In Guatemala, the face of poverty and hunger is young, indigenous and rural. Guatemala, with the fourth highest rate of chronic malnutrition in the world and the highest in Latin America and the Caribbean, faces a serious challenge to reduce chronic undernutrition, currently at 49.8% among children under 5.http://www.wfp.org/countries/Guatemala
Guatemala’s main nutrition problem isn’t that the low-income population doesn’t eat enough food; rather, it’s the poor quality of its diet and eating habits. This helps to explain how half of the country’s children under the age of 5 can suffer from anemia and stunting, while at the same time, half of the women of reproductive age are overweight or obese.
Chronic malnutrition is the single biggest contributor to the deaths of children under 5 in Guatemala.
|Heather Bolin, co-captain of the Cobra Bus, reads with the|
daughter of a farming family tending the fields around
Camp Nuevo Mundo in Panajachel, Guatemala.
With its tropical climate and rich soil – producing some of the world’s best coffee, among other exports – Guatemala seems an unlikely place for families to go hungry. But arable land is concentrated in the hands of the few, leaving the rural poor, especially indigenous Mayans, toiling away on small plots of land to produce one or two cash crops.
Often, a Guatemalan family’s diet will consist of a few staples, like beans and corn-based tortillas. Children who don’t get enough food or survive on a limited variety of foods often don’t receive essential nutrients. As a result, they are shorter than they should be for their age, a condition known as stunting. One in two Guatemalan children under age 5 is stunted and one in five is severely stunted, according to national health statistics.
“Chronic malnutrition leaves the child stunted for life, not just physically but cognitively,” said Jay Jackson, Mercy Corps’ executive director.
The lush maize-covered slopes around Pamumus – which means "heavy drizzle" in the Kaqchikel language – and views of distant volcanoes give an impression of agricultural abundance. But appearances are deceptive in a region hard hit by Guatemala's 36-year civil war that ended in 1996.
As for the plentiful field of maize, with stalks climbing to three metres, she says much of the land is owned by those lower down the mountain. "They own lots of land and sell the maize to others," she says, alluding to this politically sensitive subject and a key factor behind the civil war.
Guatemala has one of the world's highest rates of land concentration, where 3% of private landowners occupy 65% of the arable land, producing coffee, sugar cane and bananas for export. Small farms (fewer than four hectares) occupy only 11% of agricultural land.
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