Central America faced its worst drought in 40 years last summer when an El Niño weather pattern hit. The dry spell affected the first growing season between May and August, causing widespread crop loss.
To help farmers make it through to the second growing season, Mennonite Central Committee 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 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. More than 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.
The governments of Guatemala and Honduras declared states of emergency last summer. In Nicaragua, maize and beans crops were 75 percent less than the year before. The drought put more than 500,000 families in a vulnerable position because of lower yields and lost income.
The loss of crops and rising prices made it difficult for farmers to provide for their families.
Purchasing beans locally became expensive due to the drought, said Elizabeth Scambler, MCC’s regional disaster management coordinator in Central America.
“So the canned meat helped bring the caloric and protein content of the food basket up,” she said.
A time of scarcity
The food distributions were done with MCC partners, including the Anabaptist Emergency Commission in Nicaragua and CODESO, the social development committee of the Brethren in Christ Church in Honduras. CODESO director Adolfo Nuñez said 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 said. “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, which has been significantly better than the first. Scambler said many families are able to eat three full meals a day, when before they only had one.
“The food assistance helped families get through a few difficult months of scarcity until they could produce the second harvest,” she said.