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Bringing Beans Back to the Plate in Guatemala

By Feed the Future

Bringing Beans Back to the Plate in Guatemala

Farming families embrace a small but mighty source of nutrition.

In Guatemala, nearly one million children are chronically malnourished, more than anywhere else in Latin America. Across the country, 46 percent of children suffer from chronic malnutrition, and that number is as high as 70 percent in rural and indigenous areas. Feed the Future projects in the country aim to change these statistics with two simple tools: nutrition education and the powerful benefits of beans.

Empowering Leaders in Guatemala to Fight Against Malnutrition

In the country’s western highlands, Alba Méndez is eager to learn new and better ways to provide better nutrition for her family. Méndez is a widow who farms a small 400-square-meter plot of land while raising four young children. She often worries about their wellbeing.

Alba Méndez’s success in boosting her yields and livelihood has motivated others in the village to embrace beans as well. Photo Credit: Pedro Pablo Cabrera

Low yields and high market prices have contributed to declining bean consumption in the area for decades. The Feed the Future Másfrijol project — (which translates to more beans) — is changing nutrition prospects for families like Méndez’s. The project helps farming families understand the importance of regularly consuming nutrient-dense foods, promotes the consumption of beans, and distributes seed varieties that grow well in the small, high-altitude plots of thousands of smallholder farmers like Méndez’s.

Through the project, Méndez has learned to produce local bean seed to sell to farmers in her community and in nearby markets. Using improved farming practices, she quadrupled her bean yield and saw revenues increase from $30 to $200 in a single bean season.

Méndez’s success in boosting her yields and livelihood has motivated others in the village to embrace beans as well. During community field days, she sells seeds, teaches the best farming methods, and shares new bean recipes with local leaders. Many of them now host their own community events to educate neighbors about the importance of bean consumption for the whole family, particularly for children under the age of 5.

“In our community, we have not been used to growing bush beans, only pole beans,” Méndez said. “But I’m happy that others have experienced it and now they buy seed from me.”

With support from Feed the Future, the project has reached more than 34,000 families with improved bean seed varieties and has taught good nutrition practices to over 12,000 families. Along with others in her community, Méndez continues to be a powerful force to improve nutrition.

A Network for Nutrient-Rich Foods Delivers Results

Across the dry corridor of Guatemala, ICTA chortí beans, a variety rich in iron and zinc, is making a difference in Wilin Morán’s family. His daughters Jazmine and Débora, ages 7 and 4, have been consuming the beans regularly for the last three years. They like to spread a few spoonfuls of thick bean soup on their tortillas. “My daughters look healthier now,” Morán said.

Rich in nutrients, chortí beans are making a difference in Wilin Morán’s family, especially for his daughters Jazmine (pictured here) and Débora. Photo Credit: Adriana Varón/CIAT

At his farm, Morán sows ICTA chortí beans with support from the BioFORT platform, a network of partners including HavestPlus, which specializes in developing biofortified crops, local government institutions, universities, farmer associations, and agricultural NGOs with a common mission: to promote crops biofortified with nutrients lacking in the Guatemalan diet.

Most rural Guatemalans live off of corn and beans, and biofortified versions of these two crops have been proven to fight malnutrition. Often, these high-yielding beans are also a boon to farmers’ livelihoods. The BioFORT network funds seed research and multiplication to improve the consumption of these biofortified crops. So far, the effort has distributed 38 tons of corn and bean seeds to 10,000 vulnerable families.

Morán first learned about the nutritional benefits of ICTA chortí bean varieties by participating in farmer field days. The experience was transformative. He learned about more nutritious and high-yielding bean varieties, the importance of a diverse diet, and beneficial farming practices. And through BioFORT, he also got access to ICTA chortí bean seeds.

Morán has seen the beans’ positive impact on his daughters firsthand. He hopes to one day grow enough beans that he can give a surplus away to his community of 700 people.

The Feed the Future Másfrijol project works to increase bean yields and consumption and improve nutrition education among smallholder farmers in the Guatemalan highlands. The project is funded through USAID and managed by the Feed the Future Legume Innovation Lab at Michigan State University.

HarvestPlus is part of the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health which helps realize the potential of agricultural development to deliver gender-equitable health and nutritional benefits to the poor. CGIAR is a global agriculture research partnership for a food-secure future. The HarvestPlus program is coordinated by two of these centers, the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) and the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). HarvestPlus’ principal donors are the UK Government; the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; the U.S. Government’s Feed the Future initiative; the European Commission; the Government of Canada and other donors.

Bringing Beans Back to the Plate in Guatemala