Luis Enrique Monterroso has been a deeply committed advocate for stronger nutrition and better access to nutrition for the people of his native Guatemala since he began his public career decades ago. His successful journey into public and government life, and now as one of Guatemala and Central America’s most powerful voices for nutrition, has been both rewarding and challenging.
“One death due to malnutrition and undernutrition is one too many in my eyes, but the progress and national awareness we’ve brought across all sectors of society in Guatemala has been truly remarkable,” says Monterroso.
“First of all I would like to thank the Transform Nutrition Consortium. This recognition implies responsibility for action. We cannot talk about hunger and remain inactive.
I want also to thank David Nabarro. It is because the SUN Movement has hugely contributed to the social environment my country is currently living. Guatemalan citizens had lost faith, malnutrition was considered a monstrous and invincible reality. Today it is different. Today fighting malnutrition rises social passion; we have over 100 groups united in a movement called “I have something to give”. This initiative supports Zero Hunger Pact achievements and has become the biggest public-private partnership in the history of Guatemala. The entire government cabinet and 1500 civil servants visited rural with high undernourishment rates through this movement.
The business sector joined the fight against hunger and established the so-called nutrition alliance, which brings together more than 169 corporate foundations and is operating today in coordination with public entities. International cooperation is aligned to national efforts and social actors are re-inventing their own vision to build together the change we all want to live.
Faith in the future gives us power in the present. And this recognition by the Transform Nutrition Consortium makes us feel that we are on the right track. Because ALL HAVE SOMETHING TO GIVE to end malnutrition.”
–Luis Enrique Monterroso
In 2012, as part of his “National Agenda for Change,” Guatemala’s President made malnutrition one of his top priorities through the country’s National Zero Hunger Pact, which aims to reduce chronic malnutrition among children under the age of five. The program also addresses the underlying causes of under nutrition, such as the creation of income generation opportunities, improved water and sanitation facilities, and better education for women.
“At the end of 2011, there was a rate of 22 deaths per 1,000 children with severe malnutrition. At the end of 2012, we had reduced this rate by 50%; in other words, 11 deaths per 1,000,” he says. “It is unfortunate as one child that dies is one too many. We have a mandate from the President to end malnutrition in this country.”
As the Secretary of the Food Security and Nutrition Secretariat/SESAN, Monterroso has been able to successfully bring together government authorities (such as the President, Vice President and Head Ministries), as well as development partners, the private sector and civil society, toward the goal of drastically reducing malnutrition and undernutrition in his country through the principles of the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) Movement.
Joined by Guatemala’s Vice President, Monterroso travels frequently to remote parts of Guatemala, where malnutrition is most visible, to monitor implementation of SUN efforts and National Zero Hunger Pact projects. These are the very parts of the country where Monterroso, as a young economics student, realized the devastating impact malnutrition was having on Guatemala’s poorest farming communities.
“In my travels overseas or when speaking to my counterparts, I always stress the economic implications of malnutrition. You see, when you improve nutrition, you improve education and the national intellect,” says Monterroso. “For every one dollar you invest in nutrition the return is $14 – that is a huge investment in the intellect and future of our nation.”
Monterroso is open about discussing the political and economic obstacles he’s had to overcome to ensure nutrition remains a top priority for his nation. Yet, he has not wavered on his commitment to tackle malnutrition and ensure the prosperity of new Guatemalan generations. In fact, Monterrosso believes the success of SUN and the National Zero Hunger Pact can be replicated in neighboring nations with similar results.
“Look at Chile, look at Mexico. They have strong track records of ending malnutrition,” he says. “They have been able to manage the resources successfully and provide help to those that need it most. And as we have seen in many of these countries, if you end malnutrition, you end poverty.”