A typical woman in Nicaragua is between the ages of 30 and 40, has 2 children, is married to a man with an income of less than $100 per month, and resides in an urban area. She makes sure that her children eat every time they ask for food. She also makes sure that she eats twice a day, even if she doesn’t feel like eating. Nothing goes to waste in her household, including scraps of food from the plate. When she can afford it, her diet includes meat once or twice a week.
There was a time when food scarcity was a life-threatening situation.
There was a time when food scarcity was a life-threatening situation. It’s still a problem for many families around the world, but there are some countries where it’s almost unheard of.
In developed countries, food security is usually considered a problem of access rather than abundance. In other words, people are able to get enough food to eat but may not always be able to afford it or choose the foods they want.
Food scarcity is another matter entirely — it means that people don’t have enough food at all. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that 815 million people were undernourished in 2016 and 17 million children die from malnutrition every year globally. And even in countries where most people have enough food on their plates, there can be pockets of extreme poverty where families struggle to feed themselves every day.
Nicaragua is one such country. According to the World Bank, more than 20 percent of Nicaraguans live below the national poverty line (the average income per person per day) and about 60 percent live in extreme poverty (less than $1 per day).
She is harvesting produce that she can use in cooking dishes for her children.
Food is a basic need, but for many people around the world, it is not a guarantee. In Nicaragua, where the average monthly income is less than $200, people often have to make difficult decisions about what food will be bought and what food will be grown.
In 2002, when Hurricane Mitch devastated the country, over 4,000 people died and most farmers lost everything they had worked so hard to build. Since then, Nicaragua has been recovering from this natural disaster and working hard to rebuild their country and economy.
A woman in Nicaragua is harvesting produce that she can use in cooking dishes for her children (like this one). She uses her own homegrown vegetables in addition to those that she buys at local markets.
It’s an obligation, especially when you are poor, to be a good mother and provider.
There’s a saying in Nicaragua: “A woman who doesn’t work is a lazy woman.” Women are expected to work, even if they’re poor and have children.
“It’s an obligation, especially when you are poor, to be a good mother and provider,” says Carla Orta, a sociologist at the University of Central America who studies gender issues. “If you don’t provide food for your family, then you are not fulfilling your role as a mother.”
Orta says she often hears stories of women who have to choose between going to work and taking care of their kids because they can’t find child care. Many women rely on their mothers or other relatives to watch their children while they’re at work. But that can cause stress on those relationships.
“Sometimes there’s conflict because the grandmother wants to go out with her friends,” Orta explains. “She doesn’t want to stay home all day with the grandkids.”
No more worries about not being able to put food on the table.
Women in Nicaragua are often the sole providers for their families. For many, this means having to forgo education, work outside the home or even have time for themselves.
However, through our Women’s Empowerment program, women are able to gain financial independence by selling healthy snacks and beverages at local markets and schools.
In 2016 alone, over 5,000 women were trained on how to make nutritious snacks like granola bars, nuts and dried fruit mixes — with all profits going directly into their pockets.
They are empowered not only by gaining independence but also by building healthy relationships with their families and communities while helping them stay healthy through nutritious food choices.
These are all ingredients that Chela needs to make some of Nicaragua’s traditional dishes.
Women in Nicaragua have been making tortillas, tamales, and other traditional dishes for centuries. But as Chela explains, these are not easy recipes to make and take a lot of time and preparation.
“When you prepare food for your family, you have to think about what you’re going to make them eat,” she says. “You have to think about how much time it will take, what ingredients you need and how much money it will cost.”
In Nicaragua, many women find themselves having to provide food for their families because they don’t earn enough as workers or because they don’t have access to formal employment.
These are all ingredients that Chela needs to make some of Nicaragua’s traditional dishes: corn flour (masa), salt and water. The corn flour is made from grinding the corn kernels into flour using a millstone or by hand with a molinillo (wooden mortar and pestle).
Although Western countries are imposing the notion of choice on women in the Global South, women must make the best decisions for themselves. Once given the opportunity and resources, women can provide food security. The decision to grow food is one that should come from within, starting with the community and then reaching out to the international world. By working together, we can make a positive difference in food security around the world, especially in less-developed regions.