Community Resilience

Food banks in Latin America partner with and serve indigenous communities to alleviate hunger

About 8 percent of Latin America’s population — or 50 million people — identify as Indigenous according to the United Nations Development Programme. Due to systemic exclusion, social marginalization, geographic isolation, and other factors, Indigenous peoples are nearly three times as likely to be living in extreme poverty compared to their non-Indigenous counterparts.

Because food banks are directed by local leaders, they are well-versed in their community’s needs and thus strongly positioned to reach groups that often have been excluded from government support and social services. In Latin America, these community-based organizations are serving communities of Indigenous peoples, while also partnering with Indigenous farmers to source produce and meat.

For example, in Guatemala, the food bank Desarrollo en Movimiento (DEM) partners with 108 community organizations in all 23 of the country’s departments, or largest administrative units, to serve populations particularly vulnerable to hunger by providing hot meals and food kits that will feed a family of four for two weeks. In the departments of Chimaltenango and Alta Verapaz, that means serving communities that predominantly belong to Indigenous Maya groups like the K’iche’ or Q’eqchi. Staff at DEM Guatemala quickly learned that what might be culturally appropriate in one area of the country might not be in another area.

“We’re serving breakfast for a school in Alta Verapaz,” said Juan Pablo Ruano Vargas, project manager for DEM Guatemala. “We use a custom menu in breakfast, because the herbs and vegetables they eat are different than what we eat [in Guatemala City]. The greens are different — watercress, chard. We don’t send them milk and cereal because they do not like it, and a lot of people in Indigenous communities are also lactose intolerant.”

To learn about the unique cultures of the different populations served by the organization, employees of DEM Guatemala go through a multi-day training as part of their onboarding. Some of that training focuses on the history of Indigenous peoples in the country.

“Indigenous communities have been through a lot in Guatemala,” Ruano said. “The main challenge we have in working with Indigenous communities is trying to overcome their mistrust of [people outside their community]. That’s why we have to work with community leaders. You have to build a relationship so that they can know what they can expect from you.”

In Ecuador, Banco de Alimentos Quito is building relationships with rural, largely Indigenous communities to source fresh surplus produce for distribution to vulnerable populations through the Recovery of Agricultural Surpluses (REAGRO) Program.

While the farmers donate their nutritious, surplus products, Banco de Alimentos Quito provides agricultural inputs that are hard to come by. “What REAGRO is doing is rescuing food in rural areas where there is a large Indigenous population,” said Santiago Rodriguez, REAGRO program lead for Banco de Alimentos Quito.

“It’s a two-way street,” said Rodriguez. “They benefit, we benefit. In the end, the people who benefit the most are the final users.”

Food banks like DEM Guatemala and Banco de Alimentos Quito are working with Indigenous groups that often see high rates of food insecurity. August 9 marks International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, an international observance promoted by the United Nations that emphasizes education and advocacy. For more information and ways to participate, visit the resource page for the observance.

To support the efforts of food banks and networks to address the needs of Indigenous peoples through community-driven solutions to end hunger, visit GFN’s donation page.

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