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Our Blog: Guatemala
November 29, 2012
Visit to farmers' cooperative in Guatemala
by Laura Koch
 
It was a cold, clear day in Buena Vista, a small village in the mountains surrounding Quetzaltenago, in the Western Highlands of Guatemala.
 
A dozen residents congregated in the home of a community organizer who has been working closely with Mercy Corps staff since 2011. The woman proudly explained why her community is called Buena Vista, as she pointed to the strking 360-degree view of the surrounding hills and communities.
 
A young man took the lead by introducing himself and members of the group, and giving an overview of the agricultural project that he and others participate in. IMARE – Inclusive Market Alliances for Rural Entrepreneurs – is a Vibrant Village-supported project, helping farmers establish local and international market relationships for crops produced in their cooperatives. Through a holistic model, the IMARE project is also working to promote sanitation and nutrition, raise awareness on gender equity and emphasize the importance of women’s role in the formal economy.
 
Each community organizer took a few minutes to share what they are learning through the project. A young organizer explained how she is helping families work together to create their own household management plan, using a simple tool developed by Mercy Corps. Each participant takes home their own poster-sized ‘map’ where they record and track their progress towards goals to making their home safer, healthier and more productive. Having proper grey water drainage, reliable water purification systems and adequate caging for animals are examples of the topics covered.
 
It was clear from our conversation that these posters naturally integrate into the Guatemalan’s home décor and serve as useful reminders to family members about their commitment to improving sanitation and nutrition.
August 31, 2012
Women farmers access markets in Guatemala

In 2011, IMARE formed the village of Buena Vista’s first farmers’ co-op. Led by a woman president, half of the 12-person group’s members are women. The members own very little land, with the average family owning .2 hectares. Recognizing that the amount of land owned by each family was a limiting factor for the cultivation of vegetables for sales, they pooled their resources and leased an additional plot of land on which to grow their crops. The group chose to grow cauliflower, broccoli and cabbage. They use the leased land for demonstration plots that allow each family to learn how to grow the chosen crops, replicating the techniques in their individually owned lands.

A buyer has been chosen and the crops have been harvested and sold in July and August. The group will also obtain a space in the local market to sell directly to the public.

In addition to increasing production, the group’s members attend food preparation demonstrations that teach members how to incorporate the produce into their families’ diets. Their goals for this year include maximizing their income by pooling their resources and collectively administering the production on the leased land. They also hope to position themselves for a productive microenterprise in the local market.

August 31, 2012
Women farmers in Guatemala

Amanda Berta Barrios Solis, a participant in Mercy Corps' agriculture programs in Guatemala, talks of her experiences with the Inclusive Market Alliances for Rural Entrepreneurs project. Interview by Edgar Betancourt

I was born in the Municipality of Tejutla in the San Marcos Department of Guatemala. In our family there were 10 children, but two have died, so we are now eight, five women and three men. I am the fourth among my sisters. I remember when I was young that we used to play a game with my sisters in which each of us would look around for things to sell each other. We would cut leaves from a tree near the house and pretend that the leaves were real paper money and we would buy things. I can say thanks to God, I had a childhood that was very good.

At the age of seven, I began to study and was supported by my parents. I only got to sixth grade, because we were so many, my dad didn't have the possibility of supporting us. Not just me, but all of my brothers and sisters.

Today, I am a mom, a godmother and a grandmother of a beautiful baby belonging to my oldest daughter. This makes me so very happy and I truly have attempted to be a terrific mother and grandmother to my family. I want to educate my family as to how God would want good women and men to be. Ever since I was a young child, I depended on my dad economically. I got married with my first husband and, once again, depended on him entirely. I didn't work in the formal sense of creating an income, I just did the unpaid household labor and took care of my children.

The worry I have is that we are so limited financially. My husband is unemployed and cannot find work, so I have begun setting up my business so that I can earn a little money for all of our never-ending household needs. Our economic condition worries me because I have the responsibility of covering the expenses of my parents. They don't ask, but I know their economic situation and I need to give them the little bit I can afford. Nevertheless, I get worried because sometimes we also have nothing saved and it's when we are most in need that things come up. But with the help of God, the support of the farmers’ association, and now the help of Mercy Corps and the Vibrant Village Foundation, I know that my family can and will continue to move forward.

I started my affiliation with the farmers’ association about six months ago, and I have enjoyed participating there because I see so many friends who have excelled and I want to do the same. The association always provides support as long as we are willing to participate with responsibility and dedication to our chosen goals. I am a participant with a group of farmers who are supported by Mercy Corps. I have planted roughly an acre of peas that are right now looking great. I ask God for everything to turn out well so that we can harvest them later this year. One of the difficulties that I have is that I have a fairly small plot but I do have plans to make it larger with the project. The project in this instance has provided its support through technical training and assistance. We are 15 members raising peas for the first time and we will begin selling them in January.

One of my goals is to support other women. I would like to train them about the various subjects that are for their benefit and share what I know and what I am learning. Another one of my goals is to keep me and my family in good health. My goal with respect to farming is to see a substantial financial return in the marketplace that will help see us through our family's current financial limits and economic problems. Of course, this is the first time for me to plant peas, but I am enjoying the work and I know that everything is going to be just fine.

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