In a world of plenty, more than 800 million people still suffer from hunger. This is unacceptable, because we have enough food for everyone. The UN Food Systems Summit in September 2021 examined the causes and contexts of hunger and seeks solutions to defeat it for good. Welthungerhilfe is on board. The organization has long fought for the human right to food, for example in Peru.
Susanna Daag Welthungerhilfe Peru/Bolivia Liaison Office
Lucia Inga Tapia’s sales box is full to the brim with big, succulent avocados. The Peruvian smallholder’s green fruit weighs nearly three times as much as the export produce on German supermarket shelves. This comes as no surprise, as Lucia Tapia’s native village of Pacapuchuro, on the eastern slope of the Huánuco region in the Andes, offers ideal conditions for growing tropical fruits. At about 1,800 meters above sea level, grow avocado, mango, guava, but also bananas, coffee, corn, beans and of course more than ten varieties of potatoes, “the gold of the Andes”, all for local consumption. .
Organic farming for more yield
The house of Lucia Inga and her family has earthen walls, on the roof a Peruvian flag flutters in the wind. The family built their small farm with their own hard work, but had never thought of growing different types of fruits, vegetables, grains and legumes before. Their difficulties were mainly due to the fact that Lucia Inga Tapia and her mother Idelberta, like most families in the region, only kept a small part for themselves, growing mainly white potatoes which they sold to intermediaries. This meant meager profits, barely enough to survive. Their situation changed when the two women took part in training courses organized by Welthungerhilfe and its partner organization IDMA (Instituto de Desarrollo y Medio Ambiente). They have gone organic, growing more varieties and growing differently now. “We grow crops without chemical fertilizers or pesticides. The project has helped us get our products certified and sell them directly to customers at good prices,” says Lucia Inga Tapia. In the meantime, the energetic 30-something is advising neighboring smallholders herself on organic farming, because rumors are circulating and others are following.
Between hunger and obesity
In 2019, almost 48 million people in Latin America were affected by hunger. By 2030, that number is expected to reach nearly 67 million, not counting the devastating impact of COVID-19. Latin America and the Caribbean are the regions of the world where food insecurity is growing faster than anywhere else. Availability and access to food is declining even faster than in Africa. The Global Hunger Index documents the seriousness of the situation, showing that Latin America ranks among countries like Myanmar or Malawi. This also applies to the agricultural region of Huánuco: despite fertile soils and enormous biodiversity, one in three people here lives in poverty. One in four children under the age of five suffers from chronic malnutrition and almost 13% of all young children suffer from anaemia. This is somewhat grotesque, because in Peru and throughout Latin America, obesity and related diseases such as diabetes are also on the rise. Cheap processed foods high in fat, sugar, and carbs are to blame for this trend; in Peru, a large part of the population is overweight. What we are seeing in the industrial world has also spread to Latin America:
People no longer consume diverse and seasonal products that grow locally, but instead turn to inexpensive, processed imported products. Rather than the perhaps shriveled but nutritious Andean potatoes, more and more Peruvians are eating industrially produced fries, which often come from distant wealthy countries like Belgium. Instead of corn products, they now eat white bread and pizza; instead of fresh water and fruit juice, they drink sugary sodas.
Export makes the situation worse
And while large agricultural companies use the coastal zone to produce trendy superfoods such as avocados, green asparagus and grapes for export to Germany, China or the United States, less and fewer Peruvian families manage to eat enough and healthy food. Since the Peruvian Pacific coast is normally much too dry for growing export crops and not as suitable as the area of the Tapia family farm, the natural water resources of the Andes are diverted to the coast via reservoirs and canals. Rivers and groundwater are also siphoned off for irrigation of the vast monoculture landscapes. As a result, the water table drops, the soil becomes saline, the Andean region dries up and small farming families become even poorer. The state of water emergency had to be declared several times. Add to that the harmful use of large amounts of agrochemicals, and you have the well-known complex and familiar problems of growing vegetables on the Spanish Mediterranean coast, strawberry plantations in California, or mass intensive livestock farming in Germany.
To counter this imbalance in the global food system, Welthungerhilfe is active on many levels and in different ways: in projects like the one in Peru, we work with our partners to strengthen small-scale ecological farming, laying the foundations for a change in the way producers and consumers interact and for new modes of local distribution. We promote civil society organizations and their networking so that they can claim their human right to food. We hold regional and national governments accountable for the effective implementation of these rights. And we are getting first successes: Peru now has a legal framework that promotes the sustainable production of healthy food. This now also includes certification procedures for official organic labels.
Mobile markets in times of Corona
Also in Huánuco, Peru, change has come. Lucia Inga Tapia is one of six organic farmers organized in her village of Pacapuchuro, and 520 families from the Huánuco region are already participating. “On our farm, we have everything we need to live,” explains the young woman. She sells her healthy products at the market in the city of Huánuco. People have started to appreciate the quality of his products and are happy to pay a little more. COVID-19 temporarily cut off this sales channel, but the enterprising businesswomen around Lucia Inga Tapia and the IDMA team quickly developed creative solutions: through mobile markets and Whatsapp services, they provided city customers directly from door to door.
The next step is to create supply contracts for regional school canteens. The government program uses the encouraging Quechua name “Quali Warma” (“healthy child”), but the nutrient-poor lunches fall far short of compensating for the serious nutritional deficiencies of Huánuco students. Through persistent negotiations, organic producers and IDMA succeeded in getting local representatives from the Ministries of Health and Education to commit to sustainable food. This includes opening fruit, vegetable and dairy kiosks in schools and introducing local, healthy and sustainable produce for school meals. When Lucia Inga Tapia’s three-year-old son starts school, the program will certainly be in place.