Consumers could seek alternatives as food prices continue to bite – FAO Rep.

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By Kurt Campbell

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As food prices continue to bite in Guyana, country representative for the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) Dr. Gillian Smith suggests that consumers can seek alternative food items to the expensive ones – alternatives which are readily available here.

Guyana is a food importer with local consumers bearing the brunt of the rise in global food prices.

“What that means is what many of us already know that when we put our hands in our pockets at the supermarket or at the market, we feel it … we are paying more money for food,” Dr. Smith reasoned during an interview with the News Room on Tuesday.

The FAO’s latest report on the food price index reports that food prices rose by just over 28%.

Dr. Smith declined to comment on whether some of the prices being asked for at local markets and supermarkets are fair and justified.

Instead, she proposed a small fix to the issue and that is seeking out cheaper alternative food items while maintaining a healthy diet.

“Sometimes the kinds of things that I eat and consider to be healthy, maybe more expensive. When that is the case what I do is that I don’t purchase what I can’t afford and I look for alternatives.

Country representative for the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) Dr. Gillian Smith speaks with the News Room’s Kurt Campbell via Zoom

“One of the things I found is that finding a good variety of healthy alternatives are available in Guyana but we know at the FAO is that the Caribbean and Latin America is one of the most expensive places to have a healthy affordable diet.”

The rise in food prices in 2021 is on top of increases experienced in 2020.

WHY ARE PRICES GOING UP?

As Dr. Smith explained, there are several complex contributing factors to rising food prices on the global index. They include supply and demand, speculation for the future of economic dynamics and, of course, the setbacks experienced from COVID-19 in the global supply chain.

WILL THE PRICES COME DOWN?

“I can’t say whether prices will come down or not.

“As a consumer, I feel the same way that prices always seem to go in one direction and they don’t seem to come down but there is evidence that they do come down,” Dr. Smith explained.

She further explained, admitting that she was pandering to speculation, that “sometimes consumers don’t recognise that distributors and importers… they may not have passed on [increased prices] to the consumers for a long time.

“Sometimes it takes a little time and they try their best to hold back until they cannot anymore and it is completely untenable.”

WHAT CAN GUYANESE AUTHORITIES DO?

Dr. Smith believes Guyana needs to continue to implement its mix of measures.

In the short term, she commended and recommended that the government continue, as important, its social protection measures.

“The ones helping the most vulnerable to access foods.”

Another thing Guyana has been doing in the short term is to offer relief and support to food producers like farmers and fishermen.

“Guyana is doing it, Guyana should continue to do it… it’s a good thing Guyana is doing,” Dr. Smith added.

Country representative for the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) Dr. Gillian Smith

The Guyana Government has responded to the crisis by offering cash grants to groups of vulnerable people across the country. There are other medium-to-long-term measures that can be taken to cushion the effect.

Meanwhile, Dr Smith said that Guyanese exporters can take advantage of the high prices.

Guyana’s main food exports are sugar and rice and with prices on the food index at the highest, it has been in the last 10 years.

“Guyana can take advantage of higher prices for sugar and rice,” she told the News Room during a virtual interview on Tuesday.

She recognised that those prices on the global market, set by several complex factors, can fluctuate in the future.

“It makes sense to take advantage of the prices because when those prices are low you have to accept those prices as well… this is the way free markets work,” she explained.

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