Dawn looms in the Sierra Madre of Western Guatemala. Through heavy mist, I watch hundreds of subsistence farmers file through cornfields up the side of the giant Santa María volcano. The farmers-many of them barefoot, emaciated peasant women carrying babies on their backs-have a long climb ahead of them; their tiny corn plots are terraced far up the mountainside.
Corn is Guatemala’s biggest dietary staple. Every kernel that can be wrung from the land-no matter how rocky and remote-counts in this country racked by hunger. The rate of chronic malnutrition here is the fourth highest in the world, and nearly half the country’s children under five are hungry. Of course, Guatemala’s situation is far from unique. Over 70 countries struggle with food shortages, according to the World Food Programme (WFP), a United Nations agency that provides emergency rations for hundreds of thousands of Guatemalans.
Canadians think their country is doing a lot for food aid, and with good reason: WFP already receives more support from Canada, per capita, than from any other nation. But as I discovered in my recent travels through Guatemala, where the hunger problem is rural and affects mostly peasant farmers and their families, Canada’s trade policies may be making things worse.