Promoting food security and empowering women farmers in Guatemala, one school day at a time

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Farmer in Guatemala. Viviana Perego/World Bank
Farmer in Guatemala. Viviana Perego/World Bank

Guatemala is known for its fertile land, abundant natural resources and robust agricultural sector, which employs half of the population and accounts for 10% of the country’s GDP. That’s why it’s so surprising that Guatemala is also known for its worrying nutrition outcomes: in the 2019 Global Hunger Index, Guatemala ranks 72nd out of 117 qualifying countries, and suffers from a level of hunger that is considered serious. In 2015, 12.6% of Guatemalan children under the age of 5 were underweight, more than 4 times the average for Latin America and the Caribbean. 

The country is taking steps to address this problem. In 2017, the Guatemalan government passed the School Feeding Law, which nearly tripled the previous national budgetary allocation for school meals from Q 1.11 (USD 0.15) per child per school day up to Q 3.00 (USD 0.41). The law mandates that school menus be designed by nutrition-experts, and that 50% of food purchases by schools come from local smallholder farmers. The policy’s contributions are two-fold: Increasing children’s food security by giving them access to nutrient-rich, varied foods from a reliable source, and empowering the small-scale agriculture industry. This opens up a market opportunity for the country’s close to 2.5 million small-scale farmers. FAO estimates that the law could improve productive capacities, and facilitate high amounts of direct public food purchases from Guatemala’s family farming sector: estimates for 2018 placed the potential for these purchases to up to Q 675 million (USD 92 million).

Guatemala’s children also benefit in the long run. A recently published report by the Ministry of Education found that  95 % of children like the new school menus.  Nutritious and sufficient school meals will help keep food insecure children in school, ensure their proper cognitive and physical development and potentially change their eating habits for the better, giving them a taste for healthy food. 

This is a good start, but more concerted action is needed. 

Schools in remote areas often lack information on which producer to buy their food from, as well as basic knowledge on safe and hygienic cooking practices. At the same time, unclear administrative procedures discourage many local producers from participating in the school feeding market. Those producers who do, moreover, frequently struggle with low production capacity, and with the fact that schools do not regularly plan their menu and purchase schedule   ahead of the school year. 

Organizations including the WFP and FAO are working to facilitate schools’ access to local farmers . The FAO is strengthening farmers’ capabilities and efficiency, and organizing them into networks to simplify their communication with schools. Meanwhile, the WFP works with schools to help them tailor menus to their total number of students and plan their purchases accordingly, and also provides information on good practices for health and food safety. 

Recently, a team of Food and Agriculture experts from the World Bank, together with partners at the Guatemalan Ministry of Agriculture, FAO and WFP, launched a pilot to complement these efforts. The pilot, which is specifically focused on women’s access to the market, is sponsored by the InfoDev Trust Fund

Why focus on women? In a country that displays the highest Gender Inequality Index and the lowest female labor force participation rate in Latin America, targeting women producers is critical for advancing equal opportunity in rural Guatemala. It is also a significant driver of improved nutrition at home. 

The pilot will include three key components:

  1. It will establish an information-sharing web platform to match schools’ food demand with the supply from agri-preneurs (both men and women).
  2. It will produce a series of videos specifically targeted at women agri-preneurs, to facilitate their access to the School Feeding market: the videos will cover a broad range of themes, from a general breakdown of the School Feeding Law and a run-down on the formal requirements that suppliers need to meet to sell their produce to schools, to information on agricultural and food-safety best practices.
  3. An impact evaluation to rigorously review the pilot.

Strengthening the link between supply and demand means facilitating children’s access to fresh, nutritious, and varied food - and focusing on women multiplies the benefits across the board!

Guatemala’s new School Feeding Law promises to help promoting food security of all children in school. It also presents an opportunity to better connect markets, address information gaps, empower women , and enhance productivity in agrifood markets. Now is the time to connect the dots.




Katie Kennedy Freeman

Senior Agriculture Economist

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