Guyana is a small country (population: 750,204) in Northern South America, which shares cultural and historical bonds with the Anglophone Caribbean. About one-third of the Guyanese population lives below the poverty line. According to the Global Nutrition Report, the country is on track for maternal, infant and young child nutrition targets in stunting prevalence in children under five (11.3 percent) and overweight in children under five (5.3 percent), although wasting prevalence is 6.4 percent. However, national statistics mask much higher sub-national prevalence, with stunting as high as 28 percent in hinterland regions, among indigenous populations. Moreover, at just over 21 percent, the country’s levels of exclusive breastfeeding are well below the South American average of 57.3 percent. There are also challenges with adult malnutrition. More than a third of women of reproductive age have anaemia, and 27.1 percent of women and 12.7 percent of men are obese.
Country at a crossroads
The Guyanese economy has shown moderate economic growth in recent years, which has been based largely on agriculture and mining. But in 2015, an estimated 8 billion barrels of oil were found offshore and the country has become an oil producer in 2020.
“Guyana is at a crossroads – it has a new government and an optimistic economic outlook, despite COVID-19,” says Mikiko Tanaka, United Nations Resident Coordinator (UNRC) since 2016.
“There is potential for the new oil revenue to transform the country, which is in need of investment in nutrition and human development. Like many countries, Guyana is facing a double (if not triple) burden of malnutrition [undernutrition, overweight/obesity and micronutrient deficiencies] – we really want to position nutrition as a key part of the development agenda.”
The country is already experiencing changes in its food consumption patterns, driven by the move away from an agrarian economy and locally grown fruit and vegetables to the increased consumption of cheap, imported processed foods. Guyana is not a member of the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) Movement; however, SUN’s principles are applicable to the country’s current and emerging situation. Guyana’s Food and Nutrition Security Strategy recognizes that nutrition will increasingly play a fundamental role in the country’s development agenda.