Next time you fill your vehicle up at the gas pump, you may be contributing to increasing hunger problems in Guatemala.
Corn tortillas, the daily bread of your average Central American, have become more costly, along with other staples such as eggs. The blame is being put on recent policies by the U.S. and Europe which require that biofuels, or fuels using renewable resources such as corn and sugar, be blended into the nation's fuel supply. Biofuel mandates are usually seen as environmentally friendly measures as they reduce carbon dioxide emissions, but in our increasingly connected world, there are often unforeseen effects on nations, communities and individuals around the globe.
The average Guatemalan is now hungrier because of biofuel development.
- Katja Winkler, a researcher at Idear
A Guatemalan three years ago could pay one quetzal, the equivalent of about 15 cents, and receive eight tortillas; one quetzal now purchases half that amount. Because chickens eat corn feed, their eggs have also become expensive – three times more expensive than they used to be.
"The average Guatemalan is now hungrier because of biofuel development," says Katja Winkler, a researcher at Idear, a Guatemalan nonprofit institute for agricultural and rural studies. According to the United Nations, about 50 percent of Guatemala's children are malnourished, and in the 2012 Global Hunger Index Report put out by International Food Policy Research Institute, Guatemala is the only country in Central America labeled "serious." Other countries in the region are categorized as only being "low" or "moderate" regarding hunger.
The history of how Guatemala's poor have become so vulnerable is long and complicated, but the forcible eviction of 13 indigenous communities in 2011 has played a large part in the current situation. More than 300 families were removed by heavily armed military and paramilitary forces. With no land to grow food to eat, people began to slide further into poverty and hunger. The practice of wealthy families and companies taking over large tracts of land for profit is widespread – happening all over the world, and leaving those who once subsisted on that land with no place to go.
"These people don't have enough to eat," said Misael Gonzáles of C.U.C., the United Peasant Committee in Guatemala. "They need food. They need land. They can't eat biofuel, and they don't drive cars."
Meanwhile, Americans and Europeans line up at the fuel pumps.
Tracy López is a bilingual writer living outside the Washington DC metro area. She is the founder of Latinaish.com.