2004-06-14 13:25:00
Embassy Rome
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E.O. 12958: N/A
PERMREP, APRIL 25 - MAY 2, 2004





E.O. 12958: N/A
PERMREP, APRIL 25 - MAY 2, 2004

1. Summary: Travel of U.S. Mission Rome's Alternate
Permanent Representative to Guatemala provided an
opportunity for review of selected projects of the World
Food Program (WFP),the UN Food and Agriculture Agency (FAO)
and the International Fund for Agricultural Development
(IFAD) in rural areas around the Lago de Atitlan (Solola')
and in Alta Verapaz. The field visits provided graphic
evidence of poverty and need, as well as vivid
demonstrations of how the UN agencies are working
effectively, filling complementary roles, to address these
issues. Although Guatemala has the highest rate of chronic
malnutrition in Latin America -- the legacy of years of
civil strife and economic and climatic uncertainties -- it
is encouraging that the new reform-minded government has
identified combating hunger and malnutrition as a top
priority. Among the issues that need to be addressed are
the continuity of school feeding programs in the face of
fluctuating donor support, unsustainable use of forests and
other resources, the need for strengthened regional
cooperation, and the potential impact of HIV/AIDS. End


2. Alternate Permrep to the UN Agencies for Food and
Agriculture in Rome, Willem Brakel, visited Guatemala April
25 - May 2 to review the field activities of the Rome-
headquartered UN agencies for food and agriculture, and
(septel) to participate in the FAO Regional Conference for
Latin America. Also participating in several of the site
visits were WFP/FAO Desk Officer Sharon Kotok
(State/IO/EDA),and Guatemala-based Regional Food for Peace
Officer David Hull. This report does not purport to be a

comprehensive review of food security or rural development
activities in Guatemala, but rather seeks to highlight
noteworthy activities and lessons learned, particularly with
regard to actual and potential synergies among the programs
of WFP, FAO, IFAD and other UN agencies and their
complementarity with USG bilateral assistance. This cable
may be read in conjunction with septel covering field visits
in Nicaragua. The assistance of the WFP and FAO Permanent
Representations, the IFAD Country Program Manager, and the
USAID Mission and U.S. Embassy in facilitating the visit is
gratefully acknowledged.

3. Guatemala currently has the highest rate of malnutrition
in Latin America, affecting 49.3% of children under five,
according to the 2002 National Survey of Maternal-Child
Health. According to WFP, the World Bank and other
agencies, food security in Guatemala has been deteriorating
for a number of years. Domestic food production failed to
keep up with population growth from 1990 to 1997. Local
production of the country's major food staples covers only
an estimated 60 percent of demand. As a result, many poor
families face food shortages. The situation has been
exacerbated by climatic irregularities, a decades-long
history of political instability, and recent unfavorable
international economic developments such as the precipitous
decline of coffee producer prices.


4. The Guatemalan government has recognized hunger as a
serious problem and publicly stated its intention to make
food security a priority. For instance, at the opening of
the FAO Regional Conference on April 28, we heard President
Oscar Berger reaffirm that "our government ... has
recognized with sincere humility Guatemala's sad food
picture, and has made the commitment, decisively and on a
priority basis, to fight to substantially raise the

nutritional level of all of the children of Guatemala, which
occupies a shameful place on the world scene in this and
other aspects of human wellbeing. We frankly accept that,
throughout all its history and with only brief exceptions,
our country has not made the effort to overcome the low
levels of nutrition of Guatemalan children. And almost
always when efforts of this type have been carried out, they
have been of a remedial nature, without attacking the
fundamental causes that explained and gave rise to this
historic flaw.... We aspire to attaining high nutrition
levels for all Guatemalans, and we know that the path to
this objective is through increasing the productivity of
agriculture and [other] economic sectors of our country."

5. The importance the Guatemalan government attaches to
food security was reinforced by Andres Botran, Commissioner
of the Front Against Hunger, during his meeting with us on
April 26. Vice President Eduardo Stein and First Lady Wendy
de Berger launched the Front in February 2004. Botran,
whose family is prominent in the business community, is
particularly focused in getting the private sector more
involved. He said he is working to complete within the
coming weeks a master plan to reduce hunger. He talked a
lot about transparency in handling private sector donations
and the utility of putting more information on the Internet.
Botran, who is articulate and enthusiastic, is undoubtedly
raising the profile of the fight against hunger, but it
remains to be seen how much in the way of new mechanisms and
resources he can bring to this effort.


6. WFP's 2001-2004 Country Program (CP) in Guatemala aims
to achieve a sustainable improvement in food security and
nutrition for approximately 245,850 beneficiaries in areas
targeted by vulnerability assessment and mapping. There is
special focus on areas affected by internal conflict, with
high vulnerability to natural disasters and a high rate of
social exclusion. WFP's contribution under the CP amounts
to about $15.3 million. The anticipated host government
contribution is $23.4 million. The CP is being implemented
through the following activities: (1) food assistance and
training to pre-school children and expectant and nursing
mothers, (2) primary school feeding, (3) support for food-
insecure households in the resettlement process, (4)
creation of assets to cope with natural disaster-related
vulnerability, and (5) disaster mitigation and emergency
preparedness. In addition, Guatemala benefits from the
$66.8 million Protracted Relief and Recovery Operation
(PRRO) for Central America, providing targeted food
assistance in 2003-2006 for persons affected by shocks and
the recovery of livelihoods. The USG contributes an
estimated 86% of resources to WFP programs in Guatemala;
Japan and Switzerland are the other major donors.


7. FAO has four major ongoing activities in Guatemala under
its Technical Cooperation Program (TCP) amounting to $1.15
million and including activities related to (1)
diversification of production in coffee-growing areas, (2)
support for the national agricultural and livestock census,
(3) strengthening regulation and management of the shrimp
fishery and the capacity of fisheries authorities, and (4)
fire management in the agricultural lands and forests of
Peten. In addition, there are two major projects supported
by voluntary Trust Fund contributions: $1.64 million from
Spain for implementation of the Special Program for Food
Security (SPFS) and $0.7 million from Italy to support
national food security and poverty-reduction programs.


8. IFAD's loan portfolio includes three ongoing projects in
Guatemala: the National Rural Development Program for the
Western Region - SDR 21.55 million ($31 million); Rural
Development Program for the Verapaces (PRODEVER) - SDR 10.45
million ($15.0 million); and the Rural Development and
Reconstruction Program for the Quiche Department (PRODERQUI)
- SDR 10.45 million. PRODEVER (see below) targets
marginalized and subsistence producers, landless rural
families, woman-headed households, microenterprises and
small traders; its aim is to reduce rural poverty by
strengthening community organizations, increasing
participation and gradually transferring responsibilities
for the implementation of services to the beneficiaries. An
additional IFAD project in eastern Guatemala is in the
design stage.


9. USAID's program in Guatemala, valued at $44.98 million
(FY 2004 budget request),covers objectives in health and
education, increasing rural incomes, and democracy. In the
area of food security, there are ongoing USG activities
under the McGovern-Dole initiative with U.S. NGO, Food for
the Poor ($5 million); Food for Progress and 416(b) surplus
stocks with PCI ($4 million),and private PL-480 with wheat
millers ($6 million). A government-to-government Food for
Progress ($5 million) is in the pipeline. FY 2004 Title II
activities to date have amounted to $13.9 million. In
addition, USAID is funding development of a Meso American
Food Security Early Warning System (MFEWS).


10. The following are highlights of sites visited.

(1) WFP Primary School Feeding, San Pablo La Laguna,

Hemmed in by steep hills and with three major volcanic peaks
forming a dramatic backdrop, scenic Lago de Atitlan is one
of Guatemala's prime tourist destinations, yet the
inhabitants of some of the lakeside towns are among the
country's poorest. The local population, particularly the
indigenous people, suffered grave human rights violations in
the 1970s. We visited San Pablo La Laguna, an isolated town
of about 5,700 that is most easily reached by boat. An
estimated 84% of the population lives below the poverty line
and 89% of first-grade children are chronically malnourished
-- the highest rate in the country. At the local primary
school, we saw a project that distributes balanced hot meals
to some 930 children daily. WFP provides dry skimmed milk
and corn-soy blend, the Ministry of Education contributed
$0.13 daily per child, and the children's mothers take turns
preparing the food. Teachers report a marked improvement in
student attendance (particularly among girls) and
performance since the project started in 2003.

(2) FAO Special Program for Food Security projects, San
Pablo and San Pedro La Laguna, Solola':

We visited small indigenous community associations where
members, mostly women, are encouraged to diversify their
household diet and increase their income by planting
vegetable gardens and raising chickens in henhouses made of
cheap locally available materials. The plots of land were
very small, but even in the cramped space these communities

were seen to result in an improved standard of living,
though questions remain about the continuity and
sustainability of these activities once external support
ends. One U.S. Peace Corps volunteer is participating in
the project.

(3) WFP/FAO Productive Project, Smallholder Community of
Xibalbay, Solola':

This fully operational project aims to reduce food
insecurity by diversifying and intensifying agricultural
production through the introduction of an irrigation system.
About 13 km of piping, together with branches, ditches,
terracing, greenhouses and related infrastructure are
involved. Some 250 indigenous families have received
training in agronomy (staggered planting, integrated pest
management, post-harvest treatment) and marketing. They are
currently producing flowers and vegetables such as broccoli
and tomatoes for sale domestically and internationally. The
project demonstrates the benefits of coordinated support
from various agencies and donors: FAO/SPFS provided
$179,500 in materials and technical assistance; WFP provided
$16,000 in food rations as an incentive for the community to
provide manual labor and transportation services valued at
$84,000; the Spanish cooperation agency provided
agricultural items; the Agriculture Ministry did feasibility
and topographic studies.

(4) WFP Community Distribution Center, Santa Cruz Verapaz,
Alta Verapaz:

We visited this distribution center, housed in a municipal
warehouse, which assists 75 children and their families
suffering from acute malnutrition. The project, slated to
run from September 2003 to February 2006, involves WFP
(which provides $5,625 in food assistance every two months),
UNICEF (which provides training and educational materials)
and national and local health officials. A young nurse
practitioner explained how he maintains records on each
child and how he imparts lessons on hygiene and nutrition to
the mothers. We saw several women from the community
preparing a hot meal for the children. Once the children
have recovered nutritionally, food assistance will be
provided under food-for-work and food-for-training schemes.

(5) WFP Preschool Day Care Center, - San Cristobal Verapaz,
Alta Verapaz:

This is one of a number of daycare centers in Verapaz, each
operated by a woman caregiver in her own home under a
countrywide initiative of the Secretariat of Social Works,
under the patronage of Guatemala's First Lady. About a
dozen children under six years of age were being cared for
in this modest but clean facility. The children's parents
are generally low-income workers active in agriculture,
laundry or street vending. WFP provides food to these
centers in order to improve the nutritional status of the
preschool children, while the Ministry of Education provides
teachers to enhance cognitive skills.

(6) WFP Food-for-Work Housing Project for Displaced
Persons, Nuevo Porvenir Community, Coban, Alta Verapaz:

This project assists a group of 87 families that fled from
Huehuetengango to Mexico in 1982 during the civil conflict,
and who only returned to Guatemala in 1997. They were
resettled on a 1300-hectare farm/ranch that they operate as
a cooperative. Recently, WFP provided $5,665 in food
assistance for the construction of 25 houses (14 of which
have been completed); 62 houses were built in 1999 under
Phase 1 of this program. Our visit on April 30 showed that
this community continues to face many difficulties, despite

the support they have received from the National Peace Fund
(FONAPAZ),the National Housing Fund (FOGUAVI) and WFP. The
settlement is located at the end of a long, badly maintained
dirt road, 43 km north of the town of Coban. There is no
electricity, no adequate supply of potable water, and the
nearest clinic is 15 km away. While grateful for the food
assistance, community representatives told us that the
cereals given have been almost entirely in the form of rice,
which is not a significant part of their traditional diet.
(WFP explained that it takes local eating habits into
account, but is constrained by the commodities the donors
supply.) Some men from the community have returned to
Mexico to work, but other remain, hoping to make a living
growing coffee and cardamom, and raising livestock. They
will need further support in terms of training, municipal
services and infrastructure if they are to succeed.

(7) IFAD-PRODEVER: Rural Access Road, Jolomijixito III, La
Tinta, Alta Verapaz:

This is the first of four IFAD-funded projects visited under
the government's Rural Development Program for Alta and Baja
Verapaz (PRODEVER). We witnessed the inauguration of a 2-km
access road that connects the village of Jolomijixito III in
the Sierra de las Minas with a neighboring town and to the
Polochic Valley that they overlook. IFAD Vice President
Cyril Enweze was guest of honor at a colorful opening
ceremony that brought the local citizenry together with
government officials at the federal, departmental and
municipal level. The new road is one of seven, totaling
13.45 km in length, intended to facilitate access of local
producers to markets and services in Alta Verapaz. PRODEVER
staff complained to us that the federal government's Natural
Protected Areas Commission has been slow to grant
construction permits in this area, which is a designated
buffer zone for an adjacent natural reserve. While their
frustration is understandable given that the forest is
already heavily settled and largely cleared for cultivation,
it is regrettable that the Commission seems to be perceived
as an adversary, rather than as an ally in the effort to
develop the area sustainably.

(8) IFAD-PRODEVER: Sierra Las Minas Farmers' Cooperative
Enterprise, Jolomijixito III, La Tinta, Alta Verapaz:

On the outskirts of the village, we visited a farmers'
cooperative that has started a poultry egg business.
Community leaders had approached PROVEDER for assistance in
2003, and with the latter's training and assistance a group
of 15 was able to organize itself and develop the business
skills necessary to set up the egg project. Business
appears to be booming, and the cooperative has expanded from
15 to 30 active members.

(9) IFAD-PRODEVER: Local Capacity Strengthening, Santa
Catalina La Tinta:

This project was designed by PRODEVER in 2002 to promote the
organization, good management and productivity of rural
communities. Some 120 persons representing 80 different
community organizations received weekly training over the
course of 14 weekends. Participants were taught hands-on,
practical skills needed for the development and management
of community development projects. We visited the Santa
Catalina's municipal building, where a small Internet center
has recently been set up. There we met Francisco Cac Rax,
who heads the Chab'il Tul Association of Plantain Producers
of the Polochic Valley. Don Francisco, like other project
beneficiaries, has learned to use e-mail and the Web to make
contacts and obtain market information.

(10) IFAD-PRODEVER: Cardamom Production Project, Santa

Rosario, Senahu', Alta Verapaz:
On the northern slopes of the Polochic Valley we visited a
pilot project for the drying and sale of cardamom seeds.
The herbaceous cardamom plant, originally from South Asia,
thrives in some coffee-growing areas of Guatemala where it
could be a potential alternate source of income for
erstwhile coffee producers. Sold fresh to local buyers, the
cardamom "cherries" do not get a good price, but if
producers from a community pool their resources and prepare
their own dried seeds, production becomes much more
lucrative. The cooperative headed by Don Ricardo Chub has
bought and installed two driers, and after an initial pilot
run this past season hopes to scale up operations for the
next harvest, in August.


11. U.S. Mission Rome offers the following observations
and comments based on the visit to Guatemala.

-- The Guatemalan government's explicit identification of
food security as a priority issue is encouraging, but a lot
will depend on how the rhetoric is followed up with concrete
actions. The turnover in key government personnel involved
in food and nutrition activities has hampered progress.

-- The continuity and sustainability of WFP school feeding
program remains in doubt, partly because of uncertain USG
funding commitments. Concerned parties may wish to consider
additional ways to publicize and call attention to the

-- FAO's Special Program on Food Security in Guatemala is
doing important work in some parts of the country to address
longer-term issues of agricultural productivity and
increasing rural incomes.

-- We saw good examples of the complementary roles of WFP
and FAO in the field, particularly at Xilbalbay. Further
opportunities for cooperation and coordination should be

-- Other forms of cooperation may allow FAO to multiply the
impact of its limited resources. For instance, the 2002
Aide Memoire between FAO and the Inter-American Institute
for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) provides a framework
for closer collaboration between FAO and IICA that remains

-- IFAD is an important partner in addressing rural poverty
in the areas where it is active, targeting some of the
poorest populations, particularly indigenous groups. The
emphasis on decentralization and strengthening of municipal
governments and local communities is noteworthy.
Construction of access roads is a tool to stimulate commerce
and other services that benefits the entire community in
hitherto-isolated villages.

-- Even though IFAD has no permanent staff in country, its
energetic Rome-based Country Program Manager has developed
very close and effective working relations with federal and
local officials and other stakeholders though twice-yearly
country visits. He is very engaged with and knowledgeable
about the projects and the key players.

-- More could be done on a regional basis to tackle the
problems of food insecurity. This is particularly important
with regard to pockets of food insecurity concentrated along
border areas that tend to fall between the cracks of
national programs.

-- Various elements of the U.S. Embassy and USAID Mission
involved in humanitarian relief and food security issues may
wish to explore opportunities for closer coordination.

-- More attention should be given to the potential impact of
HIV/AIDS on food security.

-- We were struck during the trip along the Polochic River
Valley and elsewhere at the apparent scale of environmental
degradation, including extensive clearing and cultivation of
steep hillsides, rampant deforestation, and encroachment
into designated natural protected areas. The environmental
sustainability of development in rural areas is a deep
concern, and this bodes ill for rural food security in the
medium and long term.

-- Further efforts could be made to enhance the contribution
of the expatriate Guatemalan community in the U.S. and
elsewhere to food security -- through remittances,
investments and donations.


2004ROME02274 - Classification: UNCLASSIFIED