Agricultural Development

UTZ K’ASLEMA’L = Living Well

By Nadine Babineau
Youth Delegate 2018
Government Services Union, local 60018, NB

After signing the Guatemala Peace Accord in December 1996, ending a 36-year-old war between the army and the guerilla fighters, the indigenous people are still fighting the wealthy over land and resources that are necessary for their survival. During our stay in Guatemala with the CCDA (Campesino Committee of the Highland), we were able to hear from Luvia, a woman leader who explained the problem of poverty and malnutrition that Guatemalans, especially indigenous people are still facing today, 20 years after the war.  Luvia explained that there are two main financial situations that you can see in a Guatemalan household. Some families will have the “Basic Basket” that includes 3 meals for a small family of 4 and cost the family Q 3,534.36 ($610.98 Cdn.) per month.  You also see families that are a bit more financially comfortable who will have the “Bigger Basket’’ that includes the same amount of food but will also include the children’s education. The “Bigger Basket is Q 8,160.60 ($1,410.70 Cdn.)  per month. The scary reality is that most families, plantation fields’ workers for example will receive Q 2,758.16 ($478.55 Cdn.) per month. That is less than the “Basic Basket”. 

Today’s reality in Guatemala is that available land is shrinking and rural families are growing, meaning that malnutrition is very obvious in most families, especially with children.  To help, the CCDA put in place training programs for farmers on what to grow and when, and how to avoid pest in their gardens and how to fertilize their crops using vermicomposting principals.

As the growth in the families’ garden directly betters their nutrition and the families incomes, the CCDA shares agriculture knowledge with the community so that each house can use the small land that they own to their full potential. This is not only to feed their families but also their community as they often share/trade their fruits and vegetables.  They grow a number of different products including but not limited to; bananas, avocados, coconuts, pineapple, tomatoes, citrus, papaya, onions, Spanish … 

One of my favorite memories with the CCDA community is when we visited the Mayan women (members of the farmers cooperative, CCDA) at the Tilapia fish farm. The women explained to us the tilapia business, but were especially excited to show us their organic garden where they grow natural medicine plants such as basil, horse chestnut, aloe vera, lemon grass and much more.  While it is not always common for the women in the community to work as they are often staying at home with the children, these women were very proud of their achievements and works as a team to help their community.  The natural medicine plants were not only for the women at the tilapia fish farm, but also for other mothers of the community and their families.

The CCDA also helps farmers guarantee organic products.  This includes fumigation for bugs when needed. The CCDA help with the organic treatment by sharing their knowledge with local farmers on what the dose of organic fumigation on their crops should be. 

We met with a local farmer who brought us up the mountain to show us his coffee trees. Him and his two young sons take care of all the coffee trees on the property. He says that he comes to check on the trees every morning at 6:10 and comes back to the house for lunch to often return to the trees in the evening. The walk up the mountain to his trees takes him 10 minutes (while it took us around 30-40 minutes to make the same walk). The growing process of a small coffee tree is very complex on long. He is one of the farmers that the CCDA helped with his crops during a pest infestation.  If he would not have fumigated his trees, he could have potentially lost all of his coffee production.

While visiting the CCDA Coffee plantation, we also had the opportunity to see their vermicomposting. A member of the CCDA explained to us that the final product of the worm’s digestion process is an excellent natural fertilizer for all gardens including coffee trees. We learned that in one year, one red worm can produce up to 1,500 new red worms. They reproduce every 7 days and can live for up to more than 15 years. This species can reproduce/live in a box, and for that reason the CCDA uses the red worms for the production of their vermicomposting. The warms feed on manure from cow, horses, rabbits and pigs, however you can also use the same materials as you would for regular compost such has green leaves, crop waste, and kitchen waste.

To make sure that their vermicomposting is 100% organic, the CCDA uses what is left over from their coffee beans to feed the red warms.  We were able to visit the worm breeding boxes where the member of the CCDA explained to us that the wooden boxes are 1m x 1m x 1m and next to it is a similar box to relocate the warms once the compost is ready. The boxes are placed in a quiet and cool shady place (under trees outside). The boxes are lifted from the ground just a bit to avoid ants. They are also covered by a tarp to protect them from the many loose chickens running around everywhere in Guatemala.

A layer of soil and decomposing coffee beans is added at the bottom of the wooden boxes.  The worms are distributed over the layer of soil and every 3 to 4 days food (Coffee beans) is thrown in on top of the worms.

The easiest way to collect the worms and to transfer them to the other wooden box is to stop adding food for a while, and then add one or several piles of food in the box. The hungry worms sense the food and come up to the surface to eat where it is easier to pick them up.

The CCDA then distributes the organic fertilizer soil to farmers who are struggling with their crops and they repeat the process in the second wooden box.

What the CCDA is doing is helping families and farmers minimize malnutrition and increase family incomes and gives opportunity to women to obtain their own income. Helping women grow their own food at home, helping farmers fumigate their crops and giving organic fertilizer to the community helps the production and distribution of food.  In result, indigenous families in Guatemala can maximize the products grown on their small land.  These are just a few examples of what the CCDA does to help communities. The passion that the CCDA leaders have for keeping their products organic and the community support is something we could all learn from.