Guatemala: Cash transfers help families buy food

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In Guatemala's ‘dry corridor’, recurrent drought has forced many people to leave their homes in search of work. Now, the World Food Programme with the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid Operations are helping families buy food, allowing them to stay together while supporting the local economy. For the Mayan Q’anjob’al people in the mountainous Huehuetenango Department of Guatemala, corn is life. It is said the gods created people out of corn, and corn harvesting has been central to the culture and survival of countless generations. Today, it is the most important agricultural activity for many small-scale producers of Mayan origin.

Elvira, a 22-year-old mother, is one of them. Her village, El Chorro Xemal Colotenango, lies in Huehuetenango Department in the so-called dry corridor – a semi-arid zone characterised by periods of drought, degraded soils and low agricultural yields. In some areas, even during the normal rainy season from May to October, it has rained only a few days in three consecutive years. Elvira and her family once depended entirely on corn harvesting. Outside their house, they grow the sacred grain on leased land. But again in 2015, the harvest was poor, providing just enough for them to feed themselves for a while. Like hundreds of others in the dry corridor, they struggle to survive. Elvira’s daughter has recently recovered from acute malnutrition. “In our community we do not have job opportunities,” Elvira told the World Food Programme (WFP).

With support from the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid Operations, WFP has given hope to Elvira, her family and fellow residents of Colotenango. With an identity card issued by WFP’s SCOPE platform, they receive a cash transfer, which they can use in local shops to buy food, including fresh local vegetables, like bell peppers (paprika), and chicken. Elvira and other women receive WFP nutrition counselling, a workshop dedicated to teaching mothers which foods are most nutritious and how best to invest their money for their families, helping them make informed decisions at the market. Additionally, men receive training to better understand their role in their family’s nutrition and to promote gender inclusion.

The support provided by WFP and the EU allows people like Elvira to stay with their families instead of undergoing the perilous trip to seek work, while providing an additional boost to the local economy. The programme helps to safeguard food and nutrition security in Colotenango and to keep families together – giving back hope to those who had lost it after almost three years of drought in Guatemala.

Story by Miguel Vargas, Communication Assistant at WFP Guatemala