours?
Concern 3 University of Guyana, Guyana


Concern: concern embodies the sentiments of an assembly of students of the University of Guyana committed to sharing ideas on how we can improve food security across time horizons for our peoples. The dynamism of this topic (Food Security) will see us drawing lessons from many sources and fields of taught. Emphasis of our contributions will focus on developing countries as the core of our ideas. Food Security is an important subject!             

Concern” contributions will reflect the views of each student as far as possible.

The question of how food can be secure across time horizons in developing countries is full of challenges to leaders. Nothing is static in real terms. The dynamics of change demand actions to improve nutrition to all people especially the poor. The identification of social relationships by Ms E. Omosa in the rural setting recognizes what sociologists refer to as “community spirit” which was most forceful in earlier times.

As an urban dweller evidence of how the market system has eroded social relationships is everywhere. Everything has a market price. Attitudes and behavior of urban residents reflect self interest and aggression toward those in need. Shift from community spirit to a competitive posture has taken hold. Waibel and Schmidt[1] (2000) argued for a more active role for cities in securing food. However, this is through the market. Given the commercialization of food production much of the social relations of “old times” are continuously neutralized or squeeze. However, this outcome provides for new types of relationships.

Urban setting is dominated by numerous types of groups. Community food clubs can be a vibrant mechanism used to disseminate food and information on the accessibility of cheap and free food. This sort of information can be valuable particularly to the urban poor. Arrangements of this nature need to be flexible and effective in getting across information in a timely manner. How information is collected can take many forms; to illustrate; an established member in the community or someone with connections to farmers’ associations or cooperatives could be used. State intervention can be used to provision of information and the setting up of sites where the same can be obtained. The fact that in urban settings people are bonded together by other factors than kinship is an opportunity. In Guyana, many new schemes and enclosed communities are popping up around it main city. Events such as community days or village days are ripe with potential for food sharing.

In conclusion, clubs, societies, village days are among potential avenues through which social relationships can be used to secure food. In a sense, these mediums are free of the barriers that would other exist. They also work as effective mediums to partially neutralize the impact of the market system. Hence, we can secure food in urban areas by forming new settings to accommodate for changing social relationships.                   

[1] Feeding Asian Cities: Food Production and Processing Issues Abstract

By Hermann Waibel and Erich Schmidt

UGAgri Group7 University of Guyana, Guyana

On the eroding social interactions between members of society and the impact of this on food security, we had a group member, Liza, who is a migrant to the city from the rural island of Wakenaam speak about her experience. Here’s what our born and bred city dweller, Tonnica, says about her experiences living in a city with relatives not so close by, as they relate to food security. She claims her family’s food security comes out of the frozen food aisles of the nearby supermarket and the two big markets in town.

“In Georgetown, the capital city of Guyana where I reside it’s ‘every man on his own.’ The relations generally doesn’t go beyond mere associates where no particular tangible benefits are reaped especially where food security and nutrition is concerned. With very minimal to no amount of farming done is this city, everything consumed is purchased from the supermarket mostly and to a lesser extent from the public markets (Stabroek, Bourda). Since food is purchased across the board in Georgetown, there’s hardly any excess food that can be afforded to another individual or family in need.”

Finally, our group member, Shermain talks about the links between her and her community, which is part of a town, Linden. These relations sustain despite the quasi-urban feel of Linden, perhaps because of the tradition of maintaining these relationships between families and friends in the community. Or maybe, it’s become necessary to upkeep them in the face of the looming threat to the food security of the region. This is what she says:

“I'm from Linden, where everybody knows each other and has established a close relation with one another.  I'm able to share the eddo-leaf and coconut that are found in my backyard with my family, friends and neighbours, and they are able to share what is grown in their yard so as to ensure that a daily meal is provided.  Nearly all the homes in Linden have some type of crop or fruit growing in the yard.  These crops and fruits are grown with organic manure and prepared in order to give us a well-balanced diet. Some days I can afford not to cook, since I can call on someone for a plate of food and on some days we all come together and make what is known as a "bush cook".  On anyone of my family member’s birthday, the household would usually cook, package and send food around to individuals.  In doing this, we are able to maintain food security and nutrition within the community.  This relation that we share is also extended to individuals who migrate from Linden to Georgetown for various reasons such as education.  In my family scenario, when I'm leaving Linden to head to Georgetown for classes, my mom would usually prepare meals for me to walk with and sometimes even send groceries for the week.  Despite changes in Linden with respect to growth in population, our social relations and networks have remained the same which is the most important aspect of our survival.” 

Max Blanck FAO, Italy

Dear all,

This article on FAO's page introduces an initiative aiming at improving access of villagers in isolated communities across the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Niger to information through a powerful participatory communication approach.

Collaborating with rural radio stations that feed and broadcast their discussions, the project helps villagers become agents of change in agriculture and in other aspects of society such as HIV/AIDS, early marriage and the rights of women to inherit land.

Best regards,