The United Nations food aid agency has stepped in to help in southern Bolivia’s El Chaco region, where a long dry spell has decimated maize harvests, threatening an entire culture of indigenous corn growers with destitution. The fertile El Chaco lowlands are home to the Weenhayek community, a predominately indigenous population of corn farmers accustomed to dry spells. The current one, however, has gone on for months with rainfall an estimated 40 per cent below the yearly average.
The drought in this area has slashed corn crops by 80 per cent or more in seven out 16 municipalities, with several declaring a failed harvest. Farmers of cash crops such as sesame, peanuts and beans have fared no better, dealing a serious blow to the local economy. Already, families have begun selling off their land and animals, while countless others flock to the city in search of work. As the price of food soars and the value of their assets falls, families throughout El Chaco are struggling to stay fed.
The World Food Program (WFP) reported yesterday that it has started providing a range of different initiatives, aimed especially at the estimated 60,000 people who have already exhausted their food supplies and are in the most urgent need in assistance. According to the Bolivian Government, more than 19,500 families – or some 100,000 people – will require food assistance this year as a result of the drought.
WFP’s initiatives include Food for Work programmes that provide jobless men and women with food and cash for their families, in exchange for work on projects that benefit their communities. In normal times, the agency’s school meals programmes provide over 80,000 children across Bolivia with regular, nutritious meals, while giving them an added incentive to get an education.