The rising cost of living in Guyana, the affordability of many Guyanese to consume basic foods, including greens (vegetables) and vegetables, is very worrying. In my travels, in conversations, many Guyanese can’t afford a balanced meal. They purchase or consume what is cheapest rather than what is best for health. The poor or working class, the unemployed, retirees or those on fixed income suffer the most.
The cost of living in Guyana is astronomically high – no fault of the government or vendors or even farmers but international forces. Shoppers related that most basic foods have risen between 300 to 500 percent in recent years. Salary has gone up only by some 70% during this period. A minimum monthly wage of $70K, the average salary of the working class, can barely buy ration for two weeks for a poor family based on traditional spending habits. The middle class spends an average $250K monthly to maintain a family of four on traditional living style. The wealthy spends an average of $500K monthly for food and basic expenses.
As you stated, the rising pricing of goods is attributed largely to global events (Covid, Ukraine War, shipping, etc.), local shipping costs, and climatic factors, etc. and will get worse as a fall out from Middle East events). Guyana was affected by periodic floods and has been in a drought over last threw months. So certain foods are scarce and high priced. Greens are among them. Shoppers have been complaining about the unaffordable prices of greens (vegetables) for the Navratri and Diwali festivals, both vegetarian based diets for Hindus. Prices will not dip by the end of year holiday even if it starts raining now resulting in farmers get a bumper harvest. Ministry of Agriculture has been addressing the issue encouraging farmers to grow more for domestic consumption. There should be targeted food production— greens or vegetables.
Everywhere I traveled in Guyana, the leading complaint is high prices for goods (foods and baby milk in particular). As your interviewees remarked, and as also related to me, they can’t afford certain foods that historically have been basic to their diet— many fruits and vegetables. Some tasty seasoning are also unaffordable. In my lifetime, except during the peak of the dictatorship during the 1980s, I never experienced such high food prices. To the credit of the government, it has attempted to do a lot to keep a lid on prices — reduce taxes on imports and shipping and gave subsidies on inputs for food production but prices remain uncontrollable. Government cannot and must not put price controls. Let the market determine prices for goods.
It has been a habit of mine ever since I started traveling globally in 1981 as a young student to visit markets and compare prices with those in Guyana and New York. Historically, New York was (has been) found to have among the lowest cost of living in the many, many places I visited over the last forty plus years. Foods and most goods, restaurant items, fast foods, etc. are largely cheaper in NY than in Guyana and even in Trinidad. India, Sri Lanka, and Nepal (and in fact most Asian countries except for South Korea) had and probably still have the lowest cost of living of the many countries I visited over the last four decades. I was not in Nepal and Sri Lanka in recent years, but I was in India last week. Of the many dozens of countries I visited in my lifetime, India had and still has the lowest cost of living in the purchase of a regular basket of goods (measured in converted American dollars). Singapore and Malaysia also have lower cost of goods (food in particular) than NY; and Singapore does not grow any food but foods are cheaper there than in Guyana and NY.
At one time, the cost of living in Guyana was much, much lower than that in NY. Over the last couple decades, prices of basic goods have been ballooning as energy and shipping prices increased.
Other factors also account for higher prices of goods in Guyana. New York visitors to Guyana have complained about the high cost of goods and services in Guyana, noting “things cheaper in America”. That is true for many items including some growing Guyana. Shoppers and market vendors also complain about prices in Guyana. Market purchasers said they tend to skip certain basic items that are high priced because they are beyond their budget. As an illustration, in my visit to Stabroek and rural markets in mid-September, tomatoes on average were going for $1600 a pound, wiri-wiri pepper $1500, a piece (about a pound) of pumpkin $1200, and plantain $250 a pound. Imported goods were found to be cheaper. In the US, a pound of tomato is US$1, wiri wiri pepper $7 and your neighbor in NY will give you for free because almost every Guyanese American homeowner harvests peppers by the buckets in the summer months that they give away to the public. Guyanese American homeowners also grow a number of other vegetables like bora, pumpkin, karela, bhajji, tomatoes, cucumbers, among others that make them self-sufficient. So Guyanese at home can grow food. On prices of otehr items, six to eight very large plantains sell for $1 in NY or at worst $2 depending on season. Pumpkin goes between $.59 and $.79 a pound. Chicken and most meats sell about the same price in Guyana and NY. Fish is cheaper in Guyana than in NY. Most Guyanese fruits are cheaper in Guyana than in NY. But citrus and bananas and most vegetables are cheaper in NY. Guyanese Americans can afford to purchase goods in Guyana because of their substantially higher income and spending power. Salary in NY among Guyanese including among those who have been coming to the big Apple to work illegally as domestics is on average at least five times that in Guyana.
The high cost of living has been having a most telling effect on the population particularly the poor and working class and those on fixed income. A recent international report stated that the poverty rate in Guyana was 49%. Government should target them for assistance. The working class and poor in particular need some form of financial assistance. ‘Hamperizing’ the economy as is done by several NGOs the diaspora and local community groups is not sound economic policy. That is a short term solution to an institutionalized problem. Perhaps food cards to the poor as is given in USA, Trinidad, India, and other countries should be studied. The PPP administration ran a successful policy during the 1990s to keep inflation down. Government must look into varied solutions to address poverty and rising prices.