Ch’orti farmers in Dry Corridor ease drought with sustainable harvests
By Emiliano Castro Sáenz
Olopa, Guatemala, Oct 27 (EFE).- Hundreds of Mayan Ch’orti’ farmers living in eastern Guatemala’s Dry Corridor are mitigating the effects of climate change in their communities with sustainable harvesting techniques, food security and family economy with an agricultural research project.
There are at least seven communities around the municipality of Olopa, 220 kilometers east of Guatemala City, where, since 2019, 175 families have been participating in the “Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS)” research program by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR).
Ángela Ramos Ramírez, 40, mother of seven and wife of a day laborer, is one of the participants of the program that is implementing and constantly improving some of the farming techniques, such as vegetable gardens with a roof and drip irrigation, rainwater harvesting, corn and bean crop rotation, and reserves for fish production and irrigation, among others, with the help of the Ch’orti’ Regional Campesino Association (Asorech).
“We have learned and it has helped us a lot to feed ourselves. Now we plant and whatever plants we find, we have enough to eat,” says Ramos Ramírez.
“It’s not like before when we didn’t even know how to prepare the crop. Today we know, with the training,” Ángela added to Efe, referring to the “Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security” program, led by the Biodiversity International Alliance and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT).
On her 14-hectare (34.5 acres) plot, Ángela has learned to grow cassava, quilete, chatate, chard, onion and cilantro. She has built a pond for tilapia fish and irrigates her vegetables with harvested rainwater, as well as experimenting with a net that catches water droplets from fog.
The practices are innovative, especially in the so-called ‘Dry Corridor’ of Guatemala, a country of 16.3 million inhabitants, where 59% of the population lives below the poverty line and 20% live in extreme poverty.
In the nearby community of Tuticopote, another 25 families grow cabbage, broccoli, tomatoes, onions and cilantro. The variety of products allows them to feed each family nucleus, as well as sell products to third parties and improve their standard of living.
“Since we were trained before the pandemic, they taught us how to eat and we did not go hungry. All the neighbors were wondering how they were going to buy quality tomatoes, and we sold them one for one quetzal (13 cents). We also sold onions and cilantro. The group we are working with does not go hungry,” said Ángela.
Her neighbor, Marta Julia Valdéz Agustín, 48 years old and mother of eight, has also had a pleasant experience with sustainable agriculture and, above all, with the more than 100 fish that are about to be ready for harvest.
Valdéz told Efe that she sold cilantro in June and obtained 150 quetzales (approximately US$19.3) and on her last trip in September she added another 100 quetzales (US$12.9), which is enough to survive.
POTENTIAL ON DRY LAND
Researcher and coordinator of the Sustainable Territories Adapted to Climate (Tesac) project of the Alliance of Biodiversity International and CIAT, Colombian Jesús David Martínez, told Efe how the processes implemented in the communities have also involved trial and error and learning from other similar initiatives in other countries.
One example is the development of tilapia, which can generate more income from sales because “it adapts best to climatic conditions” and “can be grown in ponds without oxygenation by lowering the stocking density to 10 fish per cubic meter of water. And it works,” he said.
Martínez sees great “potential to produce and sell crops and fish” to the inhabitants of the department of Chiquimula, the capital of the region where Olopa is located, and even in Guatemala City.
The project Martínez is working on is a strategic collaboration of 15 research centers, considered “the most integrated effort to date to address the interactions between climate change, food security, rural livelihoods and environmental management,” Adriana Varón, the Alliance’s communicator, told Efe.
The regional director for Latin America of the CCAFS program, Deissy Martínez Barón, said that although the project concludes at the end of the year, the “capacities, proposals and plans in progress have a guaranteed continuity as local partners and initiatives to be implemented in the region”.
Martínez Barón believes the program leaves a legacy of “strength in the capacities of farmers and partner communities” and producers are now “sensitized to the climate-crop relationship and thus able to understand the information.”