Gregoria Sanchez, 20, stands waiting with her two children to receive her monthly ration of a fortified maize-soy meal called VitaCereal. Gregoria has come to this isolated distribution point, several miles walk from her home, because she knows this stuff makes a difference. She only has to look at her children.
The eight-month-old baby that Gregoria is carrying is chubby, alert and a picture of health. Her other son, who is two and a half, looks OK at first sight and seems content. But if you compare the heights of the two children, you notice that there is very little difference between them.
“We had no VitaCereal when I was pregnant the first time. I don’t think they had started giving it out. But I ate it quite often when I got pregnant again and then when I was breast feeding,” Gregoria says, as about 25 other young mothers look on and nod their heads.
All the mothers gathered at the La Ceiba maternal health centre in Guatemala’s Alta Verapaz region agree that eating VitaCereal while pregnant means babies emerge bigger and healthier. And if you carry on supplementing your diet with it after the birth your breast milk is thicker and more abundant.
VitaCereal™ was developed by WFP along with local Guatemalan experts to help fight one of the country’s most urgent problems: chronic undernutrition. In Guatemala, 49% of under fives suffer stunted growth as a result of malnutrition. This is the highest level in Latin America and the fourth highest level in the world.
A fortified blend of maize, soy, and micronutrients, VitaCereal is designed to increase birth weight in babies, facilitate normal physical growth and development, and help provide a foundation for a healthy life.
It is distributed to pregnant and nursing mothers as well as children from six months until three years of age. For babies and small children, this period of growth is crucial to their basic human development. Without adequate nutrition and diet the brain will fail to develop to its full potential, limiting children’s ability to concentrate and learn and mentally crippling them for life.
An estimated 120,000 children and 40,000 pregnant and breastfeeding mothers currently receive Vitacereal™. VitaCereal distribution targets rural areas, where access to healthy food is severely limited.
Because one of the key ingredients is maize – typically a mainstay of the Guatemalan diet – it is well accepted by the population. “Now I give it to both my kids, ” says Gregoria Sanchez, explaining that like many mothers she mixes the product with local bananas to give it a taste they will like.
The VitaCereal distributed at la Ceiba is paid for by WFP and distributed by one of WFP’s NGO partners, Funcafé. The programme fits into the government’s wider framework of action to enhance food security and nutrition across the country.