Baja Verapaz: Health Education – GUATEMALA
The UN World Food Program says that in Guatemala “the face of hunger and poverty is indigenous, young, and rural”. Baja Verapaz: Health Education is working with exactly these people. They are fighting malnutrition by teaching families to grow vegetable gardens, plant fruit trees, vaccinate chickens, and increase corn and bean harvests. The Baja Verapaz: Health Education Program exemplifies a unique coordination of efforts between its work in nutrition and health and its agriculture program. Baja Verapaz: Health Educationcalls this Agrosalud.
Baja Verapaz: Health Education fights persistent malnutrition by teaching poor indigenous families in rural Guatemala to produce abundant nutritious food. This is important because Guatemala has the fourth highest rate of chronic malnutrition in the world and the highest in Latin America and the Caribbean. Currently 49.8% of Guatemalan children under 5 suffer from undernutrition. (WFP Brief April–June 2015)
Growing vegetables is an excellent way to start work with village women and an important part of the Agrosalud. Many women are now growing vegetables in home gardens. For a new group of women large community gardens are useful to teach how to grow a variety of vegetables. Later most women grow vegetables in their own home gardens.
For success in organic, high yield, resilient vegetables growing there are many steps that must be taught:
- Soil preparation, including contouring and making and using compost
- Planting and weeding
- Controlling pests with homemade organic pesticides
- Harvesting and washing the vegetables
- Cooking classes with new recipes
Most of the practices taught by Baja Verapaz: Health Education are multi-purpose and complement each other. Families learn to build corrals for their poultry that include nest boxes and a roofed area to protect the birds from rain If chickens, turkeys and ducks are kept fenced in rather than running loose, it becomes possible to grow a vegetable garden. The women saw that if chickens were allowed to run freely, they ate up all the gardens. With corralled poultry, it is possible to collect the manure which can then be used to provide nitrogen for compost piles. Vaccinating poultry reduces their mortality, and the families have more eggs and meat for special occasions.
Once farmers begin to farm organically and stop using herbicides, the native greens and volunteer food plants that Mayas have eaten for centuries come back! These traditional foods are very nutritious, resilient in adverse growing conditions, and resistant to pests. Baja Verapaz: Health Education promotes esteem for these “free” foods, teaches their nutritional value, and even demonstrates new recipes for using them.
During the last 2 to 3 years, most families have planted a variety of fruit trees, for instance – 3 orange trees, 4 peach, 2 plum, 2 avocado, 3 lemon and several bananas. This shows that the fruit is for family consumption, which is the objective of the program. Planting 25 avocado trees would indicate that the fruit is to sell. The increase in diversified food production definitely indicates that the children of the program’s participants will not be among those the UN found to be suffering malnutrition!
In Guatemala the introduction of soda pop, cheap candy, and little plastic bags of frozen sugar water has been terrible for children’s teeth. In the remote parts of Baja Verapaz where the promotors are working, these sugary snacks were not being brought in until 15 to 20 years ago. The unavailability of dental care, and little tooth brushing compound the situation. It is easy to skip brushing children’s teeth when a tooth brush costs 1/4 of a man’s daily wage, and no one has ever emphasized the importance of brushing. Now children have more cavities than adults. The Baja Verapaz: Health Education promoters teach children to brush their teeth correctly and to make their own tooth paste. Eating lots of candy and drinking soda pop is constantly strongly discouraged.