Planting season is quickly approaching and Semilla Nueva has been busy preparing for, and putting on, workshops for the farming communities we work with. The first round of workshops would focus on teaching no-till, technologies. As previously described in greater detail, no-till is a way to protect soil while lowering land preparation costs. The ultimate goal of these projects is to change an existing mentality: Farmers currently believe that they can only clean their land by burning all crop residues from the previous harvest and then tilling. No-till relies on two simple concepts. First, a farmer must leave organic material (corn stalks and leaves, for example) from the previous harvest. Second, he must leave the soil unplowed and undisturbed by tilling, allowing the diverse below-ground ecosystem to prosper. Not burning the crop residues provides a cover that protects the soil from wind and rain erosion, maintains soil humidity, and builds soil fertility as the organic material decomposes. Avoiding tillage favors the presence of soil microorganisms and decreases the costs of mechanization and labor, which are due to rise rapidly with the cost of fossil fuels. No-till has a major potential to increase crop yields and resilience. It has been shown in the United States, Brazil, and other countries that no-till technology can produce a higher crop yield while simultaneously increasing fertility and promoting a healthy soil ecosystem. Farmers around the world are beginning to take notice of the no-till revolution and it’s benefits, but the news has yet to reach many rural farming communities in Guatemala. This is where Semilla Nueva plays an important role. Our organization works with groups of interested farmers to introduce and adapt these valuable technologies. We work as a bridge between research organizations like CIMMYT which have mastered no-till technologies and the communities that don’t have access to this information. Our partner farmers practice these new technologies on small parcels of their own land, gain education through their own experiences, and help in a large way to adapt and improve the practice to suit local needs. Our partner farmers then work to share what they have learned with the rest of their communities. Semilla Nueva also works to support emerging leadership and organization, so that there is a structured and enduring network of experienced farmers.
Our first stop was in Conrado de la Cruz, a small community near the Pacific Coast of Guatemala. Many people in Conrado are already excited about new agricultural practices, and the workshop was recieved very well. The first meeting, nearly 30 farmers came out to see just what we were promoting. Farmers were very receptive to the principles of soil protection and sustainability. After a few hours of discussing the environmental and cost benefits of no-till, along with a plethora of other agricultural concepts, observations, and ideas, it was time to take this meeting out to the fields for a little more hands on work.
The Semilla Nueva team, along with community leader Don Juan, visited the fields of several farmers, getting a feel for what kind of agricultural practices they already use, what crops they grow, and what the soil looks like. It was a long and hot day but strong relationships were formed with the farmers of Conrado that will be essential to the continued growth of our program in the community. No-till serves as a great entry point to form alliances and take the first steps towards building lasting change. The technology is simple, it saves farmers time and money, and preserves land for future generations. In all, the Semilla Nueva team visited and put on five workshops along the Pacific coast, taking the first step in the creation of a small and well-informed groups of local farmers that will lead the sustainable agriculture charge in rural Guatemala.