Gilda Zepata lives in the Eastern part of Guatemala, in the “dry corridor” where nearly half of all children suffer from malnutrition and farmers struggle each day to feed their families, while their crops are affected by natural disasters and land degradation.
This can change. Canada is cooperating with the World Food Program to provide training to Gilda and many others in this region to help them boost their yields and get a good price for their crops.
The Canadian International Development Agency and the World Food Program (WFP) are engaged in a project called Purchases for Progress (P4P) to help farmers increase their production through technical and financial assistance while ensuring the products are bought either by connecting them to local and foreign buyers and through direct purchases from the WFP to supply food to other areas in the region that have been hit harder by food insecurity.
After the training, Gilda was keen to try out what she had learned regarding improved production practices, post-harvest handling, commercialization and organizational strengthening: “I’m going to invest more in taking care of my maize, not only for my own consumption, but also for sale. I’m going to see if it is worth the effort,” the 38-year old said.
To put the new agricultural practices to the test, Gilda decided to plant three manzanas (2.1 hectares) with maize. She applied what she had learned in the training workshops: she planted only one seed per hole, put the holes closer together, injected the fertilizer in the soil rather than scattering it on the surface, and used the fertilizer and chemical applications according to the plant’s development. All this required a lot more work than before, and invoked higher costs.
However, the new agricultural practices enabled her to almost triple her former yields. She harvested 170 quintales of maize per manzana (about 11 tons per hectare). Gilda sold one third of her crops as fresh corn on the cob right after the harvest, and the remaining two thirds as dried and shelled maize grain. With this, she obtained an income of more than 2000 Guatemalan quetzals per month, without considering other crops. This is more than the minimum wage for a full time job.
Gilda then decided to diversify her crops and help other farmers in doing so.
Encouraged by this positive experience, Gilda established a bean demonstration plot for all members of her community. She received improved bean seeds, fertilizers and technical assistance from P4P, while she provided the land, the access to the irrigation system and her own labour.
Now, Gilda awaits harvest to see if the improved agricultural practices make it worthwhile to invest in beans as well.