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“Help us buy land so we can produce our own food.” It was with these words that efforts to address the food security needs of the people of San Lucas were initiated over 50 years ago.
At the time, Fr. Greg Schaffer and the San Lucas Mission had been working to address the need for food in the San Lucas area through J.F. Kennedy’s Food for Peace initiative through United States Agency for International Development. The food aid program, through which the Mission was able to give out wheat and soy-based food to families in the area, had recently become very popular among San Lucans, providing a tasty and nutritious meal at no cost.
There was one problem, however, as Fr. Greg recalls. One day, one of the elders in the community came to speak with Fr. Greg about the mission food aid program. “Your food is good, Fr. Greg, its tasty and our children enjoy it – but don’t give us your food. Help us buy land so we can produce our own food, so we can provide our own food for our children.”
The need expressed by the people for land has since lied at the heart of the Mission’s efforts to promote a systemic and structural response to the need for food security in San Lucas, which over the years has distributed land to many needy families.
Food security for a household means access by all members at all times to acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways, without having to resort to emergency food supplies. Inversely, food insecurity is a limited access to a steady food source, commonly resulting in chronic undernourishment – a situation common in the San Lucas area and throughout Guatemala, which has some of the highest chronic mal-nourishment rates in the world.
Agricultural programming, based primarily in the acquisition of land, attempted to address the situation of food insecurity, providing farming assistance through the Small Farmer’s Program, and agricultural farming techniques through the Juan Ana Experimental Farm.
Through these efforts, small farmers in the area have seen an increase in agricultural productivity which, in turn, has enabled farmers to grow more food, translating into better diets and healthier lives.
Likewise, as families have been able to develop their cash crop – coffee – the Mission’s Juan Ana Coffee Program provides a level playing field for small coffee producers, providing just prices for high quality coffee.
With more income, farmers are able to diversify production and grow higher-value crops, benefiting not only themselves but the local economy as a whole, providing the stable local agricultural base that is key to a community responsive food system and less vulnerable to food insecurity.