Rural Guatemalans and Chronic Malnutrition

“When you don’t have enough food or income for your family’s needs, it’s hard to think about anything else.”

Malnutrition and Food Insecurity have plagued Guatemala for generations and contribute to a vicious cycle of poverty from which it is very difficult to emerge.

Guatemala’s malnutrition rate is the sixth-highest in the world and the highest in Central America.

International organizations and governments have long targeted Malnutrition and Food Insecurity, but Guatemala's malnutrition rate has scarcely budged in half a century.

In 1960, the percentage of children under 5 years suffering from chronic malnutrition was 60%.  In a 2015 national survey, the percentage of children with this condition was 46.5.  This means that the average annual improvement between 1960 and 2015 was 0.34% per year.  Even worse, the share of chronically malnourished children has apparently been increasing since the 2015 study.

The effects of malnutrition are a life sentence of adverse consequences for survival and well-being. 

The UN’s World Food Program notes that in Guatemala, “the prevalence of stunting (height to age) in children under 5, is one of the highest in the world – and is the highest in Latin America and the Caribbean.  While the rate of stunting is 46.5% nationally, the stunting rate climbs up to 70% in some departments (states), with peaks as high as 90% in the hardest-hit municipalities.”

According to a recent UNICEF report on Guatemala, “Five in ten children under five are chronically malnourished.  This means they will lose 30% of their brain capacity for the rest of their lives …. Malnutrition causes them to drop out of school, lowers their productivity, makes them susceptible to illness and even loss of IQ -- irreversible effects that last a lifetime. Chronic malnutrition affects eight in ten (80%) indigenous children.”

The Issues of Malnutrition and Limited Incomes in Guatemala

Malnutrition is transgenerational – that is, men and women affected by malnutrition during their early years carry physical and mental impacts which extend to their own children, perpetuating the cycle of poverty and malnutrition into the future.

A few years ago, USAID estimated it deployed nearly $80 million per year in programs to address malnutrition just in Guatemala. However, little improvement has occurred in the rate of malnutrition among children and moms.

USAID is joined by other governments, international agencies, governments and NGOs in experiencing limited program success.  Typically, “top-down” strategies fail -- often derailed by deep systemic inefficiencies and hamstrung by cynicism about the capacity and will of poor people to help feed their own children.

Other programs address malnutrition with hand-out strategies.  Although eminently necessary in emergencies, over time, hand-out programs can encourage dependency and do not give people the tools to combat malnutrition and food insecurity themselves.

Decades of persistent poverty, paternalism, and an inadequate education system have acted as massive disincentives to self-confidence and self-help.

Properly designed and implemented strategies that break the atmosphere of dependency can sustainably improve food security and reduce malnutrition. These strategies are vital for ensuring all people have an opportunity to fully develop their human potential.

Malnutrition is not just an individual and family tragedy. It has far-reaching consequences for human capital, economic productivity, and national development overall.

The Seeds for a Future Approach

Seeds for a Future was created to explore and develop new and more effective strategies for addressing the problems of chronic malnutrition among poor rural families of Guatemala.

Our strategies are taught and applied at the household level and easily replicated in other communities. The strategies do not rely on government programs, most of which suffer from inefficiencies due to under-funding, faulty program design, wasteful use of monies, and a lack of political will.

Seed’s for Future’s strategies are practical, low-cost, and replicable from family to family.

The current Seeds Program has helped more than 2,000 families in 14 communities – approximately 15,400 individuals.

The future is bright for a continuing increase in the number of families and communities where our program is available. Your support is vital to making this happen.

To learn more about the Seeds for a Future Program, explore our Program Outline page.

Or, Connect with the Founders, Suzanne and Earl de Berge.

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