#Rural Development: Food crisis analyzed on the example of Guatemala

When I visited Guatemala, seeing all the richness of fruits, vegetables and other food offered on the markets,  I had no idea that Guatemala could face severe food crisis. Unfortunately I was wrong.

Even if there are huge fields where food is grown, all the best land are used for export products, not for feeding Guatemalans. 60% of the population are rural families, most of them fight for survival via farming, but the left over land is very poor or unsuitable for growing food, so they struggle to feed their families. Guatemala is constantly forced to ask for food aid thanks to lack of access to arable land. In addition, the trade policies of wealthy countries undercut their aid policies. For example, Canadians have given the most food aid to World Food Program (WFP) so far, but this way they also undermined the local markets. Furthermore Australian, Canadian and American cheap food products – because via  “negotiated” free-trade with Guatemala- are flooding into the land, leaving local growers without any chance on their own markets,  while restricting import tariffs are in place to safeguard the own wheat and corn producers. Without access to those markets or arable land,  farmers can neither generate income nor grow enough food to feed their own families. (1) Wouldn’t it be better to use local products for food aid, if available?

The drought caused by lack of rain in the last years also was made worse by rising food prices, the global financial crisis, cost increases for agricultural items, such as fertilizer and pesticides, and a decrease in job opportunities.(2) The increasing palm oil business expands in Guatemala unregulatedly, causing severe problems: pays workers only poverty wages, contaminates the ground and water supply with agrochemicals, encroaches on protected tropical forest areas, and takes land away (even via landgrabbing) from producing food for people to eat. (3)


Unfortunately malnutrition and chronic food shortages are not unusual in Guatemala. Lack of investment in small-scale agriculture has reduced food production over the years, and the country now has the highest rate of malnutrition among children under five in Latin America: nearly 50 percent (indigenous children 70%) according to the WFP. Oxfam is helping local organizations and citizens in following areas:

All this sums up to a cost, which is much smaller than the food aids. Which one is the more intelligent solution then?

Furthermore, investing in local, small scale agriculture (i.e. increase equity and mechanization, fight soil reduction, develop infrastructure etc.) and local market (i.e. enable better access to credits ) is needed. This way we can assure, that food production takes place in the area where most of the vulnerability can be found. Investing in small scale farmers can be productive, efficient, sustainable and competitive. There are some success stories to take as examples i.e. in Vietnam and Brazil.

Guatemala is only one on the list of countries fighting severe food crisis. Food insecurity, climate change effects, oil peak, population growth, soil erosion, water contamination can easily lead to humanitarian disasters in many regions, which again cause international insecurity. It is in everyone’s interest to deal fairly with the challenges mentioned before, isn’t it?

Beyond think tanks we need now more than ever think+do tanks, like the one below, to solve the food crisis in a sustainable and fair way:

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(1) Pail Webster(2011): Canada’s Role in Guatemala’s Food Crisis, Retrieved from  http://www.readersdigest.ca/magazine/canadas-role-guatemalas-food-crisis?page=0,2

(2) UN (2010): Lack of funding for Guatemalan food crisis appeal sparks concern at UN http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=34323

(3) Global food crisis: Palm rush proves costly for Guatemala’s small farmers http://www.guardian.co.uk/global-development/poverty-matters/2011/may/31/global-food-crisis-palm-oil-guatemala

(4) Chris Hufstader: Food crisis in Guatemala (2009) Retrieved from http://www.oxfamamerica.org/articles/food-crisis-in-guatemala





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