It’s 8 am, just before the sweltering heat begins to radiate from the dry soil. Jennifer Brito, Semilla Nueva’s Food Security Officer, starts down the dirt road knocking door to door to spread word of the Annual Community Conference. The conference starts at 2 pm but community participants, accustomed to the casual pace of life, stroll into the Community Center an hour behind schedule. Some are excited, some frustrated, some anxious– but all are present to discuss their land, the livelihood of the vast majority of the people who live in the communities we work in. It is here, in this open-air community center that ideas are exchanged and the theory of Farmer-to-Farmer development becomes a reality.
Trinidad Recinos, Semilla Nueva’s Programs Director, ignites conversation at a conference in Monte Cristo.
Throughout the month of March, Semilla Nueva hosted an Annual Community Conference in each of our 11 participating communities. Over 370 families were in attendance, up from 330 families in 2013. These open discussions are designed to bring together our agricultural participants and our Food Security groups to discuss achievements and set backs over the course of the year. Farmers are able to exchange views on the results of their experimental plots and critique the agricultural technologies that Semilla Nueva promotes. At the same time, Semilla Nueva staff is able to absorb feedback to adjust our experiments based on community needs.
The conferences provide an environment for frustrations to be aired and successes to be celebrated. In the community of La Montaña, farmers expressed disappointment after a pest attacked their pigeonpea crop this year. “I have been here for 30 years and I’ve seen organizations come and go; we never get anywhere.” “The harvest is so time consuming that I’m not sure if I’ll plant it next year.” In other communities pigeonpea was a success and we received only positive feedback. “This year I was able to feed my family thanks to the third crop of pigeonpea.” “My children have grown to like pigeonpea and it makes me happy to know that they are getting lots of nutrients.” Some men even boasted about how much pigeonpea they were able to sell.
Women from our Food Security groups were also in high attendance with their young children tailing behind them. They prepared a special meal showcasing pigeonpea, chaya and quality protein maize, the crops they are experimenting with in their monthly cooking groups. The most popular meal was a pigeon pea salad made with red pepper, chili pepper, onion, cilantro and tomato. They served nutritious beverages, perfect for hot campo days, such as a cold, sweet, creamy beverage made with peanuts, milk, sugar, and water and a cool chaya limonada. Women presented their meals to the audience and celebrated the nutritional benefits they have seen within their families and communities.
Children enjoy a hearty meal of pigeonpea pico de gallo provided by the Women’s Food Security Group of WillyWood.
These are exciting times—times that bring communities together. We see farmers lingering after the conference to talk about their farming practices, we see women with infants talking to women leaders in their community looking to get involved in our Food Security groups. That is why we are here. We are here to prompt conversations and interactions that would otherwise be absent. That is what makes walking door to door at 8 am in the sweltering heat so worth it.