World Food Day in Latin America and the Caribbean

Fionuala Cregan | October 15, 2013

Petrona and her youngest son, Benjamin, are actively part of CWS-supported food security programs in Guatemala. Photo: Nancy Vásquez

Petrona and her youngest son, Benjamin, are actively part of CWS-supported food security programs in Guatemala. Photo: Nancy Vásquez

Imagine a population two and a half times that of the United States. That is: 842 million children, women and men. This is the amount of people who, according to the United Nation´s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), go to bed hungry and malnourished every single night all over the world.

Eradicating hunger and poverty has always been at the heart of CWS´s mission alongside the promotion of peace and justice. Our mission recognizes that eradicating hunger is about much more than food. It is a political issue and its eradication is closely linked to principles of equality, inclusion and respect for human rights.

World Food Day’s theme this year – Sustainable Food Systems for food security and nutrition – is warmly welcomed. By linking food security and nutrition to systems, the FAO emphasizes that food security is a cross-cutting issue. In other words, a sustainable food system is one that tackles a broad range of issues – from management of natural resources, democratic governance, global trade policies, access to water, health and education to respect for cultural traditions and ancestral knowledge and the controlled use of science and technology , to name but a few.

In partnership with Foods Resource Bank, CWS supports a number of programs in Latin America and the Caribbean which aim to contribute to the development of sustainable food systems. Working with local partners at the community and family level, the programs support the diverse yet interconnected issues of land rights, the empowerment of women, soil conservation and use of natural resources, education, nutrition, community organizing, water systems, cooperatives, human rights training and public policy advocacy.

Our programs focus on some of the most food insecure communities in regions vulnerable to natural disasters: Central America , Haiti´s Northwest and the South American Gran Chaco region.


This is a word used by the Guarani indigenous people in South America´s Chaco region who CWS has been supporting to recover their ancestral lands. Ipöroayae describes something that is complete, that has all the necessary components and as a result is functioning well. In the past, indigenous communities used the concept to manage their eco-systems, especially the native forest they relied on. They knew that if the forest was to provide them and future generations with food and water, it had to be carefully managed. And so they hunted and harvested only what they needed and ensured that the delicate eco-system remained balanced.

“Sustainable development is all about Ipöroayae,” says Guarani leader Horacio Zambaquiri, “if one component is missing, the system will not function well.”

CWS works with local partners in the Chaco region of Argentina, Bolivia and Paraguay accompanying indigenous communities in the complicated legal process of recovering their ancestral land. It also provides them with support for the sustainable management of the land and trains indigenous leaders, in particular women and young people, so that they can carry out their own advocacy initiatives.

Chain of Solidarity

This is how communities in Northwest Haiti describe the cooperatives that have brought them together and helped them contribute to the development of sustainable food systems in one of the most isolated and food insecure regions of the country.

“Change comes about when people get organized. A cooperative is a different way of organizing – it involves people putting together what they have. There is no individual gain, “ says Cher-Frère Fortune, cooperatives coordinator with CWS partner in the region the Christian Center for Integrated Development (SKDE). Cher-Frère has witnessed significant changes in communities organised in Coops over the last decade; “Through the Coops people learn about their rights – the right to food, education, health – and respect for the environment.”

The coops provide microcredit loans which enable farmers to purchase land, tools, seeds and animals, or in the case of women in particular, to have a small business to raise some revenue. Through SKDE coop members receive technical support and training to increase agricultural production, including planting more resistant products in a region vulnerable to hurricanes and drought. They also receive training on democratic values and Coop management.

While the Coops are a community based initiative, Cher-Frère believes that the government has an important role to play in the chain of solidarity in particular by offering agricultural credit and purchasing and marketing some key products from the region.

Growing Healthier

“My country Guatemala continues to have one of the highest levels of malnutrition in rural areas in the whole of Latin America,” says Hugo Garrido, Executive Secretary of CWS partner Ciedeg, “I give thanks to God that in the communities where we work we are making great strides in reducing the rate of malnutrition of children and improving family nutrition and food security.”

This strides can be attributed to the focus on integral community development that CIEDEG along with three other partners in Honduras and Nicaragua have integrated in to their work on food security. These organizations came together to create a regional platform called Growing Healthier which promotes strategies to reduce chronic malnutrition and promote sustainable agriculture in highly vulnerable communities in Central America. Water and sanitation, nutrition awareness and education, reforestation, crop diversification, access to land, community organizing and the empowerment of women are key activities of the program.

“Change does not happen overnight,” says Cesar Soriano of program partner CASM in Honduras, “But slowly we are able to witness the experiences of many families who now have a better meal on the table, some additional income, and improved skills for the management of natural resources and, most importantly, the inspiration and hope to continue.”

Fionuala Cregan, CWS Program Officer for the South American Chaco