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domingo, 25 de octubre 2020
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“Little Revolution” against Hunger in Manaure

by Natalia Piedrahita Tamayo


Rice beverage, goat blood sausage, lentil and sardine croquettes, among other recipes, are part of the work carried out with the Manaure community. Photo credit: Marcela Lopez Rios.

Located in a desert area, not far from the salt mines emporium and surrounded by the exotic Media Guajira landscape is the Manaure territory, at a temperature of 35 °C. It is inhabited by some 160 people of the Arpushana clan, divided into three communities.

In this region, where the absence of the state is the rule, the fundamental rights of children and adults alike are violated. “Maternal and child health was neglected, they had no access to water, and feeding practices were poor. All of this was linked to low employment rates and a lack of health resources.” That was the state of affairs which Marcela Lopez Rios —graduate and researcher of Universidad de Antioquia’s National Faculty of Public Health (Facultad Nacional de Salud Publica: FNSP)— found when she first arrived in the region, and it is still in her memory.

In 2015, driven by the devastation imposed by the model of extractivism, Lopez set out to contribute to a positive transformation of that reality. Her first encounter with the issue of the Wayuu community’s health occurred when she was taking the undergraduate program in Health Services Management and was a member of the Interest in Indigenous Health Group (GISI). There, she met fellow student Carmen Frias Epinayu, who told her about undernutrition in children in her community.

A conversation with the taita about his view on everyday subjects in a maloka was Lopez’s first direct contact with the Wayuu community. Since then, she has wanted to move past the idea that knowledge is created only to write academic papers. Her research for her master’s degree in public health, plus the community’s voices, offered her the tools to navigate the problems she was witnessing. “To transform a reality, first we need to make it visible from the perspective of the people who experience it on a daily basis. That was the first part of my work”, she explained.

They have the “hunger disease” there, and it affects both children and adults. To add insult to injury, they have been constantly victimized by some media which claim that these communities let their children die. “It makes no difference to the members of the community whether people talk to them about obesity, malnutrition, undernutrition or eating disorders. In their community, it is called ‘hunger’, and it has to do with geographic, political and social factors”, Rios explained.

La Guajira is in the top three provinces with the highest food insecurity rates in the country. In 2019, 1,610 cases of severe undernutrition and 64 deaths related to it were reported. At present, only three of the sixteen hospitals in La Guajira are equipped to handle complex cases of acute undernutrition.

*Colombia government and Human Rights Watch Colombia data.

She knew she needed much more than a research project to bring about change, but she decided to start a little revolution hand in hand with this community and a team of FNSP professionals in the middle of the myriad questions raised by the urgency to improve the community’s nutrition.

To Carmen Frias Epinayu, “The hunger disease is, to a great extent, the result of a lack of crops. There is no way to work the land without access to drinking water.” When this project began to be developed, the only water source close to the community was a 25-meter deep well.

Ancestral Recipe Book and Community Vegetable Garden

With a diagnosis made on a door-to-door basis, the work team investigated the farming and herding practices of Wayuu families. A fundamental resource emerged from this: a recipe book with the best of their culinary traditions. It is based, of course, on their economic and productive capabilities.

It is essential for this community to strengthen its relationship with Mother Nature or Pacha Mama. Corn is a common ingredient in many of their recipes: Yajaushi, chicha and yaja are some of the most widely consumed products in their settlements. Other common ingredients in their recipes are cacti, goat meat and entrails and Guajiro beans. These products sparked the idea of a recipe book in Wayuunaiki language. Its main goal was the recovery of ancestral practices, and it was inspired by the concept of interculturalism to recognize the practices that this community has lost and which, if implemented again, may improve aspects of its nutrition.

To Lopez Rios and her team, more important than the project —which was finished in February but will hold its presence in the region— was the proposal for self-sufficiency that they left. This is why they set out to recover recipes such as rice beverage, goat blood sausage and lentil and sardine croquettes, among others.

Moreover, the vegetable garden, which is currently 6 hectares in size, brings to life the social impact that these projects can have. In such cases, knowledge isn’t used up in a scientific publication, but it paves the way for a social transformation and the promotion of food sovereignty.

A great challenge remains: the access to drinking water, which is a pillar of health and good food practices. Even though the Manaure Mayor’s Office built a small aqueduct that remedies the situation, there are still problems left over. Academia can be the hub of change for communities, but it needs the political sector to put in efforts to promote sustainability in remote regions.

Social Research Award

This project, called Community Perspectives and Strategies Related to Undernutrition in Children in Three Communities of the Manaure Indigenous Territory, in La Guajira: an Analysis Based on the Social Determinants of Health, won the Jorge Bernal Social Research Award (Premio a la Investigación Social Jorge Bernal), given by Confiar Cooperativa Financiera. With the funds from this contest and the support from the National Faculty of Public Health, Lopez Rios promoted the setting up of community vegetable gardens in the area as an exchange strategy for the communities to fight starvation.

However, hunger is also the result of territorial isolation. It is a remote community located 42 km away from the village Aremasain. To reach it, people have to go over a trail, which makes trade difficult. “In the absence of rain, one of our options to finance farming and herding is the sale of crafts, but all too often it can’t be done because there are no markets”, Frias Epinayu pointed out.

There is more. The problem of food security is part of a chain in which undernutrition in children is cyclical. Lopez Rios asserted that, behind an undernourished child, is an undernourished mother, whose milk is usually watery because she didn’t eat properly during pregnancy and didn’t have proper prenatal checkups either.

Breaded Stuffed Onions
Süpüla jaraii wayuu

Onion / Cebolla
Egg / Kalinsho
Flour / Jarina
Goat’s heart / Sain kaula
Capizuna beans / Pitchusa’a
Salt / Ichii
Oil / Ceite

Cook the beans with a little salt and the heart cut into small pieces. Peel away the onion’s outer layers and keep them. Mince the onion’s inner layers. Mix up until you have a uniform mixture. Put it inside the onion and coat it in a whisked egg and flour. Fry it until it is thoroughly cooked.


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