An entrepreneur by heart, Alvaro Castillo has always been passionate about making Guatemala a better place. So when he and a group of business leaders sought the council of a leading global development organization on ways in which his country could achieve more social and economic progress; he was shocked to hear that malnutrition was the single biggest obstacle holding his country back. “It was an eye-opener for me,” confesses Castillo, who leads Guatemala’s Alliance for Nutrition. “After getting the report and reviewing its findings, there was no doubt in my mind that we needed to take immediate action and commit ourselves to tackling the scourge of chronic malnutrition.”
Chronic malnutrition, or stunting, affects 49.8% of children under the age of 5, the highest rate for any country in Latin America and Caribbean, limiting Guatemala’s economic and social development. According to Castillo, nutrition is an economic investment, an engine for economic growth to ensure a more prosperous future for Guatemalans. “I was not a nutrition expert at the time, but I knew that education and training were the most powerful tools we could use to fight and prevent stunting, especially among poor and indigenous communities in remote areas of the country,” he notes.
The Alliance for Nutrition is a group of private organizations and society leaders committed to tackling stunting by influencing public opinion and public policies on national food safety. The goal is to ensure that 13 essential and prioritized actions suggested by the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) Movement are implemented effectively across Guatemala through the government, international cooperation, private sector efforts and social mobilization, focusing on the 1,000 day window of opportunity between a mother’s pregnancy and her child’s second birthday.
Prior to the Alliance‘s public launch in April 2013, Castillo unified resources towards a common goal, reducing chronic malnutrition to 33% by 2021. The partnership has been successful as Guatemala has lowered its malnutrition prevalence less than 1% per year during the last 15 years. “We knew we were making progress but there was no way to properly audit or measure that progress so that we could build a long-term roadmap for future,” Castillo adds.
Under Castillo’s guidance, the Alliance, in cooperation with the Secretariat for Food Security and Nutrition, focuses on the 1,000 days window, which has now been implemented in 450 of the most vulnerable Guatemalan communities. These are actions that Castillo hopes will be scaled up to 2,000 communities in the future and will help reduce chronic malnutrition by 2% each year. “We want to create a permanent nutrition movement in Guatemala that is focused, committed and most important, successful, regardless of political ideology. Otherwise, we will never see progress and prosperity for our people,” Castillo says.