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Guatemala continues to confront the economic, social, and ethnic conflicts that have dominated its history.[2] The post-colonial legacy is particularly evident in the countryside where poverty is widespread, land inequitably distributed and the natural resource base increasingly degraded. Eighty one percent of those living below the poverty line, and 93% of those living in extreme poverty, in Guatemala, are to be found in rural areas.[3] Furthermore, the presence of poverty is significantly higher among the predominantly rural indigenous people, at 75%, than among the predominantly urban Ladino (Spanish-speaking) population, at 41%.

Although the agricultural sector accounts for 25% of GNP and provides 60% of foreign exchange, between 80 and 90% of agricultural land is divided into minifundios of less than 2 manzanas (1.4 ha). As these plots are insufficient to meet family food and cash needs, household farming in Guatemala is still intrinsically "dual"[4]. Millions of campesino (peasant) farmers shift seasonally from producing crops to wage labor in the plantations and estates held by big landowners and multinational companies. Rural to urban and international migration are also increasing.

Following the 1996 Peace Agreements, national and local governments have made significant efforts to address the agrarian question. While hundreds of rural development projects are being undertaken, with substantial support from international agencies and donors, a controversial "market-based" land re-distribution program is giving plots of land to the thousands of rural and indigenous people displaced during the forty-year civil war.

However, in the last six years, three major shocks have hindered efforts to overcome rural poverty and reform rural Guatemala:

Given this, it is not surprising that, in spite of a huge flow of international food aid, food insecurity has increased in post-war Guatemala. According to SOFI[5], the proportion of Guatemalans who were undernourished rose from 16%, in 1990-92, to 24% by 2000-02. To address this, GANA, the coalition who won the political elections in February 2004, highlighted food security as a top priority in the national political agenda. An inter-ministry body dealing with food insecurity was established, and a national food security coordinating institution is currently being created with the support of FAO and other international and civil society partners. The institution will focus on relevant policy-making, as well as coordinating interventions and evaluating their impact[6].

[2] Grandin, G. (2000) "The Blood of Guatemala. A History of Race and Nation"
[3] FAO (2003) "Ampliación del Programa Especial de Seguridad Alimentaría en Guatemala. Documento de Proyecto."
[4] De Janvry, A. (1981) "The Agrarian Question and Reformism in Latin America"
[5] SOFI (2004) "The State of Food Insecurity in the World"
[6] PESA-Guatemala (2004a) "Up-scaling Notes for SPFS Guatemala"

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