Little relief in Central America's food crisis

By Claire Luke 19 February 2015

A farmer in a maize field after the dry season in Jamastran, Honduras. Photo by: Neil Palmer / CIAT / CC BY-NC-SA

The worst drought in a decade has brought parts of Central America to the brink of what has been called an emerging food crisis.

Unless “urgently needed” funds materialize soon, 2 million people who are currently food-insecure could face an even more dire outlook, according to donors and NGOs who are currently scrambling to attract emergency funding to a region often overlooked by food security programs.

The United Nations, World Food Program, Oxfam and Save the Children have all requested emergency funding for a situation that “has deteriorated since 2014” and become a “serious humanitarian situation” that could worsen, according to Juan Pinzón, Save the Children’s regional operations and humanitarian officer.

The European Commission is expected to announce today a 4 million euro ($4.56 million) donation in the form of cash vouchers and material aid, a spokesman told Devex. A spike in acute malnutrition among children under the age of 5 would likely require supplementary feeding programs and nutrition assistance, the official said.

The food — and funding — shortage comes on the heels of a proposal by U.S. President Barack Obama to boost funding to Central America, in large part to tackle the underlying conditions of poverty and youth unemployment that drive large numbers of people to the U.S. border seeking to emigrate.

Central America’s current needs have been overshadowed by global crises that have taxed and strained aid donors’ response capabilities in recent years. But a sustained drought, rising food prices and last year’s “coffee rust” crisis have converged in a perfect storm of food insecurity, leaving 2 million people without sufficient access to nutrition and scores of farmers without work.

“This is a very severe, very serious situation. We are very concerned about the conditions there and how that affects hunger and food access. Funds are urgently needed and we are asking for help,” WFP Communications Officer Steve Taravella told Devex.

Conditions are worst in Guatemala and Honduras, though El Salvador and Nicaragua have also been negatively affected. WFP is calling for $20 million in emergency assistance for the next three months, primarily for food vouchers, which the spokesperson referred to as the “most efficient delivery mechanism.”

Save the Children is finalizing a food security strategy for 2015 and seeking funds to implement it, but it has been challenging to direct attention to the region’s food security crisis, the official told Devex, because it has been a slow onset emergency and not as dramatic as other crises around the world.

Oxfam, too, is working on a plan to address food security in the four countries, and estimates $6 million will be necessary to finance its short-term effort to provide food assistance.

WFP appealed for emergency funds in August when a fungus devastated coffee crops for tens of thousands of farmers. Since a new coffee crop takes two years to mature, those farmers have been forced to wait to recoup any profits since replanting.

In September, the United States provided $10 million to relieve the coffee rust crisis, but despite that temporary relief, organizations on the ground say the food security situation is worsening quickly.

The severe drought in Central America is particularly concerning because a large part of the region’s population lives on subsistence agriculture, Manuel Orozco, senior migration and remittance advisor for the International Fund for Agricultural Development, told Devex.

“The region is not food self sufficient in many commodities, and there is not a robust enough agroindustry ready to cope with continued natural disasters,” he said.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Association last month presented its regional plan for food security, nutrition and hunger eradication by 2025 and anticipates governments to outline their plans to implement it in the next few weeks.

The plan’s four pillars — improving food availability, access, nutrition and production with attention to natural disaster — “provide a broad vision of what we have to do to fight hunger and promote social cooperation,” Ricardo Rapallo, FAO food security officer at the regional office for Latin America and the Caribbean, told Devex.

Some countries in the region have advanced on food security more than others, Rapallo said, and are starting to provide assistance for the worse-off countries, mainly in Central America.

Got any updates on the fight against food insecurity in Central America? Share news and views by leaving a comment below.

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About the author

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Claire Luke

Claire is a journalist passionate about all things development, with a particular interest in labor, having worked previously for the Indonesia-based International Labor Organization. She has experience reporting in Cambodia, Nicaragua and Burma, and is happy to be immersed in the action of D.C. Claire is a master's candidate in development economics at the George Washington Elliott School of International Affairs and received her bachelor's degree in political philosophy from the College of the Holy Cross.


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