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21 Days for World Hunger – Day 9: Plenty of Soy Solutions in Latin America

21 Days for World Hunger – Day 9: Plenty of Soy Solutions in Latin America

Today, Day 9, of 21 Days for World Hunger, I am focusing on Latin America. I’m in a much better mood than yesterday. You’re welcome.

Hunger in Latin America 

Hunger in Latin America – Kenda Swartz Pepper

I’m spending only one day on Latin America, and I think that marginalizes the food security issues that are prominent there, particularly in two main countries: Haiti and Guatemala. But I need to move onto Asia, where hunger is a more widespread and serious issue. 

The Global Hunger Index

The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) offers a useful (and uber cool) interactive map for The Global Hunger Index (GHI).

If the map is in German, click on it, and it should go back to English. Drag the marker to any country and click to see the severity of hunger in that country. Click again and the data compare present day to the data from 2005. It’s encouraging to see decreasing numbers, but those numbers still represent nearly one billion people. That’s too many hungry people.

Haiti, with a rating of 37.3 is the only country in Latin America that suffers from levels of hunger that are considered alarming. Guatemala comes in next with a rating of 21.1, serious.

The chart below shows that Haiti is still ranked number 1 (an average spanning three years 2014-2016) for having the highest prevalence of undernourished citizens. Haiti is ranked number 2 for having the highest domestic food price, and you’ll see like with several of these countries, the domestic food price increased in 2014.

This chart from the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN) Statistical Pocketbook World Food and Ag


Haiti – Droughts, Earthquakes, Hurricanes

If you’re following the news, then you know Haiti is being slammed, right now, by Hurricane Matthew. Haiti is still recovering from the devastation of Hurricane Sandy from 2012 when they faced a catastrophic food crisis from ruined farmland. Over one million Haitians, ten percent of the population, faced malnutrition; and half that amount, roughly 500,000 Haitians were at risk from life-threatening severe-acute malnutrition from the wrath of Sandy which came on the heels of tropical storm Isaac. Isaac devastated 40% of Haitian crops that were already suffering from a drought in Haiti. As if that isn’t tragic enough, Haiti hasn’t yet recovered from the 2010 earthquake that left 200,000 people dead and severely affected 3 million people, 30% of Haiti’s population. Tens of thousands remain homeless. Before the 2010 earthquake, nearly 2 million people were considered to be “food insecure” – meaning that they did not have adequate access to enough food.

Earthquakes, droughts, hurricanes. Haiti receives the brunt of mother nature’s wrath, and this doesn’t even include the ill effects of politics dumped upon the Haitian people.

The people of Haiti want to be self-sustaining. Haitian peanut farmers play a valuable role in growing crops that contribute to a life-saving product called Medika mamba (peanut butter). The nonprofit Meds and Food for Kids has fought against the power of US subsidies to keep these nearly 150,000 farmers in business. Media mamba is used to restore the health of seriously malnourished children. Its positive results are manifested in children as little as six weeks, and for Haitian peanut farmers, it is directly tied to their livelihoods – their longterm survival depends on it as well. At some point before the end of 2016, the USDA will be unloading a surplus of peanuts – 500 tons – onto Haiti. Why does the US have a peanut surplus? Because US taxpayers paid price subsidies to farmers. This could lead to a troubling destabilization of Haiti’s peanut industry and wreak havoc on the lives of the Haitian people.

Plenty International 

Plenty International is an organization that believes all life is connected and how we live affects the world. Plenty’s founders were committed to creating an organization to help protect and share the world’s abundance and knowledge for the benefit of all people. Plenty supports economic self-sufficiency, cultural integrity and environmental responsibility in partnership with families, community groups and other organizations in Central America, the U.S., the Caribbean, and Africa.

Plenty began as an intentional community in 1974 called The Farm with some of their earliest inspiration coming from organizations like Food First and its founder, Francis Moore Lappé, author of Diet for a Small Planet (20th Anniversary Edition). Lappé claimed that the real causes of world hunger are not related to shortages of food, but rather how access to food is controlled by the food industry. The Farm members researched and experimented with various vegetable proteins and agreed that the humble (organic, non-GMO) soybean was the answer to their growing community’s nutritional needs.

Most of Plenty’s programs are decades old and are staffed by local people. The key elements for Plenty to work in a particular area are: to be invited, the existence of a real need and one that they believe Plenty can help with, and the involvement of local people who are committed and want to work with Plenty.

The World Food Crisis – a Vegetarian Perspective

In 2008, Lisa Wartinger, Associate Director of Plenty, wrote an article for the North American Vegetarian Society’s Vegetarian Voice Magazine entitled The World Food Crisis – a Vegetarian Perspective. Here, Wartinger discusses how the humble soybean helped alleviate malnutrition in Guatemala after the devastating 1976 earthquake:

Plenty volunteers soon assisted Mayan villagers in the affected area, constructing houses, schools, installing water systems and providing medical care, utilizing the same community-building skills that created The Farm. Our eyes were opened to the high level of malnutrition of the rural poor, and growing soybeans and producing soy foods in Guatemala became a natural outgrowth of Plenty’s efforts. It eventually became a multi-year program that spawned the world’s first Mayan soy dairy and trained several thousand people how to prepare basic soy foods. Over time, Plenty’s soy work expanded to many other countries.

Plenty’s largest program in Central America is in Belize with a focus on sustainable agriculture. Plenty Belize Program Director Mark Miller reported: “Prices are getting harder for a lot of people to deal with. Flour increased by 60% and is harder to get. Belize exports corn and beans and produces enough rice for its people, but the pressure to export more to bring in cash for the economy is making it tough on the people here.

Wartinger adds how some analysts like Walden Bello and activist Vandana Shiva, argue that the most critical cause of the food crisis is the push to globalize agriculture with “free market” policies; thus liberalizing trade and allowing subsidized food produced by wealthier nations to unfairly supplant domestic production.

Countries that were former food producers and exporters like Mexico and the Philippines, have become net importers of food, thereby undermining their ability to meet their own domestic food needs and support local farming economies; ultimately, creating more poverty.

Soy to the Rescue

The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, cites soy vs. meat production studies from Europe, which showed that meat production (depending upon the type) used 6 to 17 times as much land as soy. Water use was 4.4 to 26 times; and fossil fuels 6 to 20 times. Meat-based diets use about twice as many environmental resources as soy-based diets.

Wartinger shares how soy protein is equal in quality to animal protein, and requires less land to produce equivalent amounts. One pound of soybeans yields about one gallon of soy milk, at roughly 1/5 the price of cow’s milk. Soy milk and tofu (soy cheese) are easily incorporated into traditional foods to boost their protein, iron, calcium, and B vitamin content. Plenty’s Mayan friends in Guatemala have realized, first-hand, the benefits of including small amounts of fresh soy milk and tofu in their family diets. Their “lecheria de soya” in the town of Solola sells these foods to local residents.

Supporting local food self-sufficiency in Plenty’s communities as opposed to big investments in mono-cropping for export is key. This entails technological, material, and financial support for small farmers, community, family and school gardens, nutrition education, organic methods, as well as local food processing. The end results are good nutrition and reduced hunger which produce better maternal and child health, lowered child mortality, and increased productivity and income. These factors ease the grip of poverty and reduce negative human pressures on the environment—all of which create well-being and sustainability.

The following is a partial reprint from an earlier interview I had with leaders of Plenty International: Peter Schweitzer, Executive Director, Lisa Wartinger, Associate Director, and Mark Miller, Executive Director of Plenty’s Belize program.

Politics: What prevents people (those living with hunger) from having an ample supply of food?

Limited access to arable land and/or seed, tools and too often farming skills may be lost among populations that have been made dependent upon food aid. Limited access to land may be a result of political oppression and restrictive land rights as well as environmental degradation (deforestation, erosion etc.).

Is it true that the famine conditions in several third world countries are not the result of food shortages arising from natural calamities but the result of man-made disasters?

Even so-called natural disasters are typically exacerbated by human failures: witness the poorly constructed levees in New Orleans and inadequate evacuation planning and implementation. Witness the cheaply and poorly constructed over-crowded housing units in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and the decades of wrong-headed economic manipulations. For example, the UN’s International Monetary Fund (IMF) mandated “structural adjustment” and so-called “trade liberalization” that can help diminish a country like Haiti’s food self-sufficiency while increasing dependency on more expensive imported foods and driving farming families into the big city to find jobs in export manufacturing industries.

What are the political obstacles to sustainable agriculture? How are you overcoming those obstacles?

Plenty is focused on supporting efforts by families and communities to achieve as much nutrition self-sufficiency as possible – to get higher and more nutritious yields off limited land resources by introducing organic permaculture methods and vegetable proteins like soy beans.

Education is also an important part of this effort, and Plenty has been working with school children and youths in particular to help address these problems.

What role does GM Food play in hindering sustainable agriculture for those living with hunger?

GM attacks and depletes traditional seed stock which often exhibits a pedigree going back many generations. GM seed is controlled by multi-nationals far removed from the village farmer.

What is the greatest cause of malnutrition for those living in dire conditions and what is the most optimal solution?

For people in truly dire conditions, food distribution and supplementation is a valid short term response. But other responses should be planned and implemented for the mid and long term. Plenty has been focusing on the mid and long term responses such as food security and sustainable agriculture.

Could you tell me the staple foods of those living in hunger in those non-U.S. regions with which you operate?

Typically white rice is eaten, often cooked with some coconut milk. Beans are most often red or black, and sometimes split peas are eaten.

In Southern Belize, the 3 big staple foods are: Rice, beans, and corn. Some traditional staples include banana/plantain, ground foods (yams, cocoyams, yampi, etc.), breadfruit, and breadnut. These are being replaced as they are eaten less, and flour (especially white flour), potatoes, and ramen noodles are increasing. Chicken is the most prevalent protein in a Belizean meal at any time of day.

Given that last sentence stating how chicken is (or rather chickens are) the most prevalent protein in a Belizean meal at any time of day. This is also the case for those living in hunger? I assumed that those living in hunger wouldn’t have as much access to animal agriculture.

For those who are malnourished, living in hunger, chicken is still the most prevalent source of protein – if they are eating more than just corn tortillas. Belizeans will skip vegetables and fruits regularly. Chicken is relatively inexpensive due to the work of the Mennonite community in Belize.

I want to relay to the readers that they can receive ample protein through plant sources and how there is a worldwide misconception that one must eat animals to receive proper protein – especially given all the related diseases that come with animal consumption. Black beans, yams and corn actually contain more protein than a serving of chicken.

We know you don’t need to eat meat and that you can feed at least ten times the number of people off an acre of land with vegetable protein. Now we are learning that factory farming is a major consumer of water resources and a leading source of greenhouse gases. People change eating habits only reluctantly, but we have had some success in teaching people alternatives like the variety of foods that can be made from soy and the importance of a variety of vegetables and organic home gardens.

The thing we have seen, for instance, in Guatemala among the Maya is that they tend to sell their beans for cash and eat mostly tortillas. We introduced the practice of mixing soy flour with the masa where 5 percent soy flour increases the protein value of masa by 20 percent. We have also found that even if you are eating enough, you can be malnourished if you suffer from intestinal parasites which are the prevalent case throughout communities where accessible potable running water is rare. So you have to deal with malnutrition from many different angles.

How would you compare the typical American diet to that of those living with hunger?

Much of the world is trying to copy the American diet. Buying processed food from a shop holds a higher level of prestige than growing your own food. This is leading to NCDs (Non-communicable Diseases) like diabetes, hypertension, etc.

What would you say is the number one realistic solution for eliminating world hunger and why?

There needs to be a paradigm shift in the allocation of global resources away from military and defense expenditures away from war and toward the elimination of poverty which kills 25,000 children every day. Every community deserves primary health care, which includes adequate accessible potable water. As a species we will be able to afford this the instant we eliminated killing each other as an acceptable means of solving our differences. We also have the effects of climate change to deal with. War is no longer an option.

What can I tell the readers about Plenty?

Plenty has operated since 1974, and every day brings new and invaluable lessons. After all these years, we can state unequivocally that any one person can make a difference. When you decide to help, you attract help. Miracles do happen. There is nothing we’d rather be doing.

Many thanks to Peter, Lisa and Mark of Plenty International for their knowledge and wisdom and for making the world a better place.


Day 9 Food Intake
My scale tells me I’m 114, but the scale at my doctor’s office says the number is 4 pounds higher. No matter, I am 3.5 pounds less today than when I began this journey nine days ago. This is the number I’m watching, closely. I am not on a mission to lose weight but I do want to follow the outcome of this experiment.

Have I mentioned that this whole scale thing irritates me? For those who are perpetual dieters, it becomes a mind game that pulls one to focus only on those numbers as opposed to the big picture; healthy and reasonable food consumption, moderate exercise, lean muscle mass versus fat, bone density, overall feeling of contentment in one’s life, etc. These numbers on the scale mean very little from one day to the next. For those habitual dieters and weighers, perhaps weekly measurements would give you more accurate results?

A Pound of Fat

One pound of fat is equal to about 3500 calories. Tossing some numbers around, I am 3.5 pounds lighter today than nine days ago.

3.5 X 3500 calories = 12,250 calories

If that’s true, then in nine days, I have decreased my intake by an average of 1361 calories. That’s fairly accurate. However, there’s no guarantee I lost 3.5 pounds of fat. Some of that may be lean muscle or maybe it’s water. Either way I’m lighter – physically. Emotionally, not so much. No doubt this would be easier if I had some downtime.

Today I ate basically the same food as yesterday only in a different order. In honor of Latin America, we had beans and rice again for dinner, but also because it’s my favorite meal. To see my husband’s sensational recipe, check out yesterday’s post. Also check out the recipes from Vegan Mexican Food of the Food Empowerment Project.


Tomorrow I’m taking the day off from publishing a post. This itty bitty reprieve will afford me some more research time. I’ll keep up the Food Justice Diet (more beans n’ rice ya’ll!). Stay tuned, same bat channel, for Asia or agriculture. I haven’t decided yet.


In this world of plenty every human being has a right to food, clothes, decent shelter, and the rudiments of education.
~ Elizabeth Cady Stanton

It is poverty to decide that a child must die so that you may live as you wish.
~Mother Teresa of Calcutta


To read other posts in this series, click click click the links. Please share your comments!

Day 1:    The Food Justice Diet
Day 2:    Alarming and Curious Statistics
Day 3:    Finish Your Plate, There are Children Starving in Ethiopia
Day 4:    The Nameless Hungry
Days 5-6:  “Where Does She Get Her Protein??”
Day 7:    One Small NGO Making a Big Impact in Ethiopia
Day 8:    The Language of Hunger
Day 9:    Plenty of Soy Solutions in Latin America
Days 10-11: Can Small-scale farming feed the world?
Day 12: Why Organic Farming?
Days 13-14: The Have and Have-Nots of Southeast Asia
Day 15: Have You Eaten Today?
Day 16: Hunger in America
Days 17 & 18: Hunger’s Dirty Little Secret
Day 19: Eat Plants
Day 20: Watch This, Read That
Day 21: The Power of Activism



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