People First - Organic farming has increased the families' income
Photo: Ylva Sahlstrand

Photo: Ylva Sahlstrand

People First

Organic farming has increased the families' income

Published: Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Changed: Wednesday, November 14, 2012

On the steep slopes of San Marcos in Guatemala lies the Bravo family's home and farm. Clouds and mist settle around the vegetation as Leonzo, the family's father, demonstrates the planting process.

"The best spacing of seeds is 25 centimetres," says Leonzo, as the neighbours place them in neat rows.

In this little community in Sibinal, 2,845 metres above sea level, the family farms on the terraces so that the rain does not wash away the crops. Carrots, beetroot, cauliflower, broccoli and onion are all grown here.

"By having variety, we can harvest all the time. Moreover, we do not need to buy fertiliser which saves money," he says, and then stresses the three steps in organic farming:

"We need to apply ash after sowing the seeds in order to disinfect the soil." Leonzo lets a neighbour scatter the white volcano ash so that it resembles a wintery street as it lands on the seeds. This is followed by leaf compost and left over food from the kitchen with an extra dash of worms. The whole area is then planted with coriander to protect it from the insects.

Leonzo teaches families in the area almost every week, this time dressed in a white shirt that stands out amongst all the green. He navigates around the plants and engages those who listen. Together with a hundred other educators, he is a proud "promoter", and is part of a programme of agricultural development supported by the UN and Sida. In two years, his knowledge has changed the very nature of his world. Where it was previously dry and dead, lots of edible crops and vegetables are now grown.

"We sell in the markets and have increased our income. We also eat a lot of what we grow which has made us healthier. Through agriculture, I am now closer to my family. I don't need to work far from home, he says.

Leonzo recalls years of struggle for a better life, not least after the hurricane Stan in 2005 that hit the family hard. They then lived in another part of the region, were forced to leave their destroyed home and work on the coffee plantations. Due to a poor income, they returned to their home districts around Sibinal in 2009.

"The municipal council told me about the agricultural programme and we decided to participate," says Leonzo.

Christina Elich, coordinator for the programme, emphasises the link between the government's zero tolerance on hunger and the cooperation between the municipalities and the people. Experts within the Ministry of Health and of Agriculture are also involved.

"The most important part is the participation of the people who live here," he says.

The Bravo family is one of 2,600 families who are active, from a total of 56 communities in the hardest areas. Mrs Filomena Venture sees development in this area.

"In one year, we have already had a good harvest. But this has not been without hard work," she says.

The day starts at five. Filomena lights a fire in the fireplace, airs the sheets and makes some tea. The children, five boys and a girl, see to their own animals, goats, rabbits and a pig. Then four of the children go to school.

Filomena is often at Leonzo's sessions but she is also devoted to her flowerbed. Are the flowers for sale? No, not yet. First, other plans. The eldest boy should continue studying. For the sake of the home, they would also like to have a better house and a kitchen without an open fire. Leonzo also wants to look after the people of Sibinal.

"I am happy about the improvements in our situation, but I also want to do more for everybody's health – not least those who are pregnant," he says, and hopes to discuss this soon with the programme coordinators.

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