Building for the Future in Guatemala’s Western Highlands

August 30, 2016

This story is part of our series on Counterpart’s Food for Progress program in Guatemala.

On a beautiful August day in the Western Highlands, we round the corner to see a field full of sheep, with one of Guatemala’s almost countless volcanoes in the distance. Children run around giving the sheep hugs and playing games while their parents talk, laugh, and prepare fresh tamales for lunch.

Set atop a rolling hill in Tejutla San Marcos, Guatemala, the group of close knit neighbors make up the Grupo Fraternidad (“Friendship Group”), a CADER, or small agricultural group, working together to raise sheep.

Members of the CADER raising sheep in Guatemala

Grupo Fraternidad has 10 members — 9 women and 1 man. It was established five years ago to help improve the livelihoods of families living in this rugged, remote area of Guatemala. Alicia Vasquez, the CADER President, co-manages the group with Artemio Zapet, the Promoter who represents the CADER in meetings with agricultural partners and participates in knowledge exchanges with other CADERs. Alicia will tell you that individual farmers in this community had always grown crops and raised small livestock, but it wasn’t until they formed a CADER and received technical assistance from Extension Agents from the Ministry of Agriculture (MAGA) and Counterpart International’s Food for Progress program that they were able to become more successful in their farming efforts and start generating a real income to support their families.

After attending MAGA trainings on agricultural techniques, forestry, livestock, and cooking, Artemio and the CADER were encouraged to submit a proposal to Counterpart to support a new income-generating endeavor. Bolstered by the support from MAGA and the Counterpart technicians who worked closely with the community members, the CADER took it upon themselves to research the best means of generating income for their community – weighing the benefits of raising and selling sheep versus chickens versus pigs – and ultimately decided that the highest margin of profit would come from raising a higher quality breed of sheep to sell for meat. Counterpart worked with the CADER to procure seeds for new, more nutritious grass, 500 pounds of fertilizer to grow the grass, and 17 new sheep, genetically superior to the old sheep that some members of the group had raised previously.

Sheep in their new shelter built by Guatemalan CADER

The group is proud of how they work together for the benefit of all. Wanting to ensure that the new sheep were cared for properly, Artemio worked with his MAGA agent to arrange an exchange with another CADER who was learning how to build a shelter for livestock. Artemio shadowed this group for two weeks, learning new techniques and taking detailed notes to share back with Grupo Fraternidad.

Guatemalan CADER member working on group's finances

Once he returned home, the CADER worked together to build the new shelter. They pooled their resources – sharing tools and providing wood and scrap metal from their own properties – building the new sheep shelter in just two days. As Artemio tells me this story, the other group members look on proudly, each pointing out different sections that they worked on, or wood that came from the trees from their family’s land. As we talk, Perfecto and Elena, two other members, harvest the long grass – grown from new seed provided through Counterpart’s support – and use a scythe to tear it into manageable pieces to feed the hungry sheep.

CADER member using a scythe to cut grass

The responsibility of tending to the sheep isn’t just one person’s alone — all members of the CADER assist in the chores and they meet weekly to divide up the work. From feeding the animals to cleaning up after them, each role is vital and little goes to waste. While the sheep grow big enough to sell, the CADER is already generating income by producing high-quality, organic fertilizer and compost from the sheep manure. The fertilizer is used by CADER members to better grow grass and other crops, and any leftover fertilizer and compost is sold at the local market with profits divided amongst the CADER members, which they use to buy more nutritious and diverse food for their families. Much like other CADERs Counterpart has worked with in Guatemala, Grupo Fraternidad has brought the community closer together, implementing sustainable agricultural techniques to improve farming practices and family nutrition.

As I’m getting ready to leave, I hear a familiar sound – an ice cream truck. The children come running and the mothers dig coins out of their pockets. Alicia turns to me and says through a translator, “The best part of working with Counterpart is that we’re a stronger community,” blushing and smiling proudly. “We even have a little extra now so our children can sometimes have ice cream — that makes them very happy.”

To date in Guatemala, Counterpart has provided 226 organizational development trainings to farmers, and 124 farming cooperatives across all levels of production in industries ranging from coffee to vegetables to livestock. Counterpart looks forward to working with these communities, in partnership with USDA, for many years to come. We are committed to helping these organizations increase sustainable agriculture yields that will improve family nutrition and increase family incomes.

With generous support from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Counterpart International is working in more than 35 communities across Guatemala, providing training and capacity building to increase sustainable agricultural techniques in rural communities, increase production, and improve livelihoods of indigenous rural farmers. From August 7th through 13th, Alexandra Frank, Counterpart’s Senior Officer for External Relations, traveled to Guatemala to visit a variety of our Food for Progress program sites, and hear stories from program beneficiaries and partners throughout Guatemala City and the Western Highlands. During the next eight weeks, we will feature stories and photos of our amazing Guatemalan partners on our blog every Tuesday.

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