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Skim the Staff

Semilla Nueva staff worked all over the map this month, from Guatemala City to the Honduran border, on a wide variety of projects to improve the livelihoods of smallholder farmers along the coast of Guatemala. Here is your chance to skim through the staff’s whereabouts to get a better idea of what working with Semilla Nueva really looks like!

Jennifer Brito, Food Security Officer and Lisa Eash, Agricultural Fellow

Our Food Security Officer, Jen Brito, and Agricultural Fellow, Lisa Eash, have been busy measuring malnutrition rates and conducting surveys with women who have agreed to participate in growing high protein corn, or QPM, on their land. QPM is a non-GMO corn variety bred to be a complete protein providing families with protein that is not normally consumed—especially important in Guatemala, the 4th most malnourished country in the world. This year more than 150 families have agreed to grow all their corn for home consumption with QPM, and so we are measuring malnutrition rates in these 150 families both now and after they have been eating the QPM for a season. Over the course of June, Jen and Lisa have collected measurements for over 70 kids in 3 of Semilla Nueva’s communities and have 7 more communities to go. “We are very excited to both have quantitative data on how the presence of QPM is affecting community health and to hear feedback from mothers on the new crops they are incorporating into their families’ diets,” explains Eash.

Kristin Lacy, Director of Monitoring and Evaluation and Haley Kirk, Agricultural Fellow

Haley and Kristin have been hopping on chicken buses and travelling from Quetzaltenango down to the communities to interview Semilla Nueva participants for our Annual Community Survey. The survey is one of most important practices in Monitoring and Evaluations within the organization because it not only provides important statistics to measure our impact in the communities year after year, but also gives our participants a space to provide feedback on our programs. Participants pull up chairs and offer refreshing beverages while reminiscing about the year behind them and what they got out of their experience with SN. A few of the typical questions asked are – What do you like about our programs? What changes would you like to see? How do you think the programs are impacting your community? In total, Kristin and Haley will be completing about 80 surveys!

Noe Estrada, Director of Experimental Farm

Noe received a visit to the experimental from Dr. Armando Tasistro, a soil scientist from the International Plant Nutrtion Institute (IPNI). Dr. Tasistro is working with Semilla Nueva to conduct fertilizer tests. Most farmers in Guatemala use fertilizer, but with little guidance farmers often apply too much or not enough. In 2013 we worked with farmers to do laboratory soil testing and recommend the best doses. This month we worked to apply different amounts and different application methods to an 81-parcel test on Semilla Nueva’s experimental farm and 10 smaller tests on farmers’ plots. As the corn begins to grow, we are seeing a variety of differences in corn girth and height. We look forward to reducing the overuse of fertilizer ultimately helping farmers save money and protecting the environment from harmful runoff.

Trinidad Recinos, Programs Director

Trinidad has been on the road driving back and forth to Honduras to pick up a new variety of high protein corn (QPM) seed that will be planted on various experimental plots this season. Why were these bags of seed worth a 3 day journey?  While QPM is a technology that can make a huge difference in Guatemala’s problems with malnutrition, farmers have not been quick to adopt it due to not being able to save seeds and the low yields of the current varieties available. This new seed was verified last year at our experimental farm to have competitive yields while allowing farmers to save seed. We brought seed for our farmers to try as well as the Ministry of Agriculture and some of the biggest non-profits in the country! While the seed is coming from Honduras, it is originally from CIMMYT, the International Maize and Wheat Research Center, in Mexico.

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Cruz Cun Cun and Juan Manuel, Field Technicians

Cruz and Juan Manuel have had their hands in the dirt all month working along side farmers to set up their experimental parcels and plant their corn. Semilla Nueva helps farmers experiment with new sustainable technologies on their land. In May and June we began about 40 new tests with farmers on technologies such as  no-till, no-burn, pigeonpea, and high protein corn (QPM).  Cruz and Juan Manuel will assist farmers in keeping track of their test results throughout the growing and harvest seasons–empowering farmers to take research into their own hands.

Curt Bowen, Executive Director

Curt has always been passionate about changing the system that keeps farmers poor, and this month Semilla Nueva made major strides in an international effort to change Guatemala. Curt spent a week this month meeting with one of the lead researchers team from the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center, CIMMYT, and the director of the Guatemalan Institute for Agricultural Science and Technology. The goal was to design a new plan for how to modernize Guatemala’s agricultural research and education system. After spending a week on the plan, the three leaders presented it to the Minister of Agriculture, who expressed his willingness to get involved and his full support.

These efforts are all thanks to the help of our sponsors, partners, and supporters! Please help us continue the work by sponsoring a family, coming on a trip to Guatemala, or making a donation! Thank you!

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