Out of 830,000 farms in Guatemala, around 76% are smallholder farms, representing the majority of the farming population and accounting for a significant portion of agricultural production. Currently, Semilla Nueva’s programs only reach a fraction of those farms in ten communities on the Southern Coast of Guatemala.
But we are expanding! Semilla Nueva is excited to announce the start of a three-year initiative with the Inter-American Foundation to expand our work to an additional 15 communities in 2015. The Inter-American Foundation is an independent U.S. government agency that supports the most creative ideas for self-help received from grassroots groups and NGOs in Latin America and the Caribbean. Together we will be working to expand our community-level farmer education programs, begin to institutionalize these programs through municipal governments, and ultimately move towards empowered communities managing their own, self-sustaining agricultural development programs.
First, we will be ‘scaling out’— increasing the number of farmers reached to a total of 25 communities. In our existing communities, we have developed a strong network of leader farmers experimenting with and adopting sustainable agriculture technologies. Over the course of next year we will bring existing leader farmers to our new communities to host trainings for new farmers on income-increasing farming techniques for corn and sesame production.
Participating farmers attend field trips to our Experimental Farm to see how technologies have increased soil health or provided more yield. Semilla Nueva field technicians work to engage farmers in side-by-side trials of various farming techniques on their own land, engaging them in both economic and empirical environmental analysis. Once farmers see technologies working, we use local social capital to share the good news and get these ideas into the hands of more families that need them – utilizing the power of farmers to teach each other new technologies that are improving yields, food security and ultimately increasing farmers incomes.
Secondly, as we ‘scale out’ and get more famers involved in improving their soils, we will also be working to ‘scale up’ involvement of municipal governments to institutionalize our programs. Each community in Guatemala has a volunteer government structure called a COCODEs or Community Councils for Urban and Rural Development. According to Guatemalan law, each COCODE has the funds to establish a committee for agricultural development, but interviews in nine different departments have only discovered one community with this infrastructure.
We will work with leader farmers and community governments to form and institutionalize agriculture committees as part of the governmental structure, putting farmers in the forefront of community matters and enabling them to have a voice.
Farmers gather at the Semilla Nueva Experimental Farm to learn more about no-till practices. Experimental Farm Coordinator, Noe Estrada, educates farmers on the benefits of leaving organic materials to decompose rather than burning.
Ultimately, to make this program sustainable, community programs will need a continued source of training and funding for their community coordinators from the municipal level. Our preliminary talks with municipal mayors in the region have demonstrated a willingness to fund half the program after seeing some success, and eventually funding the entire program based on positive political impacts. Over the course of the next three years, we will work to make this long-term goal a reality.
While most programs avoid engaging local government, we want to base our program on its realities to create a lasting solution and a new model. Semilla Nueva believes that it is ultimately the government’s responsibility to create sustainable lasting change in the development of Guatemala. It is our duty to find an efficient and politically strategic way of making farmer education and outreach easy for the government to institutionalize so it can reach those 830,000 smallholder farms throughout Guatemala. Thanks to the support of the Inter-American Foundation, we are one step close to making that a reality.
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