Hunger in Central AmericaCentral America is famous in many parts of the world for its coffee production, however, the region must also cultivate other crops and livestock to feed its population. As of 2014, the UN had declared much of Central America to be in a drought zone – one affecting over 2.8 million peoples’ food sources and financial security. Fortunately, ancient drought-resistant seeds could prevent impoverishment and hunger for many Central American farmers.

Drought instigates hunger in Central America and other places through a persistent lack of rainfall. The shortage of precipitation does not allow crops to grow, preventing farmers from eating or selling their yields. The National Drought Mitigation Center calls drought “a creeping phenomenon.” Many areas of the world go through shorter, less intense droughts; however, Central America’s has been dire.

The UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has overviewed the situation by stating “The lack of rain since the middle of 2014 has resulted in the loss of staple grain crops and death of thousands of cattle in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and to a lesser extent in areas of Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama.”

Reversing the drought over an area as large as Central America seems to be an immense or even impossible undertaking, given that the drought has already affected millions of people. However, the answer to the area’s low food output and the growing hunger problem in Central America could lie within a specific type of seed – preserved ancient seeds.

The organization, Native Seeds/SEARCH, located in Tucson, Arizona, is a nonprofit dedicated to conserving local biodiversity. Many of the seeds protected and cultivated by the organization are anciently local to the dry and arid environment. This quality marks the seeds as well-suited to areas experiencing chronic drought, such as Central America. Moreover, the kernels that Native Seeds/SEARCH have protected have already been successfully used to provide the Tohono O’odham Nation of American Indians with a sustainable food source.

Because the seeds have been used for thousands of years in the dry environment of southwestern U.S., they have a natural propensity to thrive in drought-ridden areas. The seeds were not only cultivated in this region, but are also naturally native. This means that the seeds have a genetic predisposition to grow in nearly waterless environments.

Native Seeds/SEARCH calls their organization a “seed bank” and uses new freezing technologies to store their seeds. “What began as a humble operation with seeds stored in chest freezers has grown to a state-of-the art conservation facility,” states Native Seeds/SEARCH on their methodology.

Although no effort has been made directly by the organization to alleviate hunger in Central America specifically, Gary Nabhan, co-founder of the Native Seeds/SEARCH project, has expressed his enthusiasm for sowing his seeds on a grander scale. “We promote the use of these ancient crops and their wild relatives by distributing seeds to traditional communities and to gardeners worldwide.”

This endeavor could lead to a large reduction in hunger and poverty in drought-affected areas, which could possibly alleviate hunger in Central America as well, as it is most certainly affected by drought and in dire need of aid.

Michael Carmack

Photo: Flickr

Hunger in Central America
Since mid-2014, the Central American countries of Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Panama and Costa Rica have been victims of a severe drought. The El Niño conditions that began in March of 2015 have caused staple crops to wither and thousands of cattle to die. These El Niño conditions worsened, and, by the end of June 2016, there were 3.5 million people affected by the drought and 1.6 million at the mercy of hunger in Central America.

This crisis, while dire, has been a rare outlier in the largely successful efforts to ease the pangs of hunger in Central America. Among the major problems contributing to the food shortages of Central America has been widespread poverty. Extreme poverty in Central America was reduced by 50 percent between 1995 and 2011.

The same can be said for hunger itself. Between 1992 and 2014, the number of people affected by hunger in Central America was reduced from 68.5 million to 37 million. While success this resounding is encouraging, it does not by any means imply that the fight to end hunger in Central America is over.

The El Niño drought was one of the worst in recent memory. Though its severity was extreme, it remains indicative of a problem which Central American farmers must face constantly. Droughts devastate Central America with shocking regularity, whether caused by El Niño or other malignant weather patterns.

In order to address the droughts, which, alongside endemic poverty, have been the biggest contributors to the problem of hunger in Central America, the U.N. has begun working with the governments of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala in order to better construct strategies that will allow the countries to remain independent in cases of severe drought. The U.N. has instructed farmers to plant crops that are both less water-dependent and more flood-resistant.

The problem of hunger in Central America is not one which will solve itself, but continuing to allow the countries hit hardest by droughts and poverty to rely on foreign aid and intervention a strategy that will not work in the future. The pattern the U.N. and forward-thinking governments like those of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala have established is one that must be followed. Countries such as these can utilize the ingenuity of their people alongside the expertise of foreign aid to alleviate both poverty and hunger, creating a prosperous cycle that will benefit themselves both now and in the future.

Connor S. Keowen

Cost of Living in Costa RicaCosta Rica is a small country of around 4.5 million people in Central America. With beautiful natural settings and the possibility for a healthy lifestyle, Costa Rica has become a popular destination for tourists and expats. While the cost of living in Costa Rica may be less than in a typical U.S. city, it’s actually one of the more expensive places to live in Latin America and Central America.

As in many countries, the cost of living in Costa Rica varies depending on what region you are in. If a family of two lives in a sparsely populated area, they may be able to get by with $1,500 or less a month. This includes rent, utilities, transportation and the Internet. However, someone living in an expensive condo in the Central Valley would hypothetically spend considerably more.

There are a few factors that make the cost of living in Costa Rica less than the U.S. First, housing is much more affordable. Nice homes are available in great locations with reasonable prices.

Second, the government provides high-quality and low-cost medical care. Costa Rica has a universal healthcare system known as Caja. For a small monthly fee, residents of Costa Rica receive any care they need. Additional insurance is also available for purchase. Perhaps because of this quality system, Costa Ricans have the second-highest average life expectancy of the Americas, with only Canadians scoring higher.

While housing and healthcare are very affordable, the cost of utilities is closer to the usual cost in the U.S., rather than the lower prices in other Latin America countries. This disparity is the primary reason the cost of living in Costa Rica is higher than it is in its neighboring countries.

A group of sociologists from Happy Planet Index ranked Costa Ricans as the happiest people on the planet. With the combination of cheap housing, affordable and accessible healthcare and beautiful tropical vistas, this should come as no surprise.

Brock Hall

Photo: Flickr

Belize is perhaps best known internationally as a country of refuge for people fleeing the violence of The Northern Triangle, the area with the highest homicide rate in the world. The Northern Triangle is composed of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador.

It is for its welcoming and accommodating demeanor that the country of Belize has been dubbed Central America’s Sanctuary, but deep within the sanctuary lies a problem which threatens to disrupt local and international stability: hunger.

Hunger in Belize is not a new issue. Since the early 2000s, Belize has had trouble ensuring adequate nutrition for its people. With the recent spikes in violent crime in surrounding countries, Belize’s food problems are predicted to grow in response to increased immigration rates.

While the gratuitous violence of The Northern Triangle tends to dominate the Central American media stage, hunger in Belize poses a real threat to the stability of the nation and its propensity for economic growth and expansion. Below are 10 facts which provide a quick, illustrative snapshot of how hunger is more than a physical pain: it is also an inhibitor of progress and a force unparalleled in its pervasive destructiveness.

  1. The Depth of Hunger Index for Belize jumped from 150 calories to over 400 calories in 2007. (Depth of Hunger is measured as a deficit, meaning that, in 2007, individuals in Belize were lacking on average 400 calories of nutrition every day). For reference, a depth of hunger index score of 200 is cause for concern, demonstrating that a 400-calorie deficit is a cause for alarm.
  2. Food quality is also poor in Belize. Thirty-five percent of children under the age of five in Belize are anemic, which means that their red blood cell count is low. A low red blood cell count can lead to fatigue, which may seem trivial, but can have serious repercussions on a child’s early brain development.
  3. Hunger is not only a physical pain; it is also a social ailment. Over eight percent of Belizean women surveyed in a 2013 study said a husband has the right to beat his wife for burning the food, neglecting the children or arguing with their husband. While spousal disagreements and child neglect are not synonymous with hunger, there are potential overlaps between the above-listed categories. For example, a domestic assault may arise from an argument about how to ration food, exemplifying how hunger can permeate every sphere of social life and fuel social unrest.
  4. The Depth of Hunger in Belize is currently at 170 calories per person per day, which shows that overall hunger has decreased in recent years. However, whether or not the Depth of Hunger in Belize will continue to improve is a source of great debate among nutrition experts. Prevailing sentiments suggest that Belize’s hunger problems stem from the tumultuous political states of its neighboring countries, which means that stability must be restored in Belize’s neighboring countries in order for the Belizean government to shift its focus from providing protection to refugees to reducing hunger.
  5. The Depth of the Food Deficit is another hunger unit of measurement that indicates how many calories would be needed to improve the nutritional health of a country’s population from one hunger bracket to the next. For example, in Belize, the Depth of the Food Deficit is 40 calories per person per day, which means that the severely malnourished need 40 calories more per day in order to be considered only moderately malnourished.
  6. The food inflation rate in Belize is -1.7 percent, which means that food is currently relatively cheap. However, an extended food deflation rate could cause the agricultural economy to collapse leaving families to fend for themselves on small farms. Sustenance farming is somewhat common among rural families, but for those without arable land, deflating food prices are a bad omen.
  7. Because of inadequate nutrition, 19.3 percent of children ages 12 and under are stunted in growth or suffer from moderate malnutrition, which could leave them predisposed to illnesses in later life.
  8. Funds to minimize Belizean hunger are frequently funneled into border security programs in order to reduce violent crimes. Often times, however, these programs are ineffectual and serve solely as a sieve on limited national funds.
  9. Social safety net programs like the Food Pantry and Conditional Cash Transfer programs are new initiatives to reduce poverty and hunger in Belize. While the initiatives themselves purport huge successes, the tangible benefits of these programs have yet to be seen.
  10. While hunger in Belize has been on the decline since 2007, it remains an ominous threat to the continued development of Belize’s economy. Many school nutritional programs have been introduced in order to ensure that children have the energy to succeed in school and thus secure a fruitful professional career.

Belize is known as the refuge for the violence which plagues The Northern Triangle of Central America, and there is little doubt that the influx of crime and nefarious activities has augmented the country’s struggle to establish universal nutrition for its people. However, with the unveiling of a number of food and poverty programs in 2016, hunger in Belize seems well on its way to being satiated.

Spencer Linford

Photo: Flickr

Belize, located south of Mexico in Central America, was the center of the Mayan civilization thousands of years ago. Since then, Belize has developed into an independent, democratic country with English as its official language. The Belizean economy remains small, depending mainly on agriculture, merchandising and tourism. The sugar and banana industries make up two of the biggest sources of economic production. The developing nation has become an attractive travel destination for people around the world, but the rate of poverty in Belize remains very high.

As of September 2016, the rate of poverty in Belize stood at 41.3 percent, which meant that 380,010 people lived in conditions below the poverty line. People living in rural areas suffer more from poverty than those living in Belize City. This occurs because federal revenue is distributed to all the districts disproportionately.

When compared to other countries in the Caribbean, the rate of poverty in Belize ranks second-highest after Haiti. Reducing this statistic has proven to be a challenge for the Belizean government, as poverty in Belize often results from many factors, including lack of access to education, sanitary drinking water and medical attention.

While poverty in Belize cannot be eradicated overnight, the government of Belize has made significant steps in recent years. Belizean politicians have pursued legislation and programs to tackle the challenges faced by the people living below the poverty rate. The Belize Social Investment Fund, established in 1996, assists groups within communities in their efforts to help the poor.

The National Integrated Water Resources Act, approved by the government in 2010, will eventually result in access to clean water. When safe drinking water is brought in, communities see increased economic growth without fail, and Belize has been no exception.

Other pushes towards a decrease in poverty include the Quality School Initiative, resulting in increased school enrollment. Gender equality has also increased, with access to education, literacy rates and employment rates rising over the past 10 years. In 2015, the infant mortality rate had decreased by two-thirds. With increased efforts to attack the roots of poverty in Belize, the nation is sure to see a decrease in the poverty rate.

Julia McCartney

Photo: Flickr

8 Things to Know About Poverty in El Salvador
El Salvador is the most densely populated country in Central America. After a 12 year civil war and years of unstable leadership, poverty in El Salvador is a concern that greatly affects the over 6 million people living there.


Top 8 Facts on Poverty in El Salvador


Over 25 percent of children below the age of 5 experience extreme poverty in El Salvador and 36 percent of the rural population lives in poverty. Urbanization is a problem developing countries face as cities grow and become a hub for economic, medical and commercial activity. This causes problems for those in rural areas as they have less and less access to resources. Currently, 60.3 percent of citizens live in urban areas, which results in greater poverty for the remaining people outside of cities.

The people of El Salvador are also constantly at risk of facing greater challenges due to natural disasters. World Vision reports that the country “experiences frequent earthquakes and volcanic activity, making it known as the ‘land of volcanoes.” In December of 2013, the Chaparrastique volcano in eastern El Salvador erupted and caused the evacuation of 5,000 people.

Leaf rust has caused problems for the coffee industry in El Salvador, which is an important source of income for the country’s economy. Heavy rain and wind carry rust spores from plantations to other plantations miles away. Bloomberg reports that the 2015 coffee season projections fell from 920,000 to 613,333 60-kilogram bags.

Ninety percent of the population has access to safe water and 96 percent of children are enrolled in school, though this education may not be effective in preparing children for their future. The U.S. Agency for International Development reports, “Many children and adolescents living in El Salvador face enormous vulnerabilities associated with high rates of crime and gang violence including poor quality education.”

El Salvador has the highest homicide rate in the world for youth under 19, reports USAID. InSight Crime cites progress in El Salvador’s mission to reduce the number of violent deaths to a rate more in line with international statistics. In September of 2016, 13.3 percent fewer homicides occurred than the previous year. USAID launched programs whose focus is to stimulate and increase productivity in areas that are at risk, such as rural populations.

The national strategy entitled Plan El Salvador Seguro “addresses security and education opportunities in high crime municipalities.” The strategy involves programs such as Education for Children and Youth at Risk, as well as USAID Bridges to Employment to care for those who are not enrolled in education but need to provide for themselves and their families.

UNICEF Goodwill ambassador and former professional soccer player David Beckham’s new fund “7” launched a campaign in 2015 to end violence against children and poverty in El Salvador. This program is Beckham’s commitment to improving the lives of vulnerable children globally.

Beckham said, “Every day, violence affects thousands of children and adolescents in El Salvador. It’s an outrage – violence in their homes, schools and streets. El Salvador has the highest rate in the world of homicides of children and adolescents and, together, we can change this.”

Rebecca Causey

Photo: Flickr

San Jose Action Statement
On August 4, Belize, Canada, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Panama and the United States welcomed the San Jose Action Statement. The statement was issued in response to an unprecedented meeting of concerned nations regarding the influx of Central American refugees.

Since 2012, the number of pending asylum cases in the U.S. and Mexico alone has reached over 109,000. In 2014, 66,000 unaccompanied children fleeing Central America entered the U.S. Further, data from 2015 shows the U.S. continuing as the main receiving country, registering almost twice as many asylum applications as in 2014.

Recognizing the need for urgent action and improved institutions to manage the flow of migrants, members of the San Jose Action Statement agreed to responsibility sharing and regional cooperation. To mitigate the crisis and lessen the plight of refugees, the San Jose Action Statement has three main objectives:

Preventing and addressing root causes of displacement in and migration from countries of origin

To accomplish this, member states vowed to strengthen coordinated responses, focusing on socio-economic development, access to education and livelihood opportunities, consolidating the rule of law, acting against impunity and operating under a framework that fully respects human rights.

Member states further agreed to monitor internal displacement and migration in order to develop well-informed national and international responses to the refugee crisis. In addition, all parties acknowledged the need to provide protection for internally displaced persons (IDPs) and returnees. These measures aim to minimize the outward flows of migration by creating prosperous, secure lives in home countries.

Enhancing asylum and protection responses in countries of transit, destination and asylum

All parties to the San Jose Action Statement agreed to provide timely identification and documentation of refugees, as well as unhindered access to documentation processes and protection.

Member states further vowed to improve alternatives to detention and resource provision for refugees, including access to legal aid, psychosocial support and humanitarian assistance. Early integration into receiving communities will also be targeted and strengthened.

Promoting regional cooperation

All nine nations agreed to develop a collaborative approach, emphasizing the need for partnerships with other nations, U.N. organizations, international and regional organizations, civil society, academia and other entities. These partnerships will create responsibility-sharing mechanisms in the region, such as legal pathways to admission and humanitarian visas.

This call for action marks an important step in combating the Central American refugee crisis. The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, Volker Türk, stated, “The San Jose Action Statement is a visible and significant demonstration of the willingness of countries from the region to work together to address the plight of refugees, internally displaced persons and others in need of protection, in a spirit of solidarity.”

Anna O’Toole

Photo: Flickr

Education in Costa Rica
Education in Costa Rica has come leaps and bounds from its past. The highly-rated education system in Costa Rica continues to lead Central and Latin America by example, striving to provide both highly accessible and high quality education to all.

Costa Rica’s literacy rate is approximately 95 percent, one of the highest in Latin America. In 1869, the country was one of the first in the world to make primary education mandatory and free. Costa Rica is also one of the few countries in the world without a standing army, and part of the funds that would have been spent on the military are instead redirected to education.

According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), almost seven percent of the country’s GDP is spent on educational programs. The government has also issued a mandated goal for allocated funds to rise to eight percent by 2018. This percentage of GDP spending on education is exceeded only by Iceland, New Zealand and Denmark.

In the book, “The Ticos: Culture and Social Change in Costa Rica,” it is said that every Costa Rican pueblo is known to have five things: a local store, a football field, a church, a bar and a school. Some schools in the most rural parts of the country only have two students, but regardless of the number of children in the pueblo, they will always have access to an education.

While accessible schooling for all children is a noble goal, the quality of education must also be upheld. The smaller the school, the less resources the school and its teachers have. Children in rural areas often miss days or weeks of school to work, or ultimately drop out to help support their families.

According to the 2015 U.N. Development Programme’s Human Development Report, Costa Ricans spend an average of 8.4 years in school, and only 50.6 percent of the population receives at least some secondary school education.

While the necessary amount of money is being spent to ensure education in Costa Rica is a priority, according to the OECD the gap in educational outcomes based on family income has grown significantly larger in the past 20 years. It is critical that Costa Rica not only increases education funding, but also focuses on how that money is spent, specifically by spreading resources more equitably across schools.

The Costa Rican Ministry of Education is working alongside UNICEF and other international organizations to confront the factors contributing to students permanently leaving school and to provide quality education to all.

Yo me apunto” (“I’m in”) was launched in 2015 with the hope of encouraging students to stay in school and to reintegrate young adults back into school. The program reaches 155 schools and offers educational programs for students living in areas of poverty.

By continuing initiatives like “Yo me apunto” and increasing focus on establishing better educational outcomes, education in Costa Rica will continue to be an exemplary model for the rest of Latin and Central America and beyond.

Erica Rawles

Photo: The Costa Rica News

Poverty in Central America
The area of Latin or Central America includes the countries of Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama. Central America also includes the Caribbean Islands. Poverty in Central America is pervasive: half the population lives below the poverty line.

In rural areas, the figure rises to two-thirds. Seventy-five percent of rural people struggle to meet basic food needs. Income from traditional exports, agriculture and textiles is in the control of a few of the most powerful and richest.

Despite considerable advancements in wealth distribution, vast inequalities still exist. According to a report by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), “The poorest 20% of the population receive only 3% of all income; the wealthiest 20% receive 60%.”

The farms generally belong to the wealthy; the poor work on them. Small farmers often work deteriorating plots that produce low yields. This leads to food insecurity, hunger and the need for other wage-producing work.

Rural poverty in Central America is widespread, but percentages differ within separate countries.

Honduras is the worst affected: 75 percent of the country’s rural population lives in poverty and 63 percent lives in extreme poverty.

Guatemala is next: 54 percent of its rural population lives in poverty.

Nicaragua and El Salvador both have 47 percent of their rural population living in poverty.

Panama has 37 percent and Costa Rica has 23 percent of rural poverty rates.

Indigenous populations have the highest rates of poverty in Central America. They also have the lowest income and lack access to much needed services. Some of these include housing, schools and healthcare.

Indigenous peoples account for more than 40 percent of the total population in Guatemala and seventy-five percent of them live in poverty. In Panama, indigenous peoples make up eight percent of the population and 95 percent live in poverty.

Agriculture is a major employer of the rural poor, providing jobs for more than 30 percent. As a result, IFAD believes that agriculture could be used to help ease poverty in Central America. The area is a major producer of the world’s bananas, coffee, maize and sugar.

IFAD reports, however, that the area is “highly vulnerable” to the world market. It is also vulnerable to other factors it has no power over, such as climate change and natural disasters.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) announced in June that there has been much progress in reducing poverty in Central America. Despite these advancements, the area still desperately needs more social services.

UNDP called on the governments of the area to invest in “better employment opportunities, in financial systems that prevent over-indebtedness and reducing gender gaps.”

In a press release on June 16, 2016 UNDP stressed that “The main threat to progress in Latin America and the Caribbean is the relapse of millions of families back into poverty.”

The poor and those who are not considered living in poverty but who are not cushioned from external forces need four important elements to keep them from falling back into poverty: public security system, healthcare system, economic assets and job skills.

Rhonda Marrone

Photo: Pixabay

Economic_Central AfricaA Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing took place on April 19 regarding the Alliance for Prosperity Plan. The five-year initiative for economic development in Central America is the result of a joint partnership between El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and the United States. The partnership intends to address the issues of poverty and violence that lead to the flight of migrants to the U.S.

One of the panel members, Elizabeth Hogan of the Latin America And Caribbean Bureau at the U.S. Agency for International Development, stated,“As you know, social development and economic growth in Central America have been stymied by a dramatic rise in crime and violence — particularly in the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.”

According to a roadmap provided by the three countries, the approach will focus on revitalizing the Central American economy by stimulating growth, improving public safety and enhancing social and legal institutions to increase trust in the state.

Major steps to implement the economic strategy include attracting private investment, modernizing infrastructure projects, as well as  promoting the textile, tourism and agricultural industries. Anti-violence measures include strengthening security, promoting social programs and creating transparent public institutions.

The United States Congress required that 25 percent of assistance to the governments of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras be withheld until the U.S. Secretary of State certifies that each government is taking effective steps to combat human trafficking and provide development services for its citizens.

On the part of the United States, the White House has pledged to expand access to the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program for “vulnerable individuals and families” from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. The Obama Administration is aiming to provide a safer and legal alternative to the dangerous journeys Central Americans are taking at the hands of human smugglers.

Additionally, Mercedes Garcia, a research associate at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, warns that to avoid long-term issues, aid must remain focused on empowering citizens rather than creating “precarious employment opportunities, like those offered to unskilled workers by most foreign corporations.”

With continuous monitoring and communication, leaders are hopeful that this alliance can boost economic development in Central America and improve U.S. relations with its neighbors. President Juan Hernandez of Honduras said at a meeting of the Inter-American Development Bank,“A peaceful Central America, with opportunities for its people, with justice and security, will be of great benefit not only for our citizens but also for the United States and other peoples of the world.”

Taylor Resteghini

Photo: Flickr