Recognizing that almost half the Mexican population suffers from some degree of malnutrition, Carlos Hoyos is creating new ways of getting food inexpensively to these Mexicans and is making hunger a human rights and constitutional issue.
The New Idea
Carlos Hoyos' Popular Movement for Communities and Residents of the Southern Metropolitan Area in Mexico City, was initially a grassroots soup kitchen. Now it is transforming formerly government-run and subsidized community stores into efficient, profit-making, democratic businesses that provide quality low cost food to their poor customers.
He is also creating the first citizen-run database that tracks food so that both citizens and cooperative stores like those he runs can seek out the best prices and negotiate the prices of supplies from strength. He also publishes these results in a bimonthly newsletter. This newsletter is in turn part of a wider effort he is building that he hopes will trigger public pressure on the community to be concerned about market prices and nutrition and therefore spur effort to keep costs down, organize educational campaigns, design nutrition workshops, open soup kitchens, and implement breakfast programs for children to alleviate malnutrition. He hopes these efforts will ultimately cause public awareness to make food and nourishment a constitutional right for every citizen.
In Mexico, as in other countries facing rapid urbanization and unequal economic growth, many small, once rural communities are incrementally being swallowed by urban growth. Their people do not benefit from the public services usually available to city dwellers. Unlike the residents of more developed neighborhoods, they have to pay more, sometimes even double, for basic goods.
Usually, the larger supermarket chains cannot establish themselves in smaller communities and the people are forced to purchase their goods in any store available. The lack of market competitiveness makes the allegedly official price control completely ineffective and most store keepers set their prices aggressively.
More often than not, these residents have little income that come on an unstable, day-to-day basis. They therefore buy in small quantities, a few items at a time -- a buying pattern than further increases their costs. Life is much more expensive if one is poor.
A large part of the Mexican population suffers some form of malnutrition and only a small percentage are well nourished. This is reflected in the country's high infant mortality rate -- 39/1000 live births in 1990. The problem of malnutrition is rooted in a stubborn combination of poverty and ignorance regarding the importance of a nutritious and balanced diet. Too little time to cook, advertising, and convenience leaves junk food king.
Carlos's attack on hunger is proceeding at all levels, from local to national. Coalitions of the organizations that share his goals provide the broad base needed to power such a movement.
At the community action level he has built up PARSEP, a local organization that runs community stores, soup kitchens and a children's breakfast program. These community stores bring basic goods to eight thousand families more reliably, affordably, and are profitable without government subsidies.
In Mexico City's southwestern zone, Carlos so far has brought together four organizations of independent community stores to gain the price leverage of buying together and to collaborate in many other ways.
He has also now launched his DATA BASE of Alternative Projects for the Supply of Basic Goods. It is the first regional effort to compile and disseminate information regarding the often fluctuating prices of basic goods by supplies and market. So far, seven cooperatives have joined this effort, helping 150,000 families benefit from lower prices.
Carlos's largest organization is the Frente por el Derecho a la Alimentacion or the Movement for the Right to Nutrition which unites one hundred diverse organizations to lobby for the right to basic goods, quality control procedures, and adequate nutrition. Its techniques range from nutritional workshops to broad public campaigns.
Carlos ultimately would like to make freedom from hunger a constitutional right. He hopes that such an amendment would lead to legal action to assure more democratic management of the supply of basic goods. Some of the actions Frente proposes include:
• School breakfasts in public schools for young children.
• Subsidies to soup kitchens.
• Supply centers in rural and poor urban areas supported by the government and including subsidies for basic goods.
• Subsidized milk for indigenous, rural and poor urban areas.
• Adequate education on nutrition at all levels.
• An increase of the national production of basic goods.
Carlos Hoyos grew up in an upper-middle class family in Mexico City. His mother was always active in community work through the church's children's catechism, youth groups and couples groups. At the age of eighteen he decided to commit his life to helping others in less fortunate circumstances and became a member of the Congregation of Missionaries of the Holy Spirit.
After receiving his undergraduate degree in philosophy, Carlos studied Sociology and Theology for three years in Taller-Curso (a workshop course). He then undertook pastoral work for several years, during which he especially valued the experience of working with people very directly day-to-day. He worked with Christian youth at The University Center for Christian Life (CUVIC) where he taught boys basic religion, ethics, and how to reach solidarity with "the people". Finally he decided to dedicate himself to improving the nutritional situation of Mexico's inhabitants through the Movement.