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


The role that social relations and networks play in achieving food and nutritional security has to do with a number of things, the least of which is trust. You could say that trust is the overriding value that stands constant when this role is by turns, added to and diminished by factors such as the preservation of food in traditions and cultures on one hand, and increasing urbanization on the other.

The moderator asked, “What has changed so that individuals and households are no longer able to rely on their membership in society for assistance in times of need?” It’s almost reflexive to say urbanization. But not urbanization exactly, more like what urbanization represents: Less reliance on local markets supplied by family-based farmers who you probably would've known if you were living in a rural area. Much smaller families so there's less of an extended family effect in the sharing of household tasks and the passing down of traditions. And then there's the economic situation: living in a city is wholly different from the rural scene of farms and kitchen gardens. Supermarket and town markets are substituted for homegrown because the (opportunity) cost of self-sufficiency in the city is way too high. The million dollar question is: does this mean that, as an urban dweller, you cannot rely on family and community networks to provide or supplement your food needs anymore? Here’s what our group member, Liza, says about moving from a rural island to the city, and what she has experienced in the transition that’s affected her ability to access food.

“Wakenaam is a rural island in Guyana with a population of approximately 10,000. In Wakenaam, almost every other house has a kitchen garden which is enough to feed the entire island. There are social relations and networking among Wakenaam villagers which sustains the island food-wise. Families with their produces will either sell some of their produce, barter with others who have different produces or give to poor persons of society, thus no one is left to starve or hungry. Also if someone doesn’t have the money to purchase the vegetable, the family farmers will give them credit until they can pay for it. Everyone will have access to fresh vegetables that are nutritious.   

“However, in the urban, almost city area where I moved to, I don’t even know who my neighbors are. Everything I consume comes from supermarkets, where foods stuffs are already clean and packaged. If I don’t have the money to purchase food stuffs, I will surely starve. No credit is given to you in the city. It’s been my observation that there are far more hungry people in the city. Though I visit my family in Wakenaam only every few months, maybe twice in 3 months, I always bring back food, mostly fruits which are very expensive at local markets where I live in the city. I cook most of what I eat and share with my sister and roommate; we don’t share food with friends in the city, and we don’t have any family close by so any immediate secondary source of food is not an option."

                In another post, another group member will describe her experiences in travelling weekly between her apartment nearby the university and her home some 65 miles and two hours away. Liza’s statement, however, show clearly how trust, or the lack of it, colours the social interactions between people. People in rural areas take it for granted until it can’t be easily shared in an urban setting.