UN World Food Programme

Guatemala: Coffee Rust Affects Hits Food Access For Families

Obdulio y Emilda with their children receiving food ration from WFP. (Copyright: WFP/ Marta Orozco)

Families in Guatemala that are still recovering from the destruction caused by the earthquake of 7 November 2012 and the aftermath early 2013  are now facing a new calamity: coffee rust. Due to this plague, the coffee harvest, Guatemala main export, has decreased, reducing the incomes and food access of vulnerable households.
 

SAN MARCOS- Emilda Marisol Fuentes still remembers the impact of the earthquake that struck the department of San Marcos in late 2012. “I was three months pregnant with my seventh child, and I was very afraid. I was in the hospital for over a month”, she tells us sadly after the loss of her baby.

On an exterior wall of her home, authorities wrote “Demolish” in spray paint because her home was so badly affected by the earthquake. But there is a problem: due to the lack of employment Emilda and her husband Obdulio, do not have the money to move nor to buy the materials to build a new home. They do not even have enough money to feed their family.

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The Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Food declared a national emergency for the coffee rust plague which affected plantations on a national level. The Government of Guatemala has established an initial plan to benefit 60,000 small farmers of the 204 municipalities of 20 departments that will receive technical assistance and fungicide.

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Families in the department of San Marcos still suffer from the consequences of the earthquake from last November, and now the plague of coffee rust is added to the burden. The outbreak of the fungus has destroyed   coffee plantations, which are the main source of labor wages  in the region. Obdulio, who produces coffee for sale, also works as a laborer on a coffee farm, where he gets paid   Q30.00 (USD 3.75) a day. “I am very worried because the rust is affecting the coffee plants, and this week I only worked two days pruning the plants affected by the rust” said Obdulio.

“If I do not get money I will not be able to buy enough food for the whole family”, he added. In addition, Emilda and their children live with Obdulio’s sister, Rosa María, who has special capacities and is also part of their family.

“We have hope that with the support we are receiving from WFP we can overcome this crisis, and that with the sale of my plants we will be able to save money  to build a new home before the rains come”, says Obdulio. “We are afraid because the terrain is very fragile and is on a slope; this could bring down the house”, he comments.

To date, WFP has provided food rations to a total of 4,655 families in five departments affected by the earthquake and the coffee rust plague. A second delivery is set for March and April. Every family receives a food ration to cover the needs of 45 days, this includes: 198 pounds of corn, 45 pounds of beans, 45 pounds of a fortified mixture of corn and, 2.7 gallons of oil, and 1.5 pounds of sugar.