Dry Beans: A Food Staple in Central America
November 23, 2005
A U.S. Dry Bean Council trade delegation comprising Tim Courneya, Northarvest Bean Growers Association, as well as Neal Gettel and Bob Green, both representing the Michigan Bean Commission experienced firsthand the importance of beans to the Central American diet, in a food aid visit to the countries of Guatemala and Honduras in August.
The purpose of the visit was to review food aid efforts involving U.S. dry bean, and visit the organizations that are working with local people who are receiving food aid.
One meeting was with officials of the World Food Program (WFP), the food aid arm of the United Nations which combats hunger in underdeveloped nations. The WFP staff was interested in nutritional information available on dry beans, and whether there were any new bean products in the market. Since beans are used daily in all three meals, concerns were raised as to whether requests for beans would continue. Also discussed was the potential for multi-class bean ordering.
Tim Courneya discusses current relief efforts with a representative of Feed the Poor in Honduras.
The group also visited with officials of USAID Honduras, which sponsors CARE, Save the Children, World Vision and the Adventist Development and Relief Agency. Many people don't have the capacity to purchase beans, so the program to include U.S. beans is very important in helping the hunger situation in Honduras.
A typical meal distributed by Food for the Poor.
Bags of pinto beans donated by the U.S. government for free distribution in Honduras.Honduras is one of the more impoverished countries in Central America. The diet here is bean-based, and in many cases, bean-dependent. Small red beans are highly consumed in Honduras, with rations that are a must for the feeding program. Rations are based on the most distressed areas, which are distributed through communities to children under two and pregnant and lactating mothers. Many of the poor also receive a ration through the Food for Work program. The rations go to people who are at risk and where the unemployment rate is approximately 68%.
The U.S. bean delegation visited a Super Mercado retail establishment which was watched over by many guards, which is typical of the retail establishments. The main brand for whole beans recognized by the group was Goya. Other brands included La Costena from Mexico. The canned products available were small reds, garbanzos, black beans and refried beans. The only packaged product was one class of small red beans.
In Guatemala, the group also visited a USAID office, where there are four different programs that order food goods including beans from the U.S. Delegation members were dismayed to hear that it can take months to receive shipments, something the delegation noted needs to be resolved.
The Guatemalan people love black beans. Even though it seems that Guatemala has a higher standard of living compared to Honduras, programs such as Share, Food for Work and others are still needed to supply education programs, assist with infant nutrition and support income.
The U.S. group learned from the assistance organizations that one delicate situation they must manage carefully is distributing food to the feeding/distribution centers, without disturbing local domestic markets with the food aid imports. Governments are sensitive to local farmers' concerns about too much food aid that can drive down prices for locally-produced food, and understandably so. With poverty so widespread, there is a delicate balance to feeding the people, while at the same time maintaining and strengthening the local agricultural infrastructure.
Neal Gettel of the Michigan Bean Commission hands out crayons the group brought for distribution to the children.