Nicaragua: Coffee crisis and drought hit most vulnerable

WFP Press Briefing - Geneva
WFP is very concerned about the double impact the drought and coffee crisis have on the most vulnerable.

Low prices worldwide have driven down supply, leading to high unemployment in the coffee sector. This has particularly affected the poor, day labourers who rely on coffee earnings to survive. They now have no money to buy food.

WFP's main concern is the children, who suffer most from lack of food because their bodies are small, vulnerable and still growing.

Furthermore, when a child is chronically or acutely malnourished, the immune system begins to break down. This leads to diseases and infections - such as respiratory diseases or diarrhoea which can lead to long-term damage or even death.

Health care workers in the region are seeing a high prevalence of respiratory infections, skin disease and diarrhoea in Matagalpa, Nicaragua and other coffee growing provinces.

According to a rapid assessment last week in Nicaragua, the chronic malnutrition rate for children under 5 in the coffee growing region area is 45% (about 31% for all of Nicaragua). This rate is worrying.

WFP is currently assisting about 8,000 families in the region (in the provinces of Matagalpa, Jinotega, Madriz and Nueva Segovia) to ensure they have food while they cultivate their small coffee plots (less than 3 manzanas).

The harvest will be in January. The assistance consists of a monthly ration of corn, beans and oil. Cost: $560,000. Tonnage: 483 MT.

In addition to WFP, other humanitarian groups are also providing assistance in the area, including NGOs such as CARE, USAID, UNICEF, private groups in Nicaragua, and the Nicaraguan government.

WFP is concerned about the repeated shocks that Nicaraguan families have experienced in the past five years -- whether from droughts or high unemployment due to coffee crisis. These poor families are losing their assets (seeds, money, farm animals, etc) and losing their ability to cope with successive environmental and economic shocks.

WFP is assisting approximately 40,000 people in the region.

Throughout Central America, we see both a coffee crisis and another difficult drought. In El Salvador, 30,000 families traditionally employed on coffee plantations are now without any source of income. In Guatemala, many temporary labourers have lost their jobs in coffee plantations, because pre-harvest activities of cleaning and fertilizing coffee plants have been reduced. Salaries had already been reduced by half in 2001 look like being similarly reduced during the 2002 season. Studies estimate that due to reduced coffee production, between 185,000 and 245,000 coffee jobs have been lost in Guatemala, the majority of which are temporary labourers.

Nicaragua: facts

Second poorest country (after Haiti) in Latin America/Caribbean

About half the population lives below poverty line

In 1999, the minimum salary in the agricultural sector covered only 32% of the cost of a basic food basket

1 in 4 children below the age of five is affected by chronic malnutrition

infant mortality rates are among the highest in the region

WFP targets

Rural women and children

Small-scale farmers and landless poor

WFP activities (for target no. of beneficiaries)

Food for work - to mitigate natural disasters (80,000)

Micro-nutrients supplied to pregnant women and nursing mothers (15,000) and children under 2 years old (27,000)

Training staff in health & education centres in nutrition and sanitation (42,000)

School feeding (95,000 plus additional 230,000 pupils)

Support for street children (5,000)

Contact Information

This is a summary of what was said by WFP spokesperson Christiane Berthiaume - to whom quoted text may be attributed - at the press briefing, on 10 September 2002, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva

For more information:

tel: +41-22-9178 564
fax: +41-22-917 8087