The issue of malnutrition in Guatemala is complex and entrenched in certain communities in the country. Recent statistics according to UNICEF indicate that child malnutrition for children under the age of 5 in Guatemala runs at 49.8%, with regional areas reporting the incidence of malnutrition for under-fives as high as 92%.
Source: El Periodico, 18 July 2014
Malnutrition for women with a child in the same home is also high, with regional differences ranging from 12%-37%. Malnutrition is clearly linked to varying levels of poverty – whilst a large degree of this is linked directly to inadequate food supply relative to income levels, a significant degree of malnutrition is linked to consumption of non-nourishing food such as excessive consumption of soft drinks.
Source: Revista Amiga, July 2014 ‘Cuando la dieta afecta tu salud’
The issue of malnutrition is presently particularly topical given the impact of El Nino on current harvests, with drought being the cause for the possible loss of 40% of corn production in at least 8 departments, and an estimated 40,000 families impacted from the lack of rain according to the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Food.
Source: Prensa Libre, 30 July 2014, page 4
So – with some background in mind, albeit high level – what sort of food security policies are being formulated or exercised? Interesting that on 26 June, whilst the country was hypnotised by World Cup antics, there was little focus on the Vegetable Production Law (Ley de Obtenciones Vegetales), which came about as a result of a requirement under the Free Trade Agreement between the US and Guatemala signed in 2005. The FTA requirement stipulates protection of intellectual property rights (per Chapter 15, article 15.5 ) which also covers vegetable growers, as administered by the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Food. Samuel Reyes Gomez analyses the legal framework surrounding this – Guatemala ratified the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV) Convention; UPOV was created by multinational groups creating seeds, which were initially hybrid seeds, but now produce genetically modified seeds. Key groups include Monsanto, Syngenta, Bayer, and Dupont/Pioneer, who control over 50% of globally patented seeds. Monsanto, however, controls 90% of the commercialisation of genetically modified seeds. In Guatemala, where food and nutrition issues are at the crux of social issues, this law was passed with no consultation from agricultural or food security bodies. Furthermore, the law stipulates a longer term for observation of IP protection for tree, vine and crop species – 40% longer terms than in most countries with similar laws. Added to this, there is uncertainty around how the law is applied. Initially, the law will apply to 15 varieties or species (however, species and varieties are two separate classifications in conventional biology – as in, there can be over 15 species in the one variety). While IP (intellectual property) protection is clearly an important issue, this is currently being applied in an ambiguous and seemingly heavy-handed manner in terms of the overly long observance period for patented seeds. With technological gains moving rapidly, today’s new seed is tomorrow’s old news – and particularly against the backdrop regarding the lack of food security facing the country at this point, solutions to prevent increased levels of malnutrition are crucial.
Poverty related issues are deeply rooted and malnutrition in the community one of the many consequences, with child malnutrition levels being particularly alarming. These issues are further compounded by current climate conditions and a complete lack of effective policy targeting food security. Given the country’s young population, with children aged up to 19 years accounting for just over half of the total population (per CEPAL statistics), addressing the issue of food security is crucial policy area that has not been adequately covered. This is essential to mitigate the social issues emanating from malnutrition, such as crime and the persistence of low levels of education. Basic nutrition and wellbeing from a young age underwrites improved physical and mental development, essential in building an effective immune system and allowing young Guatemalans to be able to absorb basic education. Further policy around IP, covering high yield crops and facilitating affordable access for farmers to plant and harvest these seeds, would underpin improved food supply dynamics – and against the harsh climate changes underway, high yielding crops are crucial given the likelihood of full or partial crop loss. Given the lack of focus on food security as an agenda item in the political arena at present, and with more media focus on the resultant issues of malnutrition and crime, a cultural change needs to take place before these derivative issues can be tackled effectively.
Prensa Libre: Reyes Gomez, Samuel, Pagar para subsistir? http://www.prensalibre.com/opinion/Pagar-para-subsistir_0_1183681642.html