In Guatemala, food and nutrition insecurity causes stunted growth in nearly 50 percent of children under the age of five. According to the latest National Survey on Maternal and Child Health in Guatemala, the country’s indigenous population is most affected: up to 70% suffers from chronic malnutrition. To be able to fulfil the right to food for indigenous communities, it is crucial to recognise, respect and understand the socio-cultural differences of indigenous peoples. This approach to food security is known as having 'cultural relevance' or being 'fit to culture'.
This is why, since the start of 2023, a group of 15 public and private actors has been coordinating solutions in line with the community agreement and indigenous beliefs, as well as the Guatemalan Municipal Food and Nutrition Security Policy (SAN). This policy aims to guarantee food safety and availability, and access to food for households. It links farmers to school meal programmes, that aim both at improving small-scale production systems and addressing acute cases of malnutrition in children.
“Our work has cultural relevance. We’ve consulted different communities, taking into account their needs and capacities, and based on that we’ve prioritised these aspects within the SAN policy”, María Fernanda Pierri, project coordinator at Rikolto, who has been involved in planning the implementation of the policy.
Together with Mayan community associations, a plan for implementing the policy was designed and approved last October. The aim was to involve the entire population, being especially cautious to leave no one behind in the process. The policy has a budget to kick-start its implementation, which will be expanded.
A first action that was part of this plan, was a popular version of the policy in the Kaqchikel language (a member of the Quichean–Mamean branch of the Mayan languages family) to ensure local and cultural appropriation in Sololá. This document will be disseminated in the course of 2023.
David Saloj, a member of COINDI, explains: "Creating awareness around this policy is very important. COINDI works with Rikolto on the popular version and also shares the policy with 86 organisations in the National Network for the Defence of Food Sovereignty in Guatemala, including municipal councils and authorities, associations, farmers' unions and agroecological markets.”
COINDI also participates in the meetings of the Technical Commission for School Meals. It defines school menus and coordinates the availability of food.
Other activities that form part of the implementation plan of the policy include nutrition fairs, seed fairs, agricultural and handicraft fairs in the communities and support for community groups working on organic food production. There are also ongoing consultations with the Municipal Commissions for Food and Nutritional Security (COMUSAN) and the communities, to further guide the implementation of the policy.
The cultural vision of the communities is so influential that a four-year cycle was introduced. This cycle organises efforts and assigns "cargadores" or carriers (according to the Mayan cosmovision) – to ensure the success of the initiative. Mayan philosophy refers to 4 carriers of time: Iq, Kej, E and No'j. Each carrier is assigned to rule a cycle or year. The one assigned the 2023-2024 cycle, the year for updating strategies, methods, plans and programmes, is the carrier E. The energy of each year can determine the success of some initiatives, according to the Mayan Cosmovision. "This is unique, even among countries in the region," says María Pierri.
In 2023, efforts will focus on food and nutrition security in emergency situations, a food and nutrition security monitoring and alert system, school food, and the prevention and treatment of malnutrition. The policy also aims to ensure the procurement and conservation of indigenous and creole seeds, in collaboration with several actors. This way, the policy respects the organisational choices of the communities and the wisdom of their ancestors.
The Municipality of Sololá (Department of the Environment and Natural Resources), the Ministries of Agriculture, Education, Public Health and Social Development, the Office of the Ombudsman for Human Rights, Rikolto, Cáritas, Helvetas, Ceiba, Asociación Renacimiento, COINDI and other organisations have participated in the culturally relevant process of developing the policy.