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New Grants

Equipo de Consultoría en Agricultura Orgánica (ECAO), $286,055 to undertake a three-year project to increase the food production and income of 200 small-scale farmers. ECAO will provide tech- nical assistance, training and marketing services. Each farmer trained will train three additional farmers, thereby increasing the impact of the project. ECAO will also offer training to eight farmer organizations and make small loans to their members for adding value to their production through processing, selling in volume and reaching new markets. (GT-271)

Fundación para el Desarrollo y Fortalecimiento de las Organizaciones de Base (FUNDEBASE), $225,500 over three years, to increase the food security of approximately 220 low-income rural families through training and technical assistance in soil and water conservation, organic agriculture, crop diversification, and marketing, and to strengthen five grassroots organizations with more than 600 members. FUNDEBASE will disseminate its food security methodology in partnership with municipal governments and Guatemala’s Ministry of Agriculture. (GT-272) 

Poverty, Food and the Environment in Rural Guatemala

By James Adriance, Foundation Representative for Guatemala

The Guatemalan countryside is home to some of the most daunting poverty in Latin America. Rural residents account for more than half the country’s 11 million people and about 40 percent of them live in extreme poverty, surviving on less than $2 a day. Last year, due to a drought and a sharp fall in the price of coffee, an economic mainstay, their circumstances became even more desperate. Several highly publicized deaths by starvation have called attention to the urgent lack of food security in many areas.

Rural residents without land or other capital must struggle the hardest just to stay alive. A step ahead are families with access to small plots that barely allow them to satisfy their hunger. Many get through the year eating only the corn and beans that they grow. IAF’s new Guatemalan grantees, Equipo de Consultoría sobre Agricultura Orgánica (ECAO) and Fundación para el Desarrollo y Fortalecimiento de las Organizaciones de Base (FUNDEBASE), work with such small-scale farmers to improve their food supply, nutrition and income by adopting new growing methods and adding new crops.

With its IAF award, each grantee will carry out a three-year training and technical assistance program. ECAO will work with six communities near Quetzaltenango and in two communities in the department of Sololá. FUNDEBASE will work in the central highlands. Their programs will respond to initiatives from the farmers. Those with commitment and vision will be intensely involved in experiments with soil improvement methods, pest control and crop varieties appropriate to their micro-regions, and will share the lessons learned with their neighbors. ECAO and FUNDEBASE’s tested methodology puts farmers beginning the program in direct contact with farmers already implementing new methods, which can accomplish more in one day than a month of lectures by experts.

ECAO will also assist individual farmers with resource and crop maps and long-term farm plans for use as the basis of yearly technical assistance visits. To add value to organic coffee, fruits, vegetables, spices and medicinal plants, it has created Guatemaya, a new marketing business. When Guatemaya is legally incorporated, farmers will participate as shareholders. Guatemaya will do market studies, arrange to sell member production and work with farmers so their crops meet quality and health standards.

FUNDEBASE’s active and varied alliances with the public and nonprofit sectors throughout Central America will ensure that its methodology of adult education and leadership development is well disseminated. Its partners in this IAF-supported project include the municipal governments of San Martin Jilotepeque, San Lucas Toliman and San Antonio Palopo, Bread for the World-Germany, and the Guatemalan Ministry of Agriculture which will provide seeds and a locale for training sessions.

In addition to improving rural residents’ health and well-being, ECAO and FUNDEBASE’s work has positive implications for the environment. Many of the poorest subsistence farmers live in fragile areas — often steep hillsides located in or near watersheds, forests or protected areas of high bio-diversity — that better-off producers have rejected as too difficult to farm. The grantees will show farmers on fragile land how to retain their soil through contouring and use of barriers, to improve productivity with cover crops and organic matter, and to control pests with biological methods. Farmers with this training are less likely to search for fresh land using migratory slash-and-burn tactics or resort to toxic chemicals that can harm the unprotected user and contaminate the water supply. By encouraging community leaders to work with affordable local resources and to share their new knowledge, ECAO and FUNDEBASE hope for a more secure future in rural Guatemala.