Lessons Learned

  • Guatemala is a country with a clear MSP structure, existing within their legal framework, that is seen as a model for others in the region.
  • There is a high political commitment to food security and nutrition. Ministries have been working towards ending malnutrition, coordinated by SESAN, which is recognised and endorsed by every actor in the food and nutrition sector. However this political commitment does not always translate to commitment and action at local level.
  • Political instability and constant changes in personnel at all levels create an unstable working environment, lack of leadership and direction.
  • Challenges coordinating inter and intra-sectorally, as well as translating policies into coordinated action at local level
  • Lack of accountability and feedback mechanisms, with no data collection systems at local level to feed into the national information systems.

Purpose of the MSP

Guatemala created its multi-sectoral platform (MSP) in 2005, with the enactment of the first Law of the National Food and Nutrition Security System (SINASAN). The aim was to organise and coordinate all multisector activities related to Food Security and Nutrition. The Law mandates the State respect, promote and ensure food and nutrition security in Guatemala. By establishing the SINASAN, the government of Guatemala assigned responsibilities to its members and created the governance bodies to coordinate and implement the National Strategic Plan on Food Security and Nutrition (PESAN). The four bodies are the National Council for Food and Nutrition Security (CONASAN), the Secretariat for Food Security and Nutrition of the Presidency of the Republic (SESAN), the Entity for Civil Society Consultation and Participation (INCOPAS), and the Group of Supporting Institutions (GIA), (including United Nations agencies, embassies and cooperation agencies from various countries).


The SINASAN has three levels of action related to Food Security and Nutrition in the country. The first one, the political level, coordinated by CONASAN, as the policy and decision maker at national level. CONASAN is presided over by the Vice President of Guatemala and sits below the presidency. The second level, the technical coordination and planning, led by SESAN. The third level, the implementation one, composed by all ministries and institutions responsible for the direct operationalization of the PESAN.


Guatemala’s commitment to Food Security and Nutrition has been ongoing since 1976, and strengthened throughout the years. Nutrition features on the Constitution supporting the Human Right to Adequate Food. All presidents have shown high-level commitment to Food Security and Nutrition. SINASAN (Guatemala’s MSP) is recognized as a model for multi-sector, multi-stakeholder Food Security and Nutrition governance in the Latin American region. The MSP and its decentralization structure is framed by the law.

Jimmy Morales, elected president in October 2015, is committed to Food Security and Nutrition. He launched the new National Strategy for the Prevention of Chronic Malnutrition 2016–2020 (ENPDC), to reduce stunting among children under 2 by 10 percentage points by 2020 and the 2016-2020 Strategic Plan for Food Security and Nutrition (PESAN) provide the political framework to support the achievement of targets. He is a member of the SUN Movement Lead Group, which has the overall responsibility for the Movement’s progress towards achieving its objectives. They ensure the alignment of all actors with the Movement’s Principles of Engagement and aim to preserve the Movement’s unique country-driven character. At the Ibero-American summit in 2018, Guatemala is leading the organization of a regional Nutrition event, signaling high interest in the issue.

The MSP’s leader and focal point is the Secretary of SUN. In Guatemala, a secretary is at the same level of a minister. While SESAN is recognised by all stakeholders as the coordination body for all food security and nutrition topics, the institution’s power varies depending on the support they receive from the President.

However, the Government of Guatemala is currently facing some serious political challenges. It has been undergoing structural changes since 2015, when the former president Otto Molina stepped down amidst corruption scandals and Jimmy Morales, the new president, was elected. This has meant constant changes of Ministers and Heads of Secretariats. SESAN recently (early 2018) appointed a new Secretary and Sub-Secretary.

This political instability and lack of leadership translates into its institutions and governance bodies (eg. CONASAN), reflecting lack of clear direction and action on how to end malnutrition in the country. All institutions working on food security and nutrition have a very high turnaround of all personnel, including key decision-makers. This creates an environment of mistrust between sectors and actors, where is very difficult to take decisions or actions, and very challenging to communicate inter and intra-institutions.  This is leading to a slow and opaque decision-making process at national level that leads to lack of resources, personnel and infrastructure for those working at local level.

Furthermore, as explained below (see Structure), decisions are made at national level (CONASAN), and implementation happens within the decentralized structures (CONASAN, CODESAN, and COMUSAN). These bodies are spaces for information sharing and activity coordination, with no voice or power, hence there is little motivation for members to participate in them.


The political framework for SINASAN is the 2016-2020 Strategic National Plan on Food and Nutritional Security (PESAN) and the 2016-2020 National Strategy for the Prevention of Chronic Malnutrition (ENPDC). Both strategies are operationalized by annual operational food security and nutrition plans (POASAN) that include specific actions and budgets per relevant stakeholder or sector, coordinated and monitored by SESAN via the Integrated Information System (SIINSAN). These frameworks are approved and advances shared regularly at the CONASAN meetings.

SESAN is the institution responsible for planning, coordinating, integrating and monitoring the interventions food and nutritional security interventions in the public sector, society and international cooperation organisms. Its secretary also acts as SUN’s focal point. SESAN does not implement any actions nor holds anyone accountable.

CONASAN is responsible for policy and decision-making of all Food Security and Nutrition aspects. They meet every month, and decisions are made by vote, with each member getting one vote per representative.  The agenda is set by General Secretariat of the National Economic Planning Council (SEGEPLAN) in consultation with SESAN. CONASAN is presided over by the Vice President, and it is made up of eight Ministries (Health, Agriculture, Finance, Education, Labour, Public Works, Environment and Natural Resources, and Economy) three central government secretariats (Presidency Coordination, President’s Wife’s Social Works, Food Security and Nutrition) one municipal entity, five civil society representatives (elected by INCOPAS) and two business sector representatives. GIA is invited to attend the sessions as an observer but has no voice or decision-making power.

Guatemala has replicated multi-stakeholder nutrition governance structures at departmental level (with 22 Departmental Committee of Food Security and Nutrition – CODESAN), municipal level (314 Municipal Committee of Food Security and Nutrition – COMUSAN) and, sometimes, community level (Community Committee of Food Security and Nutrition – COCOSAN). These are all coordinated by SESAN and they replicate the same structure as CONASAN at the department, municipal and community level. There should be regular meetings, however, the functionality of these structures varies depending on the willingness and commitment to food security and nutrition of the political leaders of the municipalities and departments. Rather than leveraging existing structures at local level, these levels often create new ones, becoming a challenge to keep the interest and commitment of the parties involved.

After Guatemala joined SUN, the Technical Inter-Agency Liaison Committee (CTI) was created to act as a technical body with no decision making power, to discuss issues and present them back to CONASAN with recommendations. They are meant to meet every month. Originally, it was only a government coordination body, but the new leadership in SESAN decided to invite civil society, donors and UN agencies as well. Over time, other actors have also created a series of commissions and technical tables to discuss specific topics, like the Congress Commission on Food Security and Nutrition led by Parlamentarian Marcos Yax, or the Parlamentarians Agains Hunger, led by Parlamentarian Jairo Flores. The large number of strategic planning instruments adds another layer of complication to making decision, translating these into action, or ensuring continuity of the strategic plans.

In terms of accountability, there are clear responsibilities. SESAN monitors and tracks budget movements using SIINSAN and informs of any progress (or lack of) during CONASAN meetings. SIINSAN captures the budgets of all government bodies working on food security and nutrition. When writing up their annual and strategic plans, each institution must flag their nutrition-related activities. Since Guatemala operates on results-based management, it allows SESAN to capture the information from the POASAN on a monthly basis and have an up to date monthly financial tracking of budget implementation for the POASAN. This information can be accessed publicly via the Ministry of Public Finances’ webpage.

However, institutions have no feedback or accountability mechanisms to report on their work, or even to properly collect data at local level of participants of the programmes. While the system is in place, the data is unreliable and with one to be held accountable. Decisions taken at national level rarely get implemented at local level. This is due to a combination of lack of resources, leadership and capacity. At local level, staff seemed overworked, performing multiple roles at the same time, and trying to collect data (often by hand) while performing other roles. Institutions and stakeholders mistrust each other and often don’t want to share their data with others. At national level, that data seems non-existent or inconsistent with reality.


CONASAN represents of eight Ministries (Health, Agriculture, Finance, Education, Labour, Public Works, Environment and Natural Resources, and Economy) three central government secretariats (Presidency Coordination, Wife’s President’s Social Works, Food Security and Nutrition) one municipal entity, five civil society representatives (elected by INCOPAS) and two business sector representatives. Guatemala also has a decentralised structure, with MSPs aiming to replicate the CONASAN membership in every department (22 CODESAN), and municipality (314 COMUSAN) in Guatemala. Members and regularity of meeting vary from location to location.

INCOPAS is the entity for Civil Society consultation and participation. It is mandated by law a represents a space for civil society participation within the SINASAN. There are nine sectors represented within the law: Indigenous peoples, small-scale farming; business, Catholic and Evangelical churches; universities and social research centers, trade union representative organizations; non-governmental organizations, women’s organizations and professional associations. The representatives of each sector are elected for two years through a public assembly. Donors and the UN are represented in GIA, as an advisor to SESAN and an observer in CONASAN.

After Guatemala joined SUN, they established Civil Society (INCOPAS), Donor, UN and Business networks, and each network has a convener and focal point. However, stakeholders in Guatemala are not yet clear on SUN’s role and feel it has been duplicating structures and efforts rather than supporting SINASAN. At the point of the visit stakeholders were trying to reorganise their coordination mechanisms, so as to avoid duplication, and integrate SUN’s processes into SINASAN.


Guatemala has always shown strong financial commitment towards nutrition. The country ranks 1st on the Hunger and Nutrition Commitment Index (HANCI) index (high political commitment), and 2nd on Hunger Reduction Commitment and Nutrition Commitment. Guatemala has a separate budget line for nutrition, enabling transparency and accountability for spending, and it has represented around 8% of the total national budget since 2012. Relative to other HANCI countries, Guatemala’s medium/long term national development policy (PESAN 2016 – 2020) assigns strong importance to nutrition.

A 2015 fiscal deficit, along with the political problems and corruption investigations, have impacted tax revenues negatively, including the budget for implementing actions on nutrition in 2016. Furthermore, following on from the political challenges, the Congress has not approved a new budget since 2015. Another important challenge has been the fact that financial reporting from non-governmental stakeholders has not been incorporated into government systems, making it difficult to plan and prioritise the use of national resources. Each institution has its regular budget and the allocation of funds. SESAN monitors the execution of the budget lines related specifically to Food Security and Nutrition. SESAN has its own budget as well, mostly for staff, as they do not implement. The highest line of their budget related to the coordination of the decentralisation structures (COMUSAN and CODESAN).

Image credit: © UNICEF