We’re writing to you from Guatemala, where we’re dealing with the beginning of a local COVID-19 outbreak. There have been 25 cases to date. We commend the Guatemalan Government’s swift response and precautionary measures to control the outbreak. Within 3 days of case zero, Guatemala closed the airport and shortly thereafter the borders. There is a military curfew in place each day, restricting non essential movement from 4 PM to 4 AM. Gatherings – like those we use to meet potential farmers and sell our seed – have been banned until further notice.
Vendors in Guatemala City’s Central Market. Photographer: Esteban Biba
While the world faces mounting challenges, we have also witnessed the immense power of solidarity, human ingenuity, and bravery in the past weeks. Amongst the frontline heroes are our farmers. Farmers are showing up for us each day – growing the food that seems to be ever more rapidly flying off the shelves. In these times, we must ask ourselves – how will we show up for them?
In Guatemala, a country where corn accounts for upwards of 50% of the rural diet, over 700,000 corn farmers cannot work from home. Their work is critical to feed the nation and their families. The majority of smallholder corn farmers in Guatemala live in poverty. With agriculture as the primary source of income for the majority of these families, they cannot afford to absorb productivity losses associated with global crises. These farmers and their communities are especially vulnerable to the economic losses we are witnessing all over the world. Living on less than one dollar a day, members of Guatemalan farmer families don’t have a safety net.
Semilla Nueva remains committed to putting these farmers and their families first, especially as May marks the planting season that produces the majority of rural Guatemala’s food. We are following all necessary measures to ensure our staff remains safe while simultaneously exploring new and creative ways to support the farmers we serve. We’ve reoriented our marketing and farmer engagement strategy to mobile platforms – using phone, text message, and messaging services like Whatsapp. We’re complementing this with alternative outreach like banners, billboards, and radio.
This year, more than ever before, our work is essential. In the coming months, we will continue to promote and sell our biofortified, iron, protein, and zinc enriched corn to smallholders farmers in Guatemala. Our goal for 2020 remains; we will work tirelessly to improve the incomes and nutrition of nearly 8,000 farmer families. Our corn has the potential to:
- Shield against the extreme economic shock Guatemala will face in the wake of COVID-19 – In Guatemala, over 70% of the population works in the informal economy and the majority of farmers will be pushed further into poverty. Our corn can increase farmer incomes and mitigate some of these effects.
- Improve food security amidst crisis – The regions most likely to be hit by an impending food crisis in Guatemala are also the regions where we work with communities and sell seed. By ensuring farmers have seed on time, we can increase their income and improve their family nutrition – fighting food insecurity through economic and agronomic means.
- Boost the immune systems of those who will need it the most – Our corn has 39% more zinc than traditional corn and can close the average zinc gap in rural Guatemalan diets. Zinc is critical to immune system function and has been shown to decrease the mortality rate of respiratory illness and pneumonia in elderly populations and pneumonia in children–considerations that are of vital importance as we prepare for the coming months.
Corn farmer in rural Guatemala. Photographer: Sarah Mueller
In the darkest of times, we have the opportunity to be the best versions of ourselves. Every day and especially today, we are grateful to act in solidarity with Guatemala’s farmers. Thank you for being partners on this journey.
The Semilla Nueva Team