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Drought causes food shortages for the poorest in Central America

August 2014

In recent months, a prolonged heat wave has worsened the drought in Central America, affecting Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua.

Farmers have lost their crops, creating a shortage of basic grains like beans, which are the staple diet for hundreds of families making a living from agriculture.

Irma with her daughters Sandra and Ingrid

In Guatemala, the drought has particularly affected areas in the east and west of the country known as 'the dry corridor'.

Every year, thousands of families who live there have less food to eat and see their incomes shrink.

Despite being a middle income country, Guatemala has shocking malnutrition rates for children under five.

Half of all Guatemalan children¹ are chronically malnourished, which means that they fail to grow to their full potential, both mentally and physically.

The current drought will inevitably put children at further risk, as families of subsistence farmers living in the dry corridor have already lost 70% of their crops.

Tackling malnutrition

The indigenous Chorti community of the Chiquimula region has been seriously hit by the spell of dry weather. It's estimated that 75-90% of crops could be lost this year in some parts of Chiquimula.

For the last nine years, we've been supporting our partner Bethania to work with communities most affected by food shortages.

Bethania has been helping families here to set up vegetable gardens using native seeds and fast-growing crops, as well as training communities to improve food preparation and hygiene. 

Irma's story

With support from Bethania, mother-of-two Irma Raimundo has set up a kitchen garden where she grows tomatoes and radishes, as well as hierba mora and chipilin.

These herbs and seeds, a traditional part of the Chorti people’s diets, are of high nutritional value and packed with iron and calcium - essential for Irma’s children.

Ingrid and Sandra Raimundo The kitchen garden has made a huge difference to her daughters’ lives.

Sandra, the eldest, is now six years old. She was very ill from a young age and was diagnosed with chronic malnutrition, but her health has improved since Irma started attending Bethania's workshops.

Irma has also learned about hygiene and food preparation, to keep infections and diarrhoea at bay.

She now knows how to incorporate vegetables into the family’s meals and create varied recipes that appeal to her girls.

Improved diet

Irma says: 'When Bethania came to our community my daughter was saved. Sandra was going to die.

'I spent six months looking after her. She was malnourished already when I was pregnant, because I didn't eat well.'

Bethania has also made a significant difference to her younger daughter, Ingrid, who at four years old is almost as tall as Sandra and weighs more than her older sister.

Irma attributes this to the better diet now available to her family.

Grain reserves

In addition to the kitchen gardens, Bethania has also brought people together to plant crops collectively in community land, as a way to increase the reserve of basic grains.

People who lack food in the critical months of June, July and August can then obtain the grain at a low price or as a loan to be repaid with future crops.

Since the grain reserves are stored nearby, there are no transportation costs.

Right now, this initiative will provide much-needed grain to families affected by the drought.

¹ According to the World Food Programme, malnutrition among children under five stands at 49.8% in Guatemala

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