Baja Verapaz: Sustainable Agriculture – GUATEMALA
The Baja Verapaz – Sustainable Agriculture program begins work with farm families by focusing on increasing yields of the basic food crops, which in Guatemala are corn and beans. By implementing extremely effective new practices of water management, soil conservation and resilient sustainable agriculture, program participants usually double their corn and beans harvests in the first year.
The first year increase in yields is primarily the result of water management and the enhanced water holding capacity of the soil with organic fertilization. By the third year the soil has been built up and harvests regularly triple. At the same time, the use of expensive purchased agricultural inputs is greatly reduced with switching to organic farming. These new farming practices demand rigorous labor, but if the cultivatable area of the family farm is only 2 to 5 acres, very intensive farming is essential.
Once families have a secure food supply, they can make choices that will enhance quality of life and family income. Many farmers who have been participating in the Baja Verapaz – Sustainable Agriculture program are now able to produce their family’s food and also grow a small cash crop. This success has encouraged an outburst of diverse new activities by these program participants. Farmers throughout the program area are starting to plant cash crops of vegetables, fruit trees, and coffee. Sometimes this is done on a very small piece land. Radishes are being grown in several small, carefully prepared beds made in a rocky hillside This has also been done with onions, garlic, and cilantro. One enterprising farmer is growing cilantro in a great number of small beds, similar to one in the photo, which he has developed on his own rocky hillside. Each week his wife is able to harvest the cilantro of one bed to sell in the local market and obtain a regular, small amount of cash income.
Soil conservation, water management help farmers be more resilient
The climate changes already being experienced in Guatemala. With undependable rainfall – downpours and then none – program participants are working hard to prevent soil erosion and enable the rain that falls to soak in and be available for crops. In 2015 participating farmers laid out more than 32 kilometers of contours across hillsides and planted 17 1/2 kilometers of them with specially selected grasses to form filter barriers. The majority of this land was planted in corn and beans. Other contour lines were planted with trees or became guides for building of rock walls or water holding ditches. All this was done with people power, no fossil fuel used!
The Baja Verapaz – Sustainable Agriculture program planted a total of 29,443 trees in 2015.
- 20,097 small trees transplanted onto the hillsides for reforestation, firewood and lumber – 9 varieties selected to be appropriate for the elevation where they were planted. Reforestation of hillsides stabilizes the soil and also enables more rain to be absorbed.
- 2,084 of the trees planted were fruit trees. The average family is planting a variety of fruit trees for family fruit consumption.
- 7,262 shade protected coffee trees planted in contour rows.
Compost, raising worms, planting legumes and crop rotation are used to increase soil fertility. These practices also increase the organic material in the soil, which enables it to hold more water. Vegetables and fruit are protected with home-made organic insecticides and repellants. Practically all participating families have created methods for collecting the manure from their chickens or other domestic animals to fertilize family vegetable gardens, fruit trees, and other crops. Crop rotation and intercropping are also practiced by most participants in the The Baja Verapaz – Sustainable Agriculture program. For instance, corn is commonly planted first and beans, which are legumes, are later interplanted with the corn.