GUATEMALA CITY The Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture, part of the Texas A&M University System, will expand the efforts of its Food for Progress project in Guatemala beginning Oct. 1.
The project was initiated two years ago to help improve the quality of life for Guatemalan farmers, said Johanna Roman, coordinator for Latin American programs at the institute.
“Until now, our project activities primarily have involved working with local partners to provide farmers with technical assistance related to food processing, as well as education and training toward improving their agricultural techniques,” she said.
This new project phase will continue farmer education, but its main emphasis will be on strengthening agricultural cooperatives and developing agribusiness opportunities for small-scale farmers in Guatemala, Roman said.
“Project participants now will work more directly with the private and public sector to process, package and market Guatemalan products for export to the U.S. and other countries,” she said. “We’ll also be helping with export certification and assisting with developing agribusinesses related to bioenergy, as well as providing marketing and business support to those who want to improve their agriculture-related businesses.”
To date, more than 2,500 Guatemalan farmers have benefitted from the program, the majority belonging to indigenous populations, Roman said. The project has been targeted mainly at small- and medium-scale farmers in the highlands of Solola and the coastal area of Santa Lucia Cotzumalguapa.
“Secondary project beneficiaries include large-scale farmers, single mothers and students, as well as exporters and entrepreneurs from Guatemala City,” Roman added.
The success of the project was touted recently by then U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns during a visit to Central America. Johanns thanked Roman and other project leaders and partners for their role in improving living conditions for poor Guatemalan farmers.
“You are doing a great job in continuing Dr. Borlaug’s legacy,” he said during a Sept. 6 meeting in Guatemala City. “Norman Borlaug is a great man and the reason many of us are inspired to help others.”
The Borlaug Institute is named for Dr. Norman Borlaug, a Nobel Peace Prize and Congressional Gold Medal recipient. Borlaug, 93, who is credited with saving billions of people through his agricultural efforts worldwide, has been a distinguished professor of crop and soil sciences at Texas A&M University since 1984.
Along with project coordinators, several program participants, most of whom left their villages before dawn to travel to Guatemala City, also met with Johanns.
“The farmers and their family members expressed their appreciation for the project and told Mr. Johanns they saw how the project was improving their lives,” said Roman.
“I will share with my boss (President Bush) … how you want to grow better crops and export them so that your kids can have a better future,” Johanns told them.
About 20 Texas A&M students, faculty and staff, along with several former students, have been working on this project over the past two years, according to Roman.
“We’ve been able to draw together resources that allow us to reach farmers throughout Guatemala, including many in that country’s smaller rural communities and villages,” she said. “In many instances, we are even able to instruct farmers in their regional Mayan languages.”
“One of the highlights of the project has been the hands-on work A&M undergraduate and graduate students have done to help the Guatemalan farmers,” said Dr. Edwin Price, associate vice chancellor and director of the Borlaug Institute. “The farmers were impressed with and thankful for all the work they did, especially the work our students did in the areas of forestry, soils improvement and food preservation. These students have been a very productive force in our Food for Progress efforts in Guatemala.”
Yanet Rodriguez, 24, from Houston, now a junior at Texas A&M studying animal sciences, worked on the project this summer.
“My duties were to monitor project activities and to present agriculture business workshops, primarily to the wives of farmers and to single mothers, all of whom were indigenous Guatemalan people,” Rodriguez said. “I also surveyed farmers to see if the project activities had made a difference in their agricultural operations.”
Most farmers involved in the project were able to see significant improvement in crop quality and yield, she said, often by making relatively minor changes in their agricultural techniques.
“The participants were very grateful and it was a wonderful experience to be part of a project that is making such a positive change in people’s lives,” Rodriguez said.
According to Roman, project efforts to date include constructing greenhouses for fruit and vegetable production, developing crop demonstration plots, upgrading food science and soil science laboratories at a local university, and improving existing irrigation and fertilization techniques.
“Some of our additional efforts have been providing hands-on training in planting, harvesting, forestry, soil identification and analysis, integrated pest management, food safety and other important aspects of agriculture,” she said.
“In our new project phase, we will continue to show farmers how to process goods for market, but also will show them more about assessing the market for their products,” Roman said. “We’re trying to ensure there’s potential expansion within a variety of agriculture-related businesses in Guatemala.”
The project extension is being granted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, she said.
“In October of 2005, the USDA’s Foreign Agriculture Service’s Food for Progress program awarded 15,000 metric tons of donated soybean meal to our parent agency, the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station, to sell in Guatemala.
“Proceeds from the sale have funded the project to date, and they will fund the next project phase,” she said.
“We hope this new phase of the project will be as much of a success as the first phase,” Roman said. “This will take the project to the next level. It will help expand and sustain those forward strides made by farmers and other project beneficiaries during the past two years.”