This conversation follows the testimonies we’ve heard from our group members on their experiences securing food in different geo-economic settings: urban, sub-urban and rural. What they’ve generally shared, with the exception of the suburban and rural areas, is that accessing food though social connections and not through private means, is very difficult. We think this is because the model that’s so successful in Ms. Omosa’s Kenyan village and our own Liza’s Wakenaam- and that’s based on trust, cooperation, benevolence, and a kind of social policing to keep strayers from the norm in check, can’t be easily replicated in an urban locale.
But do these social associations in the city necessarily have to take the form of what we saw in Wakenaam or Linden? In fact, these experiences aren’t even duplicated in many similar rural and suburban villages, particularly in those that aren’t heavily agro-based. Rural communities like Wakenaam complain of dwindling supplies of food from their own community and island farmers that can’t be easily supplemented by kitchen gardens. Farmers point to the unpredictable weather, the lack of irrigation, high costs of production- mainly from the increasing prices of inputs- and so on.
What’s needed is an eco-system, meaning that the system is largely self-sustaining; an eco-system that allows communities to establish groups driven first by personal needs to secure nutritious and cheap food. We advise that producers and consumers form self-help groups- grassroots organizations and the more formal cooperatives- to provide and to obtain respectively a sustainable supply of food. The FAO has identified in its project document on the value of cooperatives, Building Innovative Institutions for Food Security that the first step for any small farmers is to work together in groups to address their immediate practical or survival needs or shared interests relating to food security. Shermain says about Linden:
“Farmers are unable to provide a sustainable amount of produce for supply in Linden, especially with the increase in prices for farm inputs and the cost of marketing. Thus, many of them have to travel to the big city, Georgetown to purchase goods for resale in Linden. Through a farmer’s cooperative, the farmers can purchase farm inputs in bulk which makes it cheaper to access and in some cases the inputs like heavy machinery can even be shared. A simple initiative which was done in Linden by West Watooka farmers was to secure a prime spot near the Wismar/Mackenzie bridge linking the two villages too establish a Sunday market. The market was maintained collectively, all costs and insurance associated coved jointly. And, this was driven by the frustration of local farmers fed up with their produce being wasted from no available markets.”
The cooperative model can also be applied to large groups of consumers, in any setting. In most parts of Guyana-city, country- we have a simple, extremely effective way of raising money: the Box Hand. It’s a way of saving money that requires a large group of people and strong policing. Yet, it works and it’s popular among working groups in cities in particular, which flouts the popular notion that everyone in a city is an island, cut off from the rest and sustaining only itself. Consumers can form cooperatives formally to purchase bulk produce and access loans for food or small groups of friends may form food clubs to do the same. In either case, the decision to form these groups is made through shared interests and goals.
The FSN Forum is supported by the project Coherent food security responses: incorporating right to food into global and regional food security initiatives.