Guatemala is in the midst of a food crisis rooted in longstanding poverty and inequality, the worldwide financial recession, increasing violence, and a degraded natural resource base that is deteriorating at an accelerating rate due to demographic pressures and a series of natural disasters, including repeated droughts in vulnerable areas of the country.
Poverty in Guatemala is closely linked with the country’s dramatically uneven income distribution and land ownership, a lack of access to social and productive assets and resources, and centuries of marginalization and inequality. In Guatemala, the poorest 20% of the population earns 1.9% of the total income, while the wealthiest 5.6% controls 50%. At the same time, 2% of the population owns over 70% of the land. With a Gini index of 55, Guatemala is among the most inequitable countries in the world. It is also important to note the gender aspect of inequality and marginalization in Guatemala; gender inequalities in access to and control over resources and discriminatory socio-cultural norms have severely limited women’s productive potential. For example, though women play a central role in agriculture they own only 17% of farms.
Environmental degradation in Guatemala is directly tied to the grossly uneven distribution of wealth and land. With the vast majority of the country’s land owned by just 2% of the population, new generations of Guatemalans are forced to populate hillsides and mountainsides, thereby furthering deforestation and its numerous undesirable implications relative to food security. When combined with the country’s mountainous topography, deforestation serves to worsen the effects of natural disasters, thereby increasing the risks associated with sudden shocks on overall food security and under-nutrition rates. Indeed, the connection between environmental degradation, disasters, and food insecurity is well documented and has been a major problem for decades. In recent years it has become more acute than ever before. This is especially true in southern Guatemala where recurrent hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, landslides and droughts have left the region in a state of near constant food crisis for years.
It is also important to note that the poorest Guatemalans often depend heavily on income from unskilled agricultural labor to purchase food to meet their needs. With the global recession there have been few work opportunities. This is being compounded by rising food prices and declining remittances stemming from the global economic crisis.
Groundswell’s Response – Agricultural and Rural Development in Guatemala
Taken together, the effects of the financial crisis, repeated disasters, environmental deterioration, and ongoing drought will be insurmountable for many poor Guatemalan families unless they dramatically change the way they approach farming and other key aspects of their lives. With this in mind, Groundswell’s partner FUNDENOR is strengthening the organizational capacity of local community organizations to address these issues; promoting income-generating activities with an emphasis on productive agricultural and rural develpment; improving family health and well being with the Casa Hogar Saludable (Health Homes) methodology; and, promoting community-based natural resource management. FUNDENOR’s holistic approach is reversing the downward trend and improving the wellbeing of the communities where it works. FUNDENOR joined Groundswell in July 2011, and efforts are currently underway to arrange exchange visits that will allow FUNDENOR and other Groundswell partners to learn from each other.