Yukoners study food security in Nicaragua

Yukoners have our own view on food security. If a storm or a flood blocks the highway, food might not get through for a few weeks. 

Yukoners have our own view on food security.

If a storm or a flood blocks the highway, food might not get through for a few weeks. In a worst-case scenario, groceries may have to be flown into town.

In May, two Yukoners got a chance to witness food security issues far from home during a trip to Nicaragua.

Zeb Berryman, 22, and Shawn Kitchen, 19, travelled to the Central American country as a part of a food study tour with the Canadian Foodgrains Bank.

The pair was part of a group of youth visiting projects designed to help Nicaraguans ensure a consistent source of nutritious food options.

“It’s one of those things you always hear about,” said Kitchen.

“As Christians ourselves and even just in social justice clubs at school, everyone always campaigns for it. You always see it and hear it but you’ve never experienced it. It’s totally different experiencing it.”

Canadian Foodgrains Bank, a partnership of 15 churches and church agencies, has been organizing trips like these for more than 10 years. This is the first time any youth from the territories have come along.

Co-ordinator Roberta Gramlich said the goal is to try and “engage Canadians, of all stripes, on the issue of hunger in the world and to have people here understand what some of the root causes of hunger are.”

But in the end what they came away with was a complicated answer.

“When I came in, I came in expecting to find very basic root causes for the hunger,” Berryman said.

“But it’s not like that at all. It’s a whole bunch of really complex different things that all kind of build together to create the situation, instead of it being one thing.”

The group travelled around Nicaragua for about two and a half weeks, visiting projects funded by the charity but managed by local partners.

Mostly the trip was just to observe, talk and learn, though the group did help out periodically. That includes the time they built trusses to help support cocoa trees. Whether or not they were much help is another question.

“It took us, to build five trusses, two hours, when it would have taken them 30 minutes if we weren’t there,” said Kitchen, a recent high school grad who starts flight school in September.

Nicaragua might not be the first place you think of when it comes to hunger. But it is, according to most statistics, the second poorest country in the Americas, after Haiti, Gramlich said.

Many Nicaraguans are small-scale farmers who depend on their small plot of land to earn a living and often only grow a single crop like beans or peppers.

That means Nicaraguans still have access to food but can struggle to find food between harvests. Or they may struggle with malnutrition because of a lack of variety in what they eat.

“So they might be eating rice and beans but that’s what they eat maybe once or twice a day and nothing else, so that they are malnourished,” Gramlich said.

It’s what the organization has dubbed “hidden hunger.”

“They’re just really getting by day to day. So if there is a hurricane or a major disaster, or a pest, or even dry conditions, and they can’t get a very good harvest, it will really impact them,” Gramlich said.

Both Kitchen and Berryman said they witnessed the damage that climate change is having in the area.

“They don’t have a winter, but they do have a rainy season. But the rainy season is way different now because of climate change. They don’t know when to plant things anymore, for example,” said Berryman, a Yukon College student.

It should have been the rainy season when they first arrived, Kitchen said, “but the rainy season started on the last day we were there. So it was two and a half weeks later than it should have been. It hasn’t been lasting as long, either.”

The group was able to witness a range of projects being run around the country. That included things like classes to teach farmers about land ownership and projects aimed at crop diversification, Gramlich said.

Kitchen said the food security issues in Nicaragua are different than anything he’s seen at home.

“Here, if the highway washes out like it did a few years ago, everyone still has food stashed away that they can live on. If everything shut down, most people in Whitehorse would be able to get by for a week or two or three, even later. Or the government will fly in food,” he said.

“They don’t have the money to buy food if they’re not growing it themselves, or they don’t have the stash. They’re really living on crop to crop. If the crop doesn’t come in they’re going to go hungry pretty fast.”

Still, both Kitchen and Berryman said they saw lots of signs that things are getting better.

The malnutrition rate in the country has dropped to 20 per cent, from 70 per cent 20 years ago, they said.

“If no one had told us they were the second poorest country, I wouldn’t have guessed,” Kitchen said. “When you walk around you can tell they have issues, but there’s a lot of progress being made.”

Contact Ashley Joannou at