Funding Crunch May Disrupt Nutrition Programme In Guatemala

A fortified food blend called VitaCereal™ has been a mainstay for young children and mothers in Guatemala, where almost half of all children under five suffer from chronic malnutrition. But the nutrition programme may be suspended for lack of funds.

By Elizabeth Sagastume and Elio Rujano

CHIQUIMULA PROVINCE – Once a month, Marta Garcia and her three children walk 45 minutes to the nearest health clinic from her home in Guatemala’s southeastern Chiquimula province for basic services including vaccines, supplementary vitamins – and VitaCereal™, which she feeds her two-year-old toddler Manuel.

Since 2006, VitaCereal™ has been part of a package offered by the health services in the El Rodeo community where the Garcia family lives. Distributed to pregnant and nursing mothers, along with children from six months to three years, the fortified blend of maize, soy and micronutrients is designed to increase birth weight in babies, facilitate normal physical growth and development and provide a foundation for a healthy life.

Garcia, 23, first began eating VitaCereal™ when she was expecting Manuel.  Now, her pregnant, 17-year-old sister Julia also receives VitaCereal™ as a complementary food offered with her prenatal care. “We are grateful for all the help we have received,” Garcia said. “Our children are healthier and the pregnancies are a lot better than the ones before."

Marta Garcia walking to the health clinic with her three young childrenRunning  on empty

But life for the Garcia family could change dramatically after September. Funding has dried up for the local production and distribution of VitaCereal™. The project urgently needs US$ 5 million to avoid a break in supplies, which would affect the nutrition of approximately 100,000 children under five and 50,000 pregnant and lactating women.

VitaCereal™ is an important component of WFP’s  food assistance programme in Guatemala, which has the fourth highest rate of chronic undernutrition in the world -- and the highest in Latin America and the Caribbean. Almost half of all children under five suffer from chronic undernutrition.

Hard times for Guatemala’s poorest

Suspending distribution of VitaCereal™ would add more hardship to Guatemala’s poorest families, who are already feeling the pinch of the economic and food crises.

“In our community, we don’t have many resources, and women need to stay at home taking care of the children. Jobs are hard to find and men need to go away sometimes to find them,” said Maricruz Ramos, another Chiquimula resident, whose young daughter Talia also eats VitaCereal™.

“Money is not enough,” she added, “and this assistance with medical services and food is very good for us."  Read more about WFP's funding shortfall