Gaspar Zarat walks towards us with a spring in his step exuding a sense of pride and integrity. “Welcome, welcome!” His wife whisks us over to three plastic seats, and brings us cool beverages, a nice relief from a 90-degree day.
Gaspar is one of the 65 farmers who participated in Semilla Nueva’s experimental farming in 2013. Gaspar knows his land like the back of his hand; he was born here 58 years ago. His parents only allowed him to attend 1st grade because his duty was to work in the fields helping to harvest crops. Years later, Gaspar raised 7 children on this same land, though he says there were many slim years when the conventional farming methods he was using gave little return. These days Gaspar is continuing his childhood duties cultivating corn, sesame and pigeonpea on about 3.4 acres of land. But lately he’s been trying something new.
Last season was Gaspar’s first to try any of the soil conservation techniques promoted by Semilla Nueva. After his last harvest, he did not burn the corn stalks as he normally does, and instead left the organic material on his field, and later incorporated it when it was time to plant this year. Gaspar noticed an improvement after only one season. He said the color of his soil was deeper and richer, where his neighbor’s burned and cleared land was red, dry and hard. He said that he could run his fingers through his soil and feel the moisture it retained. He described that it felt like a “soft rug”, flexible and squishy. These definitive results came from just one year of implementing the practices Semilla Nueva promotes, and Gaspar has no intention of stopping now. In fact, he said, “I look forward to ten years from now when my parcel is more than just a soft rug, but when it’s giving much better yields than my neighbors, and the land has its own organic fertilizer”.
It is this forward thinking that provides inspiration for our farmers and motivates them to experiment and discover new methods of farming while ultimately increasing their income. According to preliminary results of our 2013 experiments, farmers who did not till or burn their land, like Gaspar, averaged a $150 increase in profit due to greater yields and a 10% higher return on investment. No wonder Gaspar walks with a spring in his step.