Samuel Hauenstein Swan

Malnutrition in the Dry Mountains of Guatemala

Samuel Hauenstein Swan 

Dona Victoria Garcia at her home, high in the mountains above Suchiquer village.  Poverty, lack of access to health care and economic marginalisation have contributed to a chronic malnutrition rate of 60.5% and severe growth stunting of 26.6% in the region. These rates are amongst the highest worldwide.

Suchiqueris a small farming village close to the border between Guatemala and Honduras. Communities increasingly feel the impact of unpredictable weather patterns as a consequence of climate change.

In Guatemala, two thirds of arable land is devoted to export crops, such as coffee, while subsistence farmers share just a fifth of existing farmland, often on the least productive soil, to make a living. 

Without being able to grow enough crops and earn sufficient returns, subsistence farmers have no choice but to find cash labour in coffee plantations such as this, far away from their families. Working conditions for day labourers are often demanding, whilst resultant income levels are limited. 

Dona Pula Gutierrez Amador and her daughter Norma. At eighteen months old, Norma weighed just 6.7kg, the average weight of a three month old baby in the UK.  Norma was admitted to the Nutrition Recovery Centre in Jocotan where she is receiving treatment and 24 hour care until her health is restored. 

Women weave mats from straw to earn an income. However, the returns are very small, only providing a family with one to two kilos of beans or rice per week.  

“This is not the first time my children have gone hungry,” says Dona Pula. “Times are particularly difficult from May to August because we have no money and food is too expensive. Often, all I can give to my children is a tortilla with salt.” 

Providing farmers with cash during these difficult months is crucial. ACF provides  seasonal paid work to vulnerable families who help improve the infrastructure of their village such as road-building and irrigation. The income helps families buy food, seeds and other necessities. It also allows men to stay with their families and mothers to spend more time looking after their children.  

ACF and village committees that have been set up meet regularly to document all aspects that underpin malnutrition and hunger in the region. The information collected allows experts to understand the needs of rural communities, ring alarm bells when communities are overstretched and give policy makers the evidence to put in place support mechanisms. 

Rains at the end of a long dry season have become synonymous with hunger, child malnutrition and land erosion. However, the exceptionally high malnutrition rates in the region could easily be prevented. ACF’s nutritionists work with the Ministry ofHealth to provide life-saving help in reinforcing the capacity of the Ministry to treat malnourished children and train community volunteers on detecting, treating and preventing malnutrition.  

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