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Field Focus: Fertile Ground

In Guatemala, Organic Fertilizer Becomes a Catalyst for Change

By Dulce Gamboa
November 2013

When asked to describe herself, Maria Roblero, 26, says proudly, "I am an agroecological promoter." She is also an expert in organic fertilizer.

Maria, a small-holder farmer, lives in La Vega del Volcan, a community in the Sibinal department in western Guatemala, with her husband and four children. She started elementary school at age 10 and stayed enrolled until third grade. Maria knew there would be an opportunity for her to escape hunger. She has prayed for it since she was 13.

That moment came when Maria and her husband, Arnulfo Roblero, received training on how to prepare organic fertilizer, called bocashi, about two years ago. They were spending too much money out of their already-tight budget on fertilizers and pesticides. It made sense to take advantage of all the natural resources available on their land to prepare fertilizer and pesticides: wood, cow and chicken manure, tree foliage, cow urine, worms, garlic, and such.

Being an agroecological promoter is a way of life. Two years ago, Maria named her plot “Flower of the Field.” The fruits, vegetables, and medicinal plants she grows are all organic. Maria has a bold vision: finding new and improved ways to produce more bocashi, so she can sell the surplus in the local market. She wants to share her knowledge with every woman in La Vega del Volcan, so each one can also have her own “Flower of the Field.”

Maria has worked tirelessly to diversify her crops. But growing tomatoes or chili peppers in La Vega del Volcan is challenging because of weather conditions. Maria’s response to this challenge was to build a greenhouse. In the last year she has been able to save onion, broccoli, and cabbage seeds, so she can grow seedlings and sell them to her neighbors or at the local market. When the Robleros have no money, they rely on selling seedlings, and Maria makes sure to always have some in her greenhouse for emergencies. This greenhouse represents not only food security but also an additional source of income.

Recently, Maria and Arnulfo started a new venture. They are now working on a trout pond, following the lead of a newly formed cooperative. This is a project implemented by the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) and partially funded by Foods Resource Bank (FRB). Maria is delighted to have a fish pond on her plot. Arnulfo’s plan is to get better at raising fish, to have enough for self-consumption and more to potentially sell. He is also figuring out a way to transition from the dirt pond they currently have to a pond made with concrete.

Members of the cooperative organize themselves and figure out the best way to raise trout and overcome obstacles they encounter, with guidance and encouragement from MCC and FRB. This experience is giving the Robleros the competence and self-esteem to make their own decisions.

Maria and Arnulfo, along with others in their community, are becoming experts on their own development. They have their future in their own hands.

Dulce Gamboa is Bread for the World’s associate for Latino relations.

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