Texas AgriLife Research project helping thousands of Guatemalan farmers

The AGTEC training site includes a 400-square-yard-plus greenhouse, as well as agricultural test fields for the production of various vegetables and fruits. The project has been providing technical assistance to Guatemalan farmers to help them diversify to produce high-value crops, including coffee, potatoes, tomatoes, French beans, snow peas and ornamental flowering plants. So far, more than 6,700 farmers and others have been helped through the project. (Borlaug Institute photo)

CHIMALTENANGO – Guatemalan farmers and other small-scale agricultural crop producers and their families have been benefiting from help provided through a Texas AgriLife Research project, according to project participants.

The Agriculture in Guatemala: Technology, Education and Commercialization, or AGTEC Project has been providing technical assistance to Guatemalan farmers to help them diversify their production systems to produce high-value crops, including coffee, potatoes, tomatoes, French beans, snow peas and even ornamental flowering plants, said the program’s coordinator.

“AGTEC is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food for Progress program and led by the Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture,” said Johanna Roman, Latin American Programs coordinator for the institute. The Borlaug Institute is named for Dr. Norman Borlaug, Nobel Peace Prize laureate, father of the green revolution and distinguished professor of international agriculture at Texas A&M University from 1984 until his death. It is is located on the university’s campus in College Station.

“The Borlaug Institute is helping Guatemalan farmers improve agricultural systems and management techniques through improved and appropriate agricultural techniques that are environmentally sound, and by transferring agricultural technology to the field to help improve productivity and support rural development,” said Roman. “The project is helping farmers address technical issues at every point along the value chain, including production, processing, storage, packaging, shipping and marketing.”

Roman said the project also is promoting business and new product development, improving sanitation standards and helping improve small-farmer access to credit.

“The AGTEC project is increasing access to new markets, technology, and knowledge for high-value agricultural products in Guatemala, including bioenergy crops and non-traditional fruits, vegetables and flowers,” Roman said. “This project has been successful in establishing food processing centers, post-harvest centers with cold rooms, composting units, greenhouses and irrigation systems.”

The Borlaug Institute is helping Guatemalan farmers improve agricultural systems and management techniques through improved and appropriate agricultural techniques that are environmentally sound, and by transferring agricultural technology to the field to help improve productivity and support rural development.”

– Johanna Roman, Latin American Programs coordinator, Borlaug Institute

The project focuses on areas in and around Chimaltenango in Guatemala’s central western highlands. Initial Food for Progress project funding came from AgriLife Research and the Texas A&M University System “monetizing” 15,000 metric tons of soybean meal, provided by the USDA, in Guatemala.

“Project administrators worked with  local partners to select the most needy farmers and families for participating in the project,” Roman said. “We looked at income and education levels, social situation and other criteria such as degree of food insecurity, access to natural resources, limited scale of production, desire to participate, and willingness to collaborate with others and adopt new agricultural practices.”

To date, the project has helped more than 6,700 Guatemalan farmers, along with Guatemalan agricultural technicians and local agriculture students.

The project also helps young people in Guatemala develop an interest in agriculture and horticulture. (Borlaug Institute photo)

“In addition to AgriLife Research support, we’ve had personnel from the Texas AgriLife Extension Service and several students from Texas A&M come to Guatemala to assist us in our efforts,” Roman said. “Instructors have included specialists from Texas A&M, faculty members from Guatemalan agricultural universities, experts from Guatemalan industry and Texas A&M current and former students.”

Carolina Oleas, who heads the project in Guatemala, said some of the project’s top achievements to date include the establishment of a demonstration organic garden and a teaching greenhouse, as well as development of numerous hands-on education and training opportunities for farmers and others involved in Guatemalan agriculture and agribusiness.

“The demonstration garden and fields were established to test and optimize existing agricultural techniques and develop new ones for cultivating vegetables, fruits and flowers,” said Sergio Noriega, one of the project’s technicians.

The training site includes a more than 400-square-yard greenhouse, as well as agricultural test fields for the production of vegetables and fruits. A completely automated drip system irrigates the fields, and a composting unit and food-processing training center were also established to offer additional educational programs.

Partnering with local institutions, the project also has created an innovative series of technical and interactive training programs to help improve farmers’ knowledge of food production, safety, processing and marketing, Oleas explained.

“In many instances, we have helped farmers increase their crop yields by 10 percent and have trained them on improved techniques related to cultivation, processing and crop rotation,” she said.

She added that project personnel also have conducted workshops on sanitary and phytosanitary standards, harvest and post-harvest methods, soil and water conservation, food processing, and horticulture programs for teachers, along with conducting dozens of educational field tours for hundreds of farmers.

This cold storage unit in a food processing facility in Guatemala was made possible due to the AGTEC project spearheaded by the Norman Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture. (Borlaug Institute photo)

Additional project successes to date include agribusiness development, including helping establish a meat products business, establishing two food-processing centers, providing three cold storage areas for agricultural cooperatives, developing new markets and market connections, and improving farmer access to credit. Agribusiness training has included workshops on new product development, organic farming and business basics and leadership training for female farmers.

“The majority of agricultural training programs were implemented in rural communities, the project’s training garden, training greenhouse or the food-processing center,” Oleas said.

“Coffee is a major export for Guatemala and we’re working on ways to help coffee farmers improve not only the quantity of this crop, but also the quality,” said Noriega, who oversees the project’s coffee diversification efforts. “With the coffee plant trials in the nursery, we’re looking at improved seedling selection, as well as the best techniques in planting, pruning, fertilizing, pest management, plant disease control and harvesting.”

Coffee production and marketing improvement efforts through the project also have included instruction in international good agricultural practices, good manufacturing practices, fair trade practices and requirements for fair trade certification. Fair trade-related efforts recently helped the Flor de Café San Martineca Cooperative toward renewal of their fair trade certification.

Susan Jaime, coffee quality grader, international cupper and owner of Quest Coffee International in San Antonio, Tex., was a member of a team which traveled to Guatemala earlier this year to conduct coffee quality training programs and teach farmers and co-op members how to “cup” coffee to assess its  sensory characteristics and quality.

“We presented a series of workshops for coffee producers,” Jaime said. “Our goal was to teach them the importance of reaching high quality standards, how to taste, rate and roast their own coffee, and to expose them to the basic economics of coffee production.”

She said these workshops introduced more than 100 coffee producers to coffee grading, cupping ‘protocols’ for determining product quality and identifying defects, and the proper pricing and “commercialization” of their product.

Future project plans for crop production include staff of the horticulture department of the Texas A&M College of Agriculture and Life Sciences providing technical assistance with post-harvest handling, fertilization, pest management and disease control in several crops.

“Along with the agricultural improvement aspects of the project, we’re also helping to improve the role of women in Guatemalan agriculture and society, the financial security of Guatemalan farmers and their families, and Guatemala’s overall food security and quality,” Roman said.

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