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Turning a Dream into Reality, the journey of Pigeonpea in Guatemala

By Kristin Lacy

It was 6AM, and we were watching the sunrise over Santa Maria volcano, dredging through the muddy results of Mother Nature’s last attempts to drench the land.  Bernabe was running late, finishing up a meeting with the local cooperative, but Trini just  couldn’t wait to show me Bernabe’s plot of pigeonpea.  While the ensuing dry season has caused most other plants to wither from thirst, Bernabe’s field stood out like a diamond in the rough, a lush green parcel intercropped with pigeonpea. A couple years ago, Bernabe was one of the first farmers to participate in the pigeonpea experiment with Semilla Nueva. Now as we approach 2014, what once was a crazy dream is turning into quite a reality – this mighty little bean is taking hold in Guatemala, helping farmers grow their way out of poverty.

2011 started with about 30 farmers and a few pounds of pigeonpea seed. Farmers planted it in between their existing rows of cash crops with no fertilizers or pesticides. Little seedlings grew into beautiful bounties, women cooked it in local recipes, and kids loved the taste.  Communities were discovering a sustainable, accessible solution to daily struggles like food security and soil degradation, and wanted to share the good news with their neighbors.

2012 more than tripled the number of farmers growing pigeonpea, from 30 to 100. Semilla Nueva helped local leaders organize Kuchubales, traditional Mayan communal workdays, where families took turns planting each others fields until everyone had a pigeonpea plot. Afterwards, we all shared in a communal potluck of pigeonpea dishes where local Women’s Food Security groups shared about the nutritional benefits of pigeonpea.

2013 increased the number of farmers experimenting by tenfold, reaching over 1,000 farmers. Its been a year of research and experimentation, learning strategies to take pigeonpea to the next level and reach a highly profitable export market for smallholders.  African researchers from ICRISAT (International Crop Research Institute for Semi-Arid Tropics) have helped us investigate new varieties for Guatemala with higher yields and better resistance to pests, as well as new recipes for women to try in the home.  We shared the good news of pigeonpea with the Guatemalan Ministry of Agriculture and local NGOs, which helped spread seed to hundreds more farmers.  We helped local farmers experiment with interim markets for pigeonpea, including allowing livestock to graze through the fields,  producing animal feed, and creating women-owned small businesses that sell pigeonpea snacks to schools.

I imagine Bernabe back at his house under the shade trees this afternoon, talking with Trini about the upcoming Pigeonpea harvest. The rains are ending, things are drying up, but Bernabe’s pigeonpea is just beginning its journey.  In a few weeks, he’ll  make history with that pigeonpea – harvesting around 800 pounds. At Semilla Nueva we are on a similar journey with pigeonpea, and its only just begun. Seeing farmers like Bernabe is what makes us believe that this dream, this one little magical bean transforming Guatemala, can become a reality. Think of what we could do if we could reach thousands of family farmers and give them the same opportunity as Bernabe has.

If this sounds like a worthwhile project, consider supporting us in our  Indiegogo Campaign this month.  Every $10 improves the soil, fights malnutrition and provides income for a family farmer in Guatemala.  

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