This story is part of our series on Counterpart’s Food for Progress program in Guatemala.
As I gingerly step my way down the rocky incline, 3 children – ranging in age from 2 to 6 – race up the hill to greet me. They grab my hand and take off running at full speed, oblivious that I would be afraid of the treacherous path that they’ve been walking their whole lives. They pull me into a lush clearing. At the bottom of the hill, the property spreads out before me – a few houses; a shelter for cows, sheep, and rabbits; some fields for vegetables; the tallest corn I’ve ever seen; and in the corner, the reason for my visit: a new greenhouse.
A smiling man in a cowboy hat approaches me, the small girl from the top of the hill – his daughter – steadfastly attached to his legs; this is Don Pedro, Counterpart International Food for Progress technical staff tells me. This is his property and he speaks for the families present, a group of neighbors who make up a CADER, or small agricultural group. The CADER call themselves Manos Juntas (“Hands Together”) and has 12 members – 3 women and 9 men, with almost 40 children between them. The families all work together on Don Pedro’s property – the CADER’s demonstration plot – in order to better learn how to grow their own crops. Even the children help out when they aren’t in school, watering plants and feeding the rabbits and goats; as Don Pedro explains, “an important part of life is to learn the work of your family.”
Don Pedro was a Ministry of Agriculture (MAGA) promoter, representing MAGA in his community, attending their trainings and knowledge exchanges, and reporting back to his family and friends. Even with this access to information, for years he struggled to grow crops in this remote, drought-prone area of the Western Highlands in north-west Guatemala. Last year, with encouragement from a MAGA extension worker, Don Pedro helped to organize a CADER with his neighbors, realizing that they could be more successful by pooling resources and working together. The CADER identified one of their biggest challenges: they struggled to grow vegetables from seed because of pests and disease, and it cost almost as much to buy small seedlings as it did to buy the vegetables from the market. With little spare income, most families were simply going without the nutritious vegetables that their children desperately needed. After Don Pedro attended a Counterpart public training on pest control in an effort to discover a solution to their problem, the CADER applied for support from Counterpart and the greenhouse project was born. From Counterpart, they received the supplies and technical assistance to build the greenhouse, 50 trays for housing seedlings, a raptor spray for fertilizer, and seeds to get started.
Counterpart started working with Manos Juntas in March of this year. In just these short 6 months, however, what’s been accomplished is impressive . CADER members worked together to build a greenhouse in 15 days, and have already planted two rounds of seedlings. The first round grew just large enough for planting last week; the greenhouse can produce three rounds of seedlings per year with the current equipment. In the first planting alone, the CADER harvested 1,200 baby plants, to be divided up amongst the member families – and future harvests will only get bigger as they learn improved techniques from Counterpart technicians.
Before the greenhouse was built, less than half of the Manos Juntas members were able to grow the cost-prohibitive vegetables– now, all 12 families do. The neighbors work together to make this possible; all CADER members come together during harvest time to transfer the seedlings to the fields, and members take turns watering and weeding the seedlings the rest of the year. The CADER is already producing enough that 10% of the vegetables grown – a variety of broccoli, cauliflower, and lettuce – are for family consumption, and the other 90% are able to be sold at the local market, leading to increased income for the CADER members.
I kneel down and ask the two little boys what their favorite vegetables are. They smile and answer quickly: broccoli and cauliflower, they say. I ask Don Pedro’s daughter the same question, but she just giggles and goes back to chomping on some leaves she pulled off a broccoli plant. She’ll never know a life without vegetables and access to a nutritious, diverse diet. Hands together, her community has worked together to build her a better future.
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.