Since the Government of Guatemala announced a “state of calamity” following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in Guatemala, PCI, a Global Communities Partner, has continued to coordinate the procurement and delivery of fresh food to local schoolchildren through Nuestra Cosecha.

PCI implements Nuestra Cosecha (“Our Harvest” in Spanish) in partnership with Save the Children and Catholic Relief Services and in coordination with the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Agriculture in Guatemala. The project, which is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture through the Local and Regional Food Aid Procurement program, targets five municipalities in the departments of Huehuetenango, Quiche and Totonicapán.

The risks of food insecurity in the region have Nuestra Cosecha staff and Ministry of Education authorities in Huehuetenango working hand-in-hand around the clock to address the situation within the framework of the country's school feeding law. The Government of Guatemala requires schools to purchase 50 percent of products for school meals from local smallholder farmers.

Staff from PCI’s USDA-funded Nuestra Cosecha project and PTA members from participating schools distributed 3,824 take-home rations to families in the municipalities of Santa Cruz Barillas and Santa Eulalia. Safety measures included masks, antibacterial hand sanitizer and physical distancing. Schools scheduled parent school visits to to receive thei rations in such a way that no more than 15 people were present at one time. Photo by Allison del Valle

In early July, Nuestra Cosecha distributed 3,824 take-home rations in the municipalities of Santa Cruz Barillas and Santa Eulalia, linking five local farmers with 17 schools. Rations included both fresh fruits and vegetables from local farmers (güisquil, potatoes, onions, bananas and potatoes) as well as milk, beans, rice, oil and corn flour from the Ministry of Education.

“I am happy and joyful to receive these bags of vegetables. I was keeping an eye out to make sure the products received were good quality," said Maria Gaspar, a Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) leader and mother who volunteers at her child’s school. "It was a good thing that PCI delivered the products together with those distributed by the Ministry of Education. Even though the school is closed, children will be able to eat. This will help [with their] education."

PTAs have faced challenges throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, as the crisis has required them to adopt new safety measures, carefully coordinate product collection and make personalized deliveries of take-home rations. During the first phase of the process, fresh products were received at the school and organized into biodegradable bags. During the second phase, PTA members delivered the food rations to parents.

Take-home rations are an alternative model for delivering food during an emergency. This model has allowed Nuestra Cosecha to maintain relationships with local farmers and support the local economy.

“Under normal conditions, agricultural products are consumed only by students in schools. However, under these circumstances, the food will sustain the entire family,” said Wilman Escobedo, Nuestra Cosecha Project Coordinator. “In this way, the project has expanded its impact.”

Nuestra Cosecha will strengthen the local economy for participating farmer families and their organizational capacity while also providing much-needed food to schoolchildren. Suppliers donated 49 additional food rations to cover children who were not enrolled in schools and thus were not covered by the project.

Undoubtedly, emergencies can serve to validate in a short amount of time whether the strategies being used are effective and appropriate. Nuestra Cosecha has proven to be effective beyond school feeding by strengthening the resilience of rural communities and supporting their quick recovery from emergencies.

Written by Cristina Molina Hernández, PCI/Guatemala