Fishing for a Better Life

September 13, 2016

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

“I met my wife at Church.” Fausto tells me, a dreamy smile on his face. “The first time I saw her, she smiled at me and said ‘hi,’ and I knew that I wanted her to be my wife.” He shares this story with an arm around his beautiful wife, who is bouncing their infant son on her hip while their three older daughters – ages 3, 4, and 6 – sit patiently at their feet waiting for lunch to be served. Fausto has years of hard work and self-determination to thank for making this scene possible.

Fausto, leader of a small farming group in Guatemala

Fausto Ramirez grew up in Tuitzaj, San José Ojetenam, a hilly, remote region of the Western Highlands in north-western Guatemala, known for close knit families, cold weather, and lack of opportunity. He struggled to find work to support his parents and extended family.

Like so many young men in his community, Fausto felt he had no choice but to move to the United States where he worked construction jobs in the Midwest. After four years away, Fausto was hearing from his family in Guatemala that things were changing in the Western Highlands. International development organizations like the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (UNFAO) had begun working with his community and providing people with an opportunity to build a better life for themselves. Fausto returned to Guatemala full of hope and the new skills he learned from living in the United States.

It didn’t take Fausto long to put these new skills to work.

Fausto met his wife soon after returning to the Western Highlands and they bought a plot of land with his savings from his work in the US. He formed a CADER, or small agricultural group, with 27 of his neighbors – 20 women and 7 men. The group pooled their resources and, on Fausto’s land, built a greenhouse and began growing crops like broccoli, carrots, sweet beans, and potatoes. The CADER, Los Sauces, as they are known, relied on the Guatemalan Ministry of Agriculture (MAGA) for technical assistance and were able to grow crops successfully, helping to improve nutrition for the CADER’s families.

CADER group members gather together

As Fausto and his wife began a family in this region known for its high malnutrition rates in children, he realized that even these vegetables wouldn’t be enough to ensure a healthy diet for his daughters, particularly in winter when food is less plentiful. Driven by a desire to support his family and give them the best possible life, Fausto worked with his MAGA agent and conducted research at a local internet café, ultimately learning that rainbow trout was both a good source of nutrition and could thrive in the cold weather in Tuitzaj. With this new information in hand, he wrote a proposal to UNFAO and received support to purchase fry (young fish) and fish food. Together with the CADER members, Fausto dug large holes to serve as fish tanks in his yard, but struggled to keep the water from draining into the ground. In 2014, Fausto’s MAGA agent suggested that he apply for a technical assistance grant from Counterpart International’s Food for Progress program to solve this problem.

CADER members gather around rainbow trout raised in their ponds

Fausto displays one of the trout raised by the CADER.

With Counterpart’s support, Fausto and his CADER built two large cement fish tanks, ensuring a constant source of healthy protein for the families and children in his community. The CADER harvests fish year round, 30 percent of which feed the members’ families, providing a nutritious source of protein to reduce rates of malnutrition. Seventy percent is harvested for sale at a local market, generating additional income to buy vegetables, eggs, and other healthy food that the community couldn’t previously afford.

Fausto, always striving for more, taught himself through internet research how to build and operate a fish incubator, so his fish program can be completely self-sustaining. While he tells me these stories, Fausto brings me down to one of the tanks and catches a fish to fry up for lunch. After he fillets the fish, his wife seasons it and fries it over her wood burning stove while their young daughters stoke the fire.

Mother and child cooking fish in Guatemala

Over lunch, I ask Fausto what the future holds for him and his family. He smiles, and tells me that they dream of starting a fish restaurant to sell fried fish and fish sandwiches to the local community and tourists. He never mentions going back to the United States.

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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