Central American farmers tell world experts how they're confronting hunger

In parts of rural Central America struggling with food insecurity and malnutrition, women are taking the lead by delivering on their economic power--right in the breadbasket.

Olga Tumax
Olga Tumax described for conference participants the vital role women are playing to improve their families' food security, through a CWS and Foods Resource Bank-supported  initiative in the Totonicapán region of Guatemala.
File photo: Rolanda Hughes/CWS

In parts of rural Central America struggling with food insecurity and malnutrition, women are taking the lead by delivering on their economic power—right in the breadbasket.

That was the message this week from Church World Service partner Olga Tumax, a rural farmer and trainer of indigenous women in Guatemala, speaking at the October 12 Iowa Hunger Summit, a lead-in to the prestigious World Food Prize symposium held annually in Des Moines.

In a panel on “Global Farmers’ Perspective on Food Security,” Tumax told U.S. and international farmers, agronomists and development leaders how women are playing a key role in a CWS Central America food and nutritional security program that goes far beyond just growing crops.

"In Guatemala, most land is owned by men. But, with this program and trainings in empowering women, we have learned to advocate to have access to land,” she said.

“The land is still in the name of men, but now they give us an area where we can work and produce a variety of vegetables and build greenhouses,” said Tumax, who is responsible for 480 women in the women's organization Ixmuncane, whose members are among the families in CWS’s Guatemala program.

“Now the men see that we can produce for family consumption and sell surplus for a little income,” she said, “and they come to ask us how we are able to do this. This has greatly enhanced the women's self-esteem, that they are now able to provide food for their families as well as generate income."

Another woman leader and agronomist, in Nicaragua, Rosa María Matamoros, works with CWS and partner CIEETS (Inter-Ecclesiastic Center for Theological and Social Studies) as director of community development, agriculture and training for CWS’s Nicaragua food security program.  

Matamoros told hunger summit panel attendees that their program’s advances go beyond increasing crops, saying it’s “an integral approach to sustainability and community development,” incorporating water, sanitation and a focus on nutrition.

“Before, we focused more on food production. Now we see the importance of an approach that includes agriculture, small animal husbandry with Pelibueys (a breed of sheep), rabbits and chickens, integrated with establishing clean, potable water and sanitation to enhance the nutrition of families.” She said the communities now hope to fully address both hunger and malnutrition issues.

Matamoras credited the CWS program’s approach of building communities of learning among participants. “It has been very valuable to use lessons learned in the activities of one program to start a food security and nutrition program in new communities in another part of Nicaragua.”

Matamoras also stressed the CWS program’s community organizing and training component as key to sustainability. “By making communities stronger in leadership and organization, they are able to apply on their own for projects in their municipalities,” and are “capable of developing their own solutions.”

Tumax and Matamoras are attending this week’s Hunger Summit and World Food Prize Symposium along with other CWS-hosted Central America program partners Hugo Garrido, executive director of CIEDEG (Conference of Evangelical Churches of Guatemala), Suyapa Ucles, Honduras program director for CASM (Mennonite Social Action Commission), and Guilmer Miguel, a farmer in Nueva Frontera, Santa Bárbara, Honduras.

Also at the Iowa Hunger Summit, CWS Iowa Regional Director Rev. Russell Melby echoed the connection between action and advocacy, “whether the action is growing crops or walking in a U.S. CROP Hunger Walk.” Melby cited long-time Cedar Rapids CROP Hunger Walk coordinator Ellen Fisher, who “models CROP Hunger Walk coordination and advocacy together. She recognizes that the two steps complement each other and that walking in a CROP Hunger Walk can lead to taking the next step of advocacy, such as contacting elected officials and writing letters to editors on hunger.”


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