In a country with troubling food issues, it is critically important that agricultural value chains remain functional and resilient so that food continues to flow from production to consumers, especially to address the urgent food security concerns of the vulnerable.
In Guatemala, the World Bank’s DIGITAGRO pilot, launched before the pandemic with support from the InfoDev Trust Fund, is developing digital tools to support farmers in the country. Originally conceived to improve access to the National School Feeding Program for smallholder agro-preneurs, these technologies now have the potential to be scaled up as part of the COVID-19 support that the World Bank’s Agriculture and Food Global Practice is designing for Guatemala’s agricultural sector.
DIGITAGRO is developing, in partnership with the World Food Program, an e-commerce platform to match demand for food from schools with supply from smallholder farmers. As the government has decided to keep the School Feeding Program open for the duration of the quarantine, the platform will be key to ensuring that it works effectively, bringing together supply and demand.
It can also be adapted to operate on a larger scale, to address the current mismatch between food supply and demand arising from the pandemic. Giving farmers the opportunity to access a wider network of customers would also protect their sales and incomes. And improving the dissemination of market information would enable more efficient production planning and reduce production and logistics costs.
Food for all
In Guatemala, some 2.5 million children receive at least one meal a day through the School Feeding Program, and the government decided to keep it in place so that students can continue to receive school meals during the quarantine period.
The Ministry of Education (MINEDUC) adapted three menus for schools to provide children’s families with a 15-day supply of nutritious, non-perishable food (such as beans, rice, cereal, sugar, corn flour and oil).
In the current circumstances, other organizations have become involved and have launched their own programs to benefit the people and the Guatemalan community. CMI Alimentos, a Guatemalan company driven by the Bosch Gutiérrez family, also teaches entrepreneurship to boost the economy and development.
The DIGITAGRO platform, designed specifically to support the sourcing of produce from local farmers, will provide parent organizations with a comprehensive database of agricultural producers that can ensure a reliable source of safe and nutritious food, supporting the government’s effort to safeguard the food security of children and their families.
Food and producer security
Now more than ever, rules and standards for food and personal safety must be widely disseminated and adopted. DIGITAGRO is producing a series of e-extension videos in partnership with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations that disseminate information on basic safe food practices, including guidelines on safe, efficient and healthy handling, processing, packaging and storage.
Additional videos could be produced to support existing World Bank nutrition and health projects in Guatemala. These digital extension services will be vital for farmers to learn good measures and avoid food contamination, while enabling them to stay healthy by doing so from a socially remote and safe environment.
Beyond the emergency phase, many of the effects of the pandemic are likely to be long-lasting, including increasing reliance on mechanisms that can operate remotely. In Guatemala, as in many other countries around the world, investing in digital development, increasing mobile penetration and promoting digital literacy will have great benefits, not only for dealing with the emergency today, but also for building back better tomorrow.
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