Responding to COVI...

Responding to COVID-19 in Guatemala: Modern and Resilient Agri-food Value Chains

Guatemala is known for its fertile land, abundant natural resources and robust agricultural sector, which employs half of the population and accounts for 10% of the country’s GDP. That’s why it’s so surprising that Guatemala is also known for its worrying nutrition outcomes: in the 2019 Global Hunger Index, Guatemala ranked 72nd out of 117 qualifying countries, and suffers from a level of hunger that is considered serious. In 2015, 12.6% of Guatemalan children under the age of 5 were underweight, more than 4 times the average for Latin America and the Caribbean. The country is taking steps to address this problem. In 2017, the Guatemalan government passed the School Feeding Law, which nearly tripled the previous national budgetary allocation for school meals. The law mandates that school menus be designed by nutrition-experts, and that 50% of food purchases by schools come from local smallholder farmers. This opens up a market opportunity for the country’s close to 2.5 million small-scale farmers. FAO estimates that the law could improve productive capacities and facilitate high amounts of direct public food purchases from Guatemala’s family farming sector.

The COVID-19 outbreak caused further disruptions all along the food chain in Guatemala, creating widespread economic hardship and uncertainty especially for populations that are most vulnerable. Export-oriented agriculture generates about 45% of Guatemala’s agricultural revenue. It’s a key driver in preserving jobs: although ports remain open, limitations on the movement of people and goods within the country are putting pressure on the agro-export system, especially for small producers. At the same time, the almost complete shutdown of the hospitality industry means cancelled contracts for farmers, leaving them with surplus produce of specialized harvests and livestock, much of which is uncommon or too costly for local consumption. Likewise, many small-scale farmers who depend on selling their produce daily now face the closure or reduced operation of marketplaces. In addition, informality (which in rural Guatemala is a reality for 9 out of 10 jobs) makes it difficult for rural producers and workers to access the many emergency programs that the government is implementing in response to the crisis. In a country that has worrying hunger and nutrition issues, it’s of utmost importance that agricultural value chains remain functioning and resilient, so that food keeps flowing from production to consumers, especially to address urgent food security concerns for the poor and vulnerable.

Around 2.5 million children receive at least one meal a day through the School Feeding Program which is continuing to run during quarantine. In addition, Guatemala has the highest Gender Inequality Index and the lowest female labor force participation rate in Latin America: in rural areas, women do not always think they have the capacity to be successful entrepreneurs, and many times they are not even aware of the School Feeding Law.

In Guatemala, the World Bank DIGITAGRO pilot, launched before the pandemic with support from the InfoDev MDTF, is developing digital tools to support the country’s farmers. Originally envisioned to improve access to the national School Feeding Program for smallholder agri-preneurs, the project is highly relevant in the current pandemic given that it is investing in digital technology that would support food security, food safety, and safeguard farmers’ livelihoods. MDTF funds specifically informed a pilot project that provides targeted extension services to women agripreneurs to increase their knowledge and skills around sustainable agriculture, farm investment, and effective management practices. The MDTF pilot specifically targeted women, most likely to benefit from a new market opportunity, and uniquely positioned to be champions for better nutrition. The e-commerce platform designed under the project supports produce sourcing from local women agripreneurs to allow these farmers to supply the School Feeding program in a profitable, efficient and sustainable way, providing families a comprehensive database of agricultural producers that can guarantee a reliable source of secure and nutritional foods, safeguarding the food security of children and their families and supporting small farmers.

The series of e-extension videos being developed in partnership with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, provide information on basic safe food practices, including guidelines on safe handling, processing, packaging and storage, as well as efficient and healthy use of water for food preparation. Moreover, the technical videos also focus specifically on the products that women in San Marcos specialize in (e.g., small animals, eggs and cheese, leafy vegetables), which are particularly valuable for children's nutrition and that are on school menus. The agricultural extension services videos will focus on sustainable post-harvest practices, climate resilience, and on avoiding food loss ad waste.

These digital extension services are vital for farmers to learn good safety practices and avoid food contamination, staying healthy and safe and operating in a socially distanced environment. These technologies now have the potential to be scaled up as part of a larger COVID-19 World Bank Agriculture and Food Global Practice project being prepared for Guatemala’s agriculture sector.

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