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30 August 1999

Self-Sufficiency Increases in Rural Areas

By Pilar Franco

MEXICO CITY, Aug 20 (IPS) - Marginal communities in seven Mexican states have enjoyed the opportunity to improve their daily diet thanks to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), which promotes food self-sufficiency to eliminate hunger around the world.

The Rincon del Agua community, situated in the Hidalgo Valley - one of the poorest states in Mexico - was incorporated this year into FAO's campaign to stamp out malnutrition. Some 120 residents of the valley, which is 100 kilometres from the capital, have benefited from the project with utilises resources from the global campaign Telefood, which funds programmes for rural populations in more than 90 countries with the motto ''food for all.''

With an investment of just 4,000 dollars, Telefood is developing in Rincon del Agua a ''practical programme, which will bring immediate results in terms of much-needed food for the people,'' Maricarmen Culebro, programme director of FAO, told IPS.

In Mexico, 40 percent of the nearly 100 million inhabitants live in poverty and, on average, 82 children less than a year old die every day for reasons linked to malnutrition, according to a variety of studies.

FAO hopes to achieve food self-sufficiency and to generate an alternate source of income for the town of Rincon del Agua. In coordination with the Women's Programme of the Secretariat of Agriculture and Livestock Farming of Mexico, it is also offering workshops on nutrition.

With a lot of hard work, 21 families have learned techniques of planting and organic pest control, as well as how to harvest fruits and vegetables. After receiving technical assistance to install organic vegetable and herb gardens, a small orchard, and a rustic chicken coop, each family was given legume seeds, five pear trees and five apple trees, which will bear fruit within three years, as well as 10 chickens.

However, the ''greatest effort was not to teach people how to care for these resources which will help feed them, but rather to overcome their suspicion of assistance programmes,'' said Guadalupe Diaz, head of the programme in Hidalgo for the Secretariat of Agriculture and Livestock Farming.

Teresa Santillan, 56, said: ''I never thought that the things they told us would actually come true. The government always comes to ask us a mountain of questions, and then they never come back.''

Ana Lilia Dominguez, a 21-year-old mother of two small children, affirmed that the food the family is growing will be indispensable, especially once her husband leaves for the United States in search of work.

Bruno Vargas, another resident, managed to repair the chicken coop which he installed on the side of his house with income from the daily sales of some 20 eggs.

FAO and the Secretariat of Agriculture and Livestock Farming are promoting personal consumption over commercial sales through educational courses on nutritional health. One small example of the change in the nutritional standards of the families enrolled in the programme was when Gabina Santillan said that now she can give eggs to her sisters and make flan for her children, Diaz stressed.

The resources provided by Telefood in Mexico are limited, but they have a huge impact on the nutritional health of the beneficiaries, affirmed Culebro. FAO is adding its own efforts to the project, so that it can fulfill its promise by 2015 of reducing by half the number of people suffering from hunger in the world. Telefood, the World Food Day and Food for All campaign are some of the initiatives with which they hope to meet the targets set at the World Summit celebrated in Rome in 1996, underlined Culebro. ''The idea is to develop productive projects rather than assistance projects, as we think that the problem will not go away with hand-outs that assuage hunger for a day, but rather with resources that will feed the people every day,'' she indicated.

With the basic concept of achieving nutritional self- sufficiency in local communities, FAO is promoting agricultural and fishing programmes at a cost of some 33,000 dollars in the states of Yucatan and Campeche in the south, Chihuahua and Coahuila in the north, Veracruz in the east, and Nayarit in the country's central region.

Culebro noted that following its entrance in 1994 into the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the so-called ''club of the rich,'' Mexico ''no longer qualified to receive donations.''

[c] 1999, InterPress Third World News Agency (IPS)
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