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Re: What is the role of social relations and networks in household food security and nutrition?

UG Agricultural Economics Focus 2014 University of Guyana, Guyana
30.10.2013
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.