“Maize is too expensive and I don't have a job”
Published on 28 June 2011

Pérez family (left to right) Imelda Ingrid (17), Ismael (father), Jeremías Cirilo (10), Gabriela Ricarda (40, mother), Aminta Lourdes (on mother´s lap), Miriam Mariela (6), Vilma Romero (8) and Mayra Selena (12). (Copyright: WFP/Luis Molina)

Guatemala - In 2010, Tropical Storm Agatha brought sadness and despair to the community of El Cerro, in Quetzaltenango, at 275 kilometers from the capital city. The Perez family is still recovering, but the changes in the climate and high food prices remind us that food security remains fragile

"I will never forget this date, 29 May 2010, when storm Agatha hit our community," said 40-year-old Ricarda Gabriela Perez. "We thought we would not live to tell about it ..." she said. Three days of uninterrupted torrential rains destroyed her home, her crops and her food reserves.
Ricarda Gabriela, her husband Ismael and their children Imelda Ingrid (17), Mayra Selena (12), Jeremías Cirilo (10), Vilma Romero (8), Miriam Mariela (6) and Aminta Lourdes (2) live in El Cerro –municipality of Cabrican, Quetzaltenango—a community where 95 percent of its members are from the MAM ethnic group. The Perez family is poor, but Agatha worsened their plight.
During an average rainy season, the family’s small land plot (0.21 hectares) barely allows them to produce half of the maize they eat until the next harvest. Ismael regularly “sells his labor” to feed his family, but there are no jobs.

"Our little girls were getting thinner every day"

"After this tragedy, our little girls started to get sick; they were getting thinner every day,” said Gabriela. “Sometimes we ate twice a day, sometimes only once, we had no maize no beans."
In the midst of these hardship, they were visited by WFP monitors and two nurses from the health department, who diagnosed the small girls were suffering from acute malnutrition. The visitors left “a special meal” that, as per Gabriela’s accounts, saved her daughters’ lives. These were Ready to Use Therapeutic Foods (RUTFs) that WFP distributes during emergencies.
Thanks to this intervention, Miriam Mariela (6) has recovered from severe acute malnutrition while Aminta Lourdes (2) has transitioned from severe to moderate acute malnutrition.

Meanwhile, an optimistic Ismael has started planting again hoping that the weather will be favorable, but four months will have to pass before the next harvest. During this period, the Perez family and other families in the same situation will require food assistance until they recover their livelihoods

“Today maize is too expensive and I cannot find a job. The food that we’ve received from the World Food Programme since August last year has been a blessing,“ said Ismael.

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About the author

Luis Molina

Field Monitor

Luis has been with WFP since 2005. He now works in Monitoring and Evaluation in Guatemala.