Curt Bowen, Executive Director of Semilla Nueva, goes from the air-conditioned offices of Guatemala’s Institute of Agricultural Science and Technology (ICTA) to the tropical heat of coastal Suchitepequez and notices one thing: the innovative agricultural techniques discussed by the government are not reaching the eager minds of smallholder farmers. But there is new hope.
Over the past six years the Guatemalan government’s Ministry of Agriculture’s budget more than doubled from $100 million to $210 million and the number of Government agricultural educators increased from 17 to 1,000. Before this change, surveys revealed that government training services only reached 3% of farming families. With extreme growth in both budget and personnel, the Ministry of Agriculture is searching for ways to increase outreach and effectiveness and Semilla Nueva is determined to help.
Semilla Nueva is excited to be partnering with theConservation, Food and Health Foundation, working to bridge this gap in agricultural extension one farmer at a time. CFH is a Boston-based foundation working to promote the conservation of natural resources, improve the production and distribution of food, and improve health in the developing world. Together, Semilla Nueva and CFH will be working to initialize sustainable agricultural research with local farmers in Guatemala, and develop a locally-led agricultural extension model that can be institutionalized and sustained by local actors in the long term.
Over the past three years, Semilla Nueva has been working hands on with local farmers doing participatory research that has led to farmer adoption of sustainable technologies such as no-burn and the use of green manures—however, some technologies require further development and research. No-till, for example, is proven to be the best technology for smallholders to build resilience to climate change by protecting soil from erosion and retaining moisture in years of drought. In 2013 our farmers realized $88/ha higher profits in no-till corn! However, we are running into technical difficulties with no-till in sesame, farmers’ second most important crop. With support from research foundations like CFH, we can try out new strategies and investigate solutions to these technical problems (like raised beds and altered planting times), that will allow us to move toward full farmer adoption of no-till — reaching a potential of 150,000 families in the region.
In addition to research on specific technologies, CFH is helping SN set up agricultural development committees, called ComAgros, in the communities where we work. These groups are trained in new sustainable agriculture technologies, small-scale experimentation, and leadership techniques that help them share their experience with their neighbors. The goal is for ComAgros to be institutionalized at the local level so that farmers can gradually start to take over the work of Semilla Nueva, and the movement can become independent.
Through collaboration with local governments and motivated farmers, CFH is helping SN achieve its core mission: creating locally-led farmer education programs that make a big difference in the lives of thousands — one farmer at a time. Stay tuned for more updates as this partnership moves forward by checking out our Facebook page and following us on Twitter.