Texas A&M’s Borlaug Institute Project Helping Thousands of Guatemalan Farmers
COLLEGE STATION – Esperanza Hernandez, a Guatemalan farmer, is one of thousands of beneficiaries of the Guatemalan Food for Progress project, an effort headed by Texas A&M University through its Norman E. Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture.
Hernandez, a widow with three daughters, owns a small farm that produces coffee, corn and beans. She has improved her crops by using better soil management techniques and agricultural practices learned through the project, she said during a recent visit to Texas A&M.
“The project has helped me improve my own farm,” said Hernandez, who spoke at the Texas A&M AgriLife Conference earlier this month. “And it has helped many others, including people in my cooperative and my community.”
Hernandez, who also leads the 114-member IJATZ Cooperative in Solola, Guatemala, said she was grateful for the Food for Progress project because her country has had to “endure social, economic and environmental problems” for decades.
“Where I live, poverty and food insecurity affects everyone,” she said. “We have had more than 35 years of civil war and are still recovering from that and the damage done by hurricanes and tropical storms.”
Since 2005, Hernandez and thousands of other Guatemalan farmers have been able to increase their income and improve their quality of life through this
U.S. Department of Agriculture-funded project, said Johanna Roman, coordinator for Latin American programs at the institute and Food for Progress project manager.
“We’ve been providing Guatemalan farmers with on-site technical assistance on food processing, giving training and instruction on better agricultural techniques, supporting farmer cooperatives and promoting the development of agriculture-related business,” Roman said. “We’ve also been helping farmers and others involved in agriculture develop, process, package and market their goods for export.”
The project also has recently begun work to help them develop bioenergy crops for use in biodiesel production, she said.
Two Texas A&M students worked with coffee growers to develop a business plan for selling coffee without using brokers, she said. And other Texas A&M students and staff have provided training on soil management, crop diversification and budgeting, as well as helping bring a composting unit to the cooperative.
“We are using coffee pulp and other raw materials to make compost that we are using in our organic coffee and vegetable plots,” Hernandez said. “Now we are also bagging the compost and selling it to neighboring communities for extra income.”
Because of this, co-op coffee growers are now able to make about twice the income from their crop, Hernandez said.
Texas A&M and local food processing experts also have taught women in the cooperative and the surrounding community how to process foods, she said.
“We were turning our simple kitchen (in the cooperative) into a food processing center,” Hernandez said. “We have learned how to prepare pickled vegetables, jellies, ice creams, soy products and salsas.”
Hernandez said the center helps about 700 people in her community.
“A&M is helping us develop a strong cooperative where we will be able to work together and make our lives better,” she said.
In other areas of Guatemala, project staff and Texas A&M experts have helped build greenhouses and irrigation systems and have shown communities how to manage their watersheds, Roman said.
They also have provided seeds, fertilizer and supplies for growing fruits, vegetables and ornamental plants, and provided instruction on a variety of agriculture- and horticulture-related topics.
“Along with the training center at IJATZ we support two other training centers that benefit farmers in other communities,” she said. “These centers offer train-the-trainer courses to community leaders who will take this knowledge and share it with hundreds of others.”
Through these centers, Texas A&M faculty members have given additional courses on leadership, agricultural techniques and exporting, said Roman.
“Sometimes we have to use as many as three interpreters to translate the information because of the different Mayan dialects being used in an area,” she said.
Roman estimated that more than 3,000 farmers and others involved in agriculture and agribusiness have benefitted from the project courses on canning, fruit dehydration, pickling, food safety, fresh produce packing methods and marketing.
The project also has been instrumental in helping farmers and others involved in agriculture break new ground in the areas of product and agribusiness development, she said
“Texas A&M is also helping establish bioenergy plants that will utilize castor oil plants and jatropha in the making of biodiesel fuel,” added Roman. “We will establish a plant for processing jatropha on the South Coast area and are in the process of evaluating other sites in other communities where we might want to establish additional plants.”
Some farmers are learning how to process tropical fruits to produce juices, make snow-cones and other new products, such as smoothies and dehydrated fruits, she said.
“We owe a debt of gratitude to the USDA for funding this project and making what we do possible,” Roman said. “Thanks to them we have helped thousands of people in Guatemala who have to fight against poverty, malnutrition and illiteracy.”
During October 2005, the USDA’s Foreign Agriculture Service awarded 15,000 metric tons of donated soybean meal to the Borlaug Institute’s parent agency, Texas AgriLife Research. Proceeds from that commodity have provided funding for the Guatemala Food for Progress project.
“We know that Texas A&M experts will continue visiting us to train us, help us improve our yields and sell our products,” said Hernandez. “This will change the lives of our small farming community, especially the lives of many of the women who were unemployed and now will be able to help their families.”
The Borlaug Institute is named for Dr. Norman E. Borlaug, Nobel Peace Prize laureate and Congressional Gold Medal recipient. Borlaug, 93, often referred to as the “father of the Green Revolution,” is a distinguished professor at Texas A&M. He is credited with saving billions of lives through his agricultural efforts worldwide.