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Food Security

Food Security exists when all people at all times have both physical and economic access to sufficient food to meet their dietary needs for a productive and healthy life.  Food security depends on three distinct, interrelated, and necessary elements:

  • Food utilization: Proper biological use of food requires a diet providing sufficient energy and essential nutrients; potable water and adequate sanitation; household knowledge of food storage and processing; basic principles of nutrition, especially for pregnant and lactating women and children under five years old; and proper child care and illness management.
  • Food access:  Adequate resources to obtain appropriate foods for a nutritious diet that depends on household income, its distribution within the household, and on food prices. 
  • Food availability: Sufficient quantities of food from all sources including household production, commercial imports or food assistance.

Food insecurity has a far-reaching impact on societies because chronic malnutrition in children under three years old causes irreversible physical and cognitive damage that limits their ability to learn and perform in school, impedes the impact of basic health services, and prevents them from growing into productive adults.

Food Insecurity in Guatemala                                   

Guatemala has the highest national level of chronic malnutrition (48.9 percent) in the Western Hemisphere and one of the highest in the world. At the current rate of progress, it will take over 80 years to eliminate stunting due to chronic malnutrition among Guatemala’s indigenous populations, and 20 years among non-indigenous people. In the past six decades, malnutrition among children has cost Guatemalan society an estimated $3.13 billion in reduced health, education, and productivity.

Food insecurity is most severe in the highlands and some areas in the east where drought is recurrent and many people eke out a living through non-irrigated subsistence agriculture.  Populations in the highlands live in isolated communities and have a single maize harvest per year with few options for generating income. 

Chronic malnutrition among children is persistent and has strong ethnic and geographic dimensions—it is concentrated in rural communities of indigenous populations where total growth stunting rates reach over 80 percent. The relative levels of 58.6 percent in indigenous populations and 30.6 percent among non-indigenous have changed little since 1995. Many municipalities are predominantly indigenous and some have stunting rates of over 80 percent.  A 2008 height census of first-grade students showed that more than 51 percent of elementary students in half of the country’s 333 municipalities suffered from either moderate or severe stunting, the latter being a clear indicator of chronic malnutrition.  

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization conducted studies to identify the groups most vulnerable to stunting. Results show that landless rural families and small-scale farmers are most affected by food insecurity.  The high vulnerability groups all have inadequate access to land. The scarcity of land forces hundreds of thousands of people each year to become seasonal migrant workers on coffee and sugar cane plantations to generate income to feed their families.

Increases in food prices compromise household access to food. The highest food insecurity zones are located in El Quiché and Huehuetenango and Ch'ortí. Families in these zones purchase 80 percent and 70 percent of their food, respectively, which makes them vulnerable to regular food price increases.

An estimated 1.8 million people are food insecure. The majority of these, about 1.7 million, receive food aid, though not on a permanent or sufficiently regular basis to meet their nutritional needs. Nearly 500,000 children benefit from government school feeding programs.

USAID Response

United States Government assistance through USAID is based on the premise that only a long-term, sustained collaborative effort from the Guatemalan Government, civil society (including non-profit organizations, the private sector, and academia) and interested citizens will bring down the unacceptably high levels of chronic malnutrition that precludes Guatemala’s ability to pursue its potential as a prosperous, peaceful society.

The USAID Guatemala Food Security Program is one of the largest PL-480 Title II food security programs in the Western Hemisphere. It coordinates with other USAID programs in health, local governance, enterprise and trade, and with the Government of Guatemala, international organizations, and NGOs to reduce food insecurity in the country. The program addresses food access and availability in vulnerable communities. Resources provide essential support through activities that integrate health and nutrition, agriculture and sustainable environmental practices, animal husbandry, micro-enterprise, and improved local governance. 

The current program reaches approximately 400 communities and helps 56,000 families each year.

Last updated: July 03, 2014

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