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1. Belize escaped the direct impact of Hurricane Mitch, which did not affect domestic food production or food supply.

2. The lessons learned from the effects of Hurricane Mitch, however, have provided Belize with more information with which to deal with emergencies and, more particularly, to reduce food insecurity.

3. The floods unleashed by Hurricane Mitch swiftly receded, and productive capacity returned to normal very quickly. Although rice production later fell, this was due to the fall in domestic prices. Other crops did not suffer major problems.

4. There are certain areas of the country that suffer from food vulnerability and little capacity to access basic foods. Those areas include households headed primarily by women, which are at risk of food insecurity. Although Hurricane Mitch cannot be blamed for that risk, it certainly increased the risk to some degree.

5. The country does have a system to provide early warning and prevention of disasters, focusing on hurricanes. This system provides for the organization and supply of food aid within the country's various districts, which have a system of strategic reserves which can be accessed in the case of emergency, in coordination with local and national authorities.


1. The presence of Hurricane Mitch in Guatemala highlighted and magnified a number of shortcomings and weaknesses within the Guatemalan social structure. During the disaster, the Government sought to minimise the negative impact of the hurricane, in an effort to conceal the country's vulnerability to natural disasters. That vulnerability stems from major social and economic deficits, especially among the rural population.

2. According to studies conducted since Hurricane Mitch - studies that were used to provide information for the present study - Guatemala's economic development (and the country's rural development in particular) has occurred within the context of structural factors that have limited, and will continue to limit severely, any strategy aimed at achieving reconstruction and more sustainable development. Those limiting structural factors are the following:

2.1 Most small rural producers are poor. They cultivate, and will continue to cultivate marginal lands without potential for the production of basic grains. Nor are there any plans to introduce strategies to change this situation, particularly at Government level.

2.2 It has not proven possible to reduce the pressure exerted by agricultural activities on marginal lands, especially in the most fragile regions, such as basin headwaters, hillsides and tropical forest zones. Actions implemented since Mitch have suffered from the same context of vulnerability that existed before the disaster.

2.3Concrete, active legislation is required to address inequality in the system of land ownership. Such legislation should include a land-registry system and land regulation, as fundamental components of strategies for the development of the most deprived communities and families, especially those affected by Mitch.

2.4 Due to the preferential treatment given to traditional producer-exporters, the domestic market for basic grains and garden vegetables is in a depressed state. As a result, there is an increasingly marked dependency on imports, which in turn acts as a disincentive to domestic production. This drives increasingly high levels of food insecurity, which were further exacerbated by Hurricane Mitch.

2.5 The closure of agricultural-extension and technical-assistance services by the public farming sector has limited the services available to small producers, especially in terms of efforts to restore productive capacity damaged by Hurricane Mitch. In some cases, NGOs are attempting to alleviate this problem, but farmers must still pay for certain services provided by such organizations. When government services were shut down, no thought was given to the gaps that would remain in the provision of such measures.

3. Food aid provided by the various governmental and non-governmental institutions since Hurricane Mitch have focused on rural families without land, or on those who do own land, but who live in vulnerable areas unsuitable for agricultural activity. In these

4. regions, the opportunities for alternative employment are rare. These families have thus been unable to earn enough to meet their basic needs, other than their food needs. As a result, they have been migrating to other regions, in an effort to find other ways to make a living.

5. Although food aid is beneficial, in certain circumstances it may engender or reinforce a culture of paternalism or dependency, and also encourage a certain degree of "accommodation" by sectors whose task it is to bring pressure to bear in an effort to tackle the structural causes of poverty. Within this context, the food-aid strategies of national and international agencies often have the effect of "internalising" this situation, while failing to improve or establish mechanisms or actions designed to create or promote reform of these structural causes.

6. It should be emphasised that many of the rural workers affected by Mitch did not enjoy favourable conditions for their farming activities even before the hurricane struck. It is important that the concrete support currently being provided by humanitarian assistance organizations be accompanied by efforts to promote areas of dialogue with local communities, so that they themselves can continue to be involved in proposing solutions to their own problems. Only in this way will such interventions become more sustainable, and only in this way will it be possible to eliminate or minimise the risk of reinforcing a permanent culture of dependency.

7. It is of primary importance to devote financial and institutional resources to the restoration of the productive capacity of small producers, as well as to make efforts to provide them with means of temporary subsistence, until they are able to restore all their crop-growing capacities. NGOs working in the disaster areas estimate that at least 50 000 small producers are still in this situation. It will also be necessary to provide for the needs of the many producers who need sources of funding that will enable them to resume production and thus meet loan commitments made before Hurricane Mitch.

8. At this point, efforts to rehabilitate productive and economic activity in areas hit by the hurricane are encountering the problem of funding. Income losses among rural producers and entrepreneurs (especially small-scale producers and entrepreneurs) are having an impact on their ability to pay off loans invested in lost production. This affects their ability to obtain credit. This situation requires action by Government, as well as by national and international institutions involved in this issue.

9. Food-insecurity studies reveal a relationship between food insecurity and chronic malnutrition in situations of poverty and exclusion from development. In Guatemala, the impact of the lack of equity in the distribution of, and access to resources, under conditions that would guarantee them minimum standards of health, education, income, etc, are very obvious. To these structural conditions of poverty we should add other critical situations, of a social and political nature, such as the armed conflict of recent decades, and those induced by nature, such as storms, hurricanes and earthquakes (some recent and others potential).

10. As far as the availability of foods is concerned, it does not appear that Guatemala has a problem in terms of food supply. Most farmers, however, own subsistence productive units without access to factors of production, or to advanced technologies for production or post-harvest management, and this is reflected in their yields. Furthermore, they have little or no ability to negotiate the sale of their products on a profitable, competitive basis. Farmers are thus not able to eliminate the effects of the chain of intermediaries, and their profits are reduced in consequence.

11. Food aid alone is not the answer for people suffering from malnutrition, nor for any type of development initiative. In order to break the vicious circle of poverty, food insecurity and environmental deterioration, it is necessary to implement policies designed to achieve sustained development. This means that the fundamental objectives of such policies must focus on improving the living conditions of the families affected by such disasters and improving the living conditions of poor, rural families. This require a series of strategies to support production, aimed at generating employment and income and improving productivity, taking environmental preservation into account. These strategies and policies must include elements such as land ownership, the active participation of women in decision-making, and agricultural policies designed to provide rural producers with any inputs and technologies that can improve production and productivity (silos, irrigation systems, access to rural credit in general, rather than just farm loans, etc.). All this should be combined with a trade policy that offers protection and assistance to these small producers in the face of strong foreign competition, so that they can at least have access to local markets.

12. At the time of the disaster, and during the days that followed, a number of institutions made their way to the affected regions and began to work on an independent and uncoordinated basis. This led to delays, complications and duplication of efforts to provide effective assistance. Indeed, in some villages and hamlets, these institutions even came into conflict, and left without providing any aid.

13. According to some NGOs that helped provide assistance to affected regions, the assistance they offered initially did not arrive in the expected quantities, because international donors did not follow through with their initial offers. Furthermore, information collected was not managed as effectively as it might have been. This led to a certain degree of repetition and incongruity in communities' requests for assistance. As a result, certain communities received multiple offers of support, while others went without aid.

14. One common factor was that it was not generally possible to provide assistance to all communities with the requisite degree of urgency. Also, assistance did not arrive in complete form, due to the lack of logistical support. This situation was complicated by the destruction of access routes.

15. Many institutions have complained that the authorities either did not have, or did not wish to provide information about the location of the affected populations.

16. Much of the information requested for the purposes of this study was not immediately available for the following reasons: a) lack of systemization, b) the information was too fragmented (that is, dispersed across a number of departments and institutions), and c) in many instances, the information did not exist, and so had to be constructed.


1. Hurricane Mitch had the effect of increasing and emphasising the need to develop a system of disaster prevention and relief, involving all sectors of Honduran society.

2. The development of the hurricane was such that the effectiveness of Honduras's mechanisms for the protection of hillsides and basins were severely tested. The country's river and stream runoffs had never been destroyed before.

3. Food production declined significantly in the case of basic grains, and other important crops, such as bananas. And yet, aid for the restoration of agricultural production was targeted almost entirely at traditional agricultural export crops.

4. Imports of basic foods harmed domestic crop production, especially rice. National stocks that might have enabled producers to sell their crops for emergency food aid were, for the most part, not purchased. Strong imports further confirmed this trend, leading to a decline in planting areas during the next agricultural cycle.

5. Mitch also showed that the State's structural capacity to deal with emergencies requires the creation of a roster of functions for State institutions, with a view to ensuring not only that emergencies are dealt with, but also that follow-up and planning activities are implemented with regard to food security.

6. At present, there is no explicit policy on food security and nutrition. Policies and programmes are based on concepts that seek to mitigate the effects of the structural adjustment and economic reforms of recent years. The responsible authorities (sectoral Ministries), in particular Education, Health and Agriculture and Livestock, implement their various programmes with little effort at coordination. It would therefore be advisable if the Government, with the technical and financial support of international cooperation agencies, and the participation of civil society, were to consolidate the structure and execution of the national strategy for the reduction of poverty into a coherent whole, with a view to tackling the problem.

7. The Private Productive Sector, Private Development Organizations and Civil society in general have great potential, in terms of operational capacity and resources, to make the strategy to reduce and combat poverty and food insecurity viable. The exploitation of this technical and financial capacity, as well as the levels of geographic and demographic coverage, must be a national responsibility.

8. Closure of the Department of Coordination, Planning and Budgeting (SECPLAN) brought to an end the operations of the specialized Food Security and Nutrition Unit. As a result, the various activities related to Health and Nutrition lost impetus. A specialized institution responsible for State planning needs to be created.

9. Statistical data provided by the various sources show many differences and discrepancies. Furthermore, the data is often out of date, incomplete and inaccessible. It is hoped that the recent creation and start-up of the National Institute for Statistics (INE) will resolve all problems related to the availability of, and access to statistics. That will depend, however, on how much technical and financial support is made available to this new department. Statistical information about the quantity, origin and type of food aid received must be kept on an organized and systematized basis. In this regard, FAO support is crucial, beginning with efforts to organize statistical data at the Department of Agriculture.

10. The estimate of Costs for the Basic Food Basket is based on an Energy Value Table dating from 1991. This table needs to be revised and brought up to date as soon as possible.


1. Hurricane Mitch once more clearly showed that Nicaragua is not well equipped to deal with natural disasters. The vulnerability of groups at risk is obvious, and this population segment mostly comprises small producers of basic grains (largely maize and beans).

2. The increase in GDP achieved over recent years has been driven by overall growth in the livestock sector. The impact of basic-grains production has been minimal. This suggests that the growth in livestock GDP rests more on growth in traditional and non-traditional export products. Nevertheless, Nicaragua does possess the natural conditions to increase the contribution of basic grains to total GDP, to create jobs and, above all, to export foods to the Central American region, whose deficits are constantly increasing.

3. The Basic Food Basket created by [[PAN, based on the population's eating habits, recommends that 47 percent of the calories; 62 percent of the proteins and 50 percent of the carbohydrates come from basic grains, because of their ready availability, and their relatively low cost per unit of nutrients. Among extremely poor and poor sectors of the population, the energy contribution is below the indicated levels. People from medium and high-income sectors, however, substitute their sources of nutrients with more expensive foods.

4. Total intake among extremely-poor and poor population sectors is considerably below the basic dietary standard. There is a potential demand, or food gap, for an adequate intake of basic grains, particularly with respect to beans and maize. This situation was accentuated by Mitch.

5. In terms of the patterns of consumption recommended by the Food Basket, for comparative purposes, per-capita availability has been maintained beneath the recommended level in the case of beans and above (indeed, substantially above) that level in the case of maize and rice, due to the support provided by donations and imports, which in the case of rice have accounted for as much as one-third of per-capita availability.

6. Growth in grain production has trailed demographic growth.

7. Food consumption is partly determined by availability, but essentially by access, which, given the current economic situation, the macroeconomic adjustment programmes, and the employment and income levels, is not sufficient to cover population demand.

8. The consequences of the people's present dietary and nutritional habits are extremely serious. Policies implemented to remedy this situation address only growth and economic development, and to not have a direct impact on access to foods. As a result, Nicaraguan dietary patterns essentially focus on the basic-grains group, followed by the group composed of oil and sugar. The group comprising meats and dairy products represents 13 percent of the diet, while fruit and vegetables account for four percent of intake.

9. Dietary habits based on a relatively cheap model, essentially comprising junk food, continue to present major dietary gaps with respect to basic dietary and nutritional norms.

10. Regardless of price movements in general, 1999 brought a 12 percent increase in the price of basic grains in the Food Basket. This was the main factor limiting access, primarily in low-income sectors and, specifically, with regard to maize and, to a larger extent, beans.

11. Production and consumption trends for the next ten years suggest that if concrete policies are not implemented for maize and beans, the Nicaraguan people will continue to experience shortfalls in those crops. The country shows a positive balance in rice imports, but this will depend on whether or not policies are implemented to stimulate production, whether the climatic conditions are favourable, and the nature of measures implemented to prevent, alleviate and deal with the effects of those conditions.

12. Agricultural and ecological conditions in Nicaragua offer considerable potential for the production of basic grains. Of Nicaragua's 1.6 million hectares of agricultural land, only 41 percent are presently being used. Furthermore, yields are considerably below present potential.

13. Regions with a sub-humid to humid climate, belonging to the subtropical humid forest climate region, have the greatest potential for the production of basic grains. These regions are located primarily in the central region and part of the Pacific zone. They are in recession, with many lands lying idle and many growers out of work, due to the lack of access to production-support services, such as loans, technical assistance and input supplies.

14. Regions with arid to semiarid climatic conditions, known as the dry tropical region, are very risky, in terms of growing basic grains. They will never be profitable or market-competitive, unless an irrigation system is installed. Choosing to diversify into other crops, or sheep or goats, can bring better results. It should not be forgotten, however, that due to the cyclical activity of El Niño, expected to reoccur in the near future, the areas presently affected by Hurricane Mitch are highly susceptible to this climatic risk.

15. The lion's share of the country's production of maize and beans is grown by small and medium-sized farmers, who have few resources with which to make technical and economic improvements to their production activities. In general, small growers are naturally inclined to grow these crops, while medium-sized growers combine their basic-grains production with other annual crops and small-scale livestock rearing, within their production units. This might well provide a strategy for the development of this subsector.

16. A significant proportion of rice production makes use of modern technology, developing through mechanisation and through access to financial resources and services. Rice is sometimes produced by medium-sized growers with some degree of agricultural diversification, oriented towards extensive, mechanised monocrops, using an irrigation system. The majority of rice growers, however, are small and medium-size growers who use non-irrigated techniques.

17. Coordination between maize and beans production and marketing is poor, since a large part of such production is for farmers' own consumption. The production of rice, however, is closely coordinated with the market.

18. Post-harvest losses for maize are considerable, mainly because of the lack of access to dry-farming systems in humid and subhumid regions.

19. Historically, it has been shown that the significant variations in basic-grain harvests are related to the variations in planting areas and the erratic climatic conditions, especially in dry areas. Crop yields have shown no improvement over recent years, even though there has been a rising trend in maize, beans and rice over the past three years.

20. In the context of a national plan for farming development after Hurricane Mitch, there is a need to develop a strategy for the production and marketing of basic grains, aimed at areas with greater agroecological potential, with a view to ensuring that national production improves over the next few years.

21. This strategy must include the reorganization of growers, through well-defined policies, programmes and projects, as well as the reorganization of the productive infrastructure within the sector of small and medium-size growers. The main goals in this respect should be to intensify production in existing areas and to expand planting areas showing good yields. Programmes designed to promote and rehabilitate potential grain-production areas should therefore be developed. Of strategic importance in this context is the development of irrigation systems in areas with the right potential. Many of these areas lie in regions affected by Hurricane Mitch.

22. Environmental conservation must be a priority concern, especially in areas damaged by the hurricane, in order to restore those areas to production as soon as possible, thereby ensuring that growers affected can return to a state of self-sufficiency, especially in the area of basic grains.

23. There is little evidence of institutional leadership, in general in the sector, and even less so among small-production sector. Growers of basic grains are not fully appreciated. It is absolutely essential that the interests of the state and productive sectors be coordinated with their organizations, with a view to achieving stability in the areas of technological development, production support services, marketing, infrastructure, etc.. This process should include all agencies involved in the agriculture sector, whether public or non-governmental. Technical assistance and external funding should also be part of the process.

24. The creation of an exclusive fund, designed to promote production of basic grains, and especially production of maize and beans, should be a matter of priority, especially if the intention is to turn Nicaragua into Central America's leading grains supplier.

25. In order to increase the contribution of basic grains to the country's GDP, actions designed to improve production must be accompanied by food-processing programmes designed to improve products' added value. There is considerable potential for maize and beans, as well as for rice.

El Salvador:

1. El Salvador needs a National System for Prevention and Immediate Response to Natural Disasters, in which various sectors of society and the State are represented. The State's response to Mitch was limited to the organization of rescue operations and the administration of resources sent by the international community. This proved once more to be the case with the earthquakes of January and February 2001.

2. Hurricane Mitch clearly highlighted the lack of coordination and cooperation between the various entities at the central and local levels; and even more between non-governmental organizations and the Government.

3. Social groups with low purchasing power found themselves in conditions of food insecurity at the time of Hurricane Mitch. Their condition was further exacerbated once the emergency food programme was concluded, because such groups suffer from serious structural weaknesses, especially the rural population.

4. The areas hit hardest by the hurricane were the low-lying areas of hydrographic basins, which cover more than one-quarter of the national territory, and especially in the Departments of Usulután, San Miguel and La Paz (particularly in the low-lying regions of the River Lempa).

5. The greatest damage was concentrated in the area of the lower Lempa. This was because the reservoir burst its banks on 15 September, discharging up to around 15 000 m³ of water per second. The local people were not prepared, as no previous discharge of this kind had ever exceeded 6 000 m³. As a result, entire crops and communities were inundated and submerged.

6. Environmental management of the disaster was hampered by the lack of coordination among the efforts of various national and international cooperation agencies. Indeed, it was the competition between those agencies that governed that management, with the consequent damage inflicted on vulnerable population groups living in vulnerable or marginal regions.

7. Poverty in rural areas has continued to grow and the food vulnerability of such areas is shown by the declines in their productive programmes. Those programmes lack the sponsorship and support of the State, which has suspended its entities for the provision of technical assistance and technology transfer to these sectors. To this we should add the lack of funding for food production, and especially basic grains, among small farmers.

8. There is a need to implement programmes for diversification of the farming production of small and medium-size farmers, providing funding sources that will restore the activities of such farmers to the productive globalization.

9. The Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock (Ministerio de Agricultura y Ganadería) needs to strengthen its institutional capacities in the area of Food Security, since activities for the follow-up of this problem within its various departments have been cut. At present, the only institutional support unit is the Georeferenced Information System. It would not be appropriate, however, to integrate this unit into SICIAV.

10. In the same way, the system of statistical information for following up and evaluating harvests and national food balances is not being implemented, despite the fact that technical staff have been trained to do this in the past.

11. Special efforts must be made, together with international cooperation agencies, to ensure that the present classification of El Salvador, as a country with a high per-capita income, is not excluded from food-aid programmes. Even if it is certainly the case that this classification reflects national indicators, it is equally certain that income is not distributed equally across the population - especially in rural areas.

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