The cry of those who eat less than three times a day in Nicaragua

“When the children ask if there is something different to eat, your heart sinks,” says a mother in the Caribbean Coast

The precarious incomes

23 de junio 2021


From the Pacific to the Caribbean, there are thousands of Nicaraguans who are unable to eat three meals a day. The lack of formal jobs, precarious incomes, the economic recession and the socio-political crisis dragging the country down are part of the reasons for hunger in Nicaragua.

On a normal day, having two meals a day is a “miracle” for Ramón Austin. “We start the day without eating, because there is simply nothing to eat. If you can and you find something, you eat with your family around two in the afternoon and, if there is anything left, you eat a little bit in the evening,” explains Ramón, a 63-year-old indigenous man from the Francia Sirpi community in the North Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region, who has dedicated his whole life to agriculture.

Austin has a family of seven, and he fights against hunger everyday. He begins his day at sunrise. He goes to the “monte” to see if he can get some kind of musaceous, tubers, firewood, fruits or something to hunt. “Living off the land is difficult,” he confesses. In the Caribbean, these difficulties are compounded by the risks posed by the invasion of settlers, the disastrous effects of floods and the aftermath of hurricanes Eta and Iota, which hit the region with category five strength in a span of less than fifteen days, in November 2020. 

“We cultivate between the third and fifth month of the year and harvest our crops five to ten months later, but everything was washed away by the hurricanes and now we are going hungry,” Austin laments. The farmer explains that his crops - which would have been his provisions at this time - were washed away by the hurricanes.

In Francia Sirpi, farmers have started planting on their plots again, but they fear that their crops will be washed away by the floods or stolen by settlers.

Going hungry in Managua: looking for work "with an empty belly"

In Managua, the capital, people are also facing hunger. Patricia Lanzas, 32, has four small children and, together with her partner, struggles to serve three meals at the table with the income she earns from informal jobs.

“I do whatever comes up. I wash, iron and clean houses, but I don't have a formal job since I was fired when the 2018 protests began,” she recounts.

In the last three years of socio-political crisis and economic recession, more than 222 000 people lost their jobs, according to the Economic Projection reports of the Nicaraguan Foundation for Economic and Social Development (Funides).

Lanzas has sought employment in a dozen businesses and homes in recent months. She is looking for a position in the cleaning area or as a kitchen helper. “They tell you that they’ll call you soon. You spend money on papers and bus rides. I even go without eating, with limited resources for the bus ride home, and they simply don't call,” she laments.

Before 2018, Lanzas earned 4 500 córdobas a month as a home assistant. Now, with the odd jobs she gets, she doesn't even make half of that. With 2 000 córdobas a month, she tries to make sure her children don't miss any meals, but admits that the food is not adequate.

“They don't get what they need, but we do what we can. At breakfast we can give them a cup of coffee and bread, and with that they don't have an empty stomach,” she says. 

The children ask, “Is there anything different to eat?”

In Francia Sirpi, hunger takes its toll on farmer Ramon Austin’s family. One of his grandchildren is malnourished due to lack of food. “He's sick, skinny, because we don't have the food we need,” he says.

Also in the community of Esperanza, of the Wawa River, where the hurricanes wreaked havoc too, “María’s” family is hungry and the children are the most affected. 

Hurricanes Eta and Iota destroyed her plot of land and now she is trying to “get ahead” together with her 14 relatives. They have started cultivating again, but the harvest is eight months away. 

“We have always lived off mother Earth, but now the men have to leave the territories and look for paid jobs to buy food, because we have no food reserves now and we are going hungry,” laments “María”, who is a community leader in La Esperanza and asked to remain anonymous to avoid harassment.  

Once or twice a week, three of “María's” relatives cross the border into Honduras, where they are paid 150 córdobas for a day's work.

“Normally, with the little they get from our land, they eat once a day, but when the men manage a work day they can have two meals, but everything is expensive. With the little money they get, they buy the basics: oil, sugar or soap, and it does not allow the children to have a good diet,” she laments. 

“María” assures that the children are already “quite used to eating less than three times a day”, but she says that her "heart sinks" when they ask if there is "something different" to eat.

“We solve the problem with yucca, plantains or rice, and when they eat a lot of the same thing they start asking when they are going to eat something else. They ask when they are going to eat meat, but because of the invasion we can no longer go hunting like before, and we don't eat like before,” she laments. The afternoon that “María” talked to CONFIDENCIAL, her only meal time was “guabul”, a dish made of plantain and coconut milk.

The cycle of widespread hunger in the Nicaraguan Caribbean Coast 

José Coleman, a collaborator with the Egdolina Thomas Foundation, states that the problem of hunger is widespread in the indigenous and Miskito communities of Nicaragua's Northern Caribbean. The organization is present in 22 communities in the Twi Waupasa and Twi Yahbra territories, where they have observed the hunger suffered by their inhabitants.

“The aid that arrived after the hurricanes has not been as effective... nor has it been systematic. It has not allowed the self-subsistence of the communities,” he explains.

Coleman details that to date “many community members have not been able to go up to their traditional cultivation areas because there are many fallen trees, others because they fear the advance of the colono invasion. They do not have tools to clear the roads or raw material to start cultivating”.

Juan Carlos Ocampo is a member of Prilka, an organization that works in more than 20 communities in the Twi Yahbra, Wangki Twi and Li Lamni territories. Ocampo agrees with Coleman that “the problem of food insecurity is widespread,” and adds that there is a loss of “the people's capacity to produce food”.

He believes that the cooperation they have received is "assistance-based" and regrets that it does not seek to strengthen capacities in the medium and long term and, instead, has created a vicious cycle. "There must be a logic, a long-term sustainability strategy, where there is a certain recovery of capacities," he recommends.

This was originally published in Spanish in Confidencial and translated by our staff

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