WINNIPEG, Man. — Central America faced its worst drought in 40 years in the summer of 2014 when an El Niño weather pattern hit. The dry spell affected the first growing season between May and August, causing widespread crop loss.
Governments in Guatemala and Honduras declared states of emergency. In Nicaragua maize and beans crops were 75% less than the year before. The drought put more than 500,000 families in a vulnerable position because of lower yields and lost income, according to the European Commission.
The loss of crops and rising prices, made it difficult for farmers, such as Agripina Osorto, a mother of three, to provide for their families.
To help farmers make it through to the second growing season, Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) provided emergency food assistance to 1,666 families. That included a distribution of 30,384 cans of meat in El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua. The distributions were done with MCC partners, Comité de Desarrollo Social (CODESO) in Honduras, the Anabaptist Emergency Commission in Nicaragua and Asociación Nuevo Amanecer de El Salvador in El Salvador.
“Purchasing beans locally became expensive due to the drought, so the canned meat helped bring the caloric and protein content of the food basket up”, says Elizabeth Scambler, MCC’s regional disaster management coordinator in Central America.
The cans of meat are produced every year on the MCC mobile meat canner. Four volunteers travel across Canada and the U.S. with the canner and work with local volunteer groups to prepare hundreds of thousands of cans of turkey, beef, chicken and pork. Over 30,000 people a year volunteer to fill, weigh, wash and label every can.
Once complete, the cans are sent to countries around the world to provide emergency nutrition in situations of conflict and disaster. In some countries MCC has canned meat stored with partners, ready to be used in an emergency.
That was the case in Honduras, where the canned meat and food baskets were given out by CODESO, the social development committee of the Brethren in Christ Church. Director Adolfo Nuñez says the baskets, generally including corn, rice, beans and canned meat, helped prevent hunger and malnutrition during a time of scarcity. “It would have been disastrous for many families,” he says. “Many people would have been ill from hunger.”
MCC and local partners also provided seeds in Nicaragua and Guatemala so farmers could plant new crops for the second harvest. While results of the harvest have varied it has been significantly better than the first. Many families are able to eat three full meals a day, when before they only had one, says Scambler. “The food assistance helped families get through a few difficult months of scarcity until they could produce the second harvest.”