CHIMALTENANGO — Ambassador Ertharin Cousin, U.S. Representative to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, recently visited the Norman Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture’s training center in Guatemala.
For years the Borlaug Institute, part of the Texas A&M University System, has spearheaded multiple agricultural improvement efforts in Guatemala through a U.S Department of Agriculture-funded Food for Progress project which has included the “Agriculture in Guatemala: Technology, Education, and Commercialization,” or AGTEC, program.
Cousin was accompanied by Arnold Chacón, U.S. Ambassador to Guatemala, during her tour through Central America to visit development projects funded by the U. S. Government and to meet with project beneficiaries, many of whom are women or members of women’s cooperatives.
“AGTEC has been operating in the country since 2008 in partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food for Progress program,” said Johanna Roman, the institute’s coordinator for Latin American programs. “The project was designed to help small farmers gain access to new markets, technology and knowledge for producing and marketing high-value agricultural products, including bioenergy crops and non-traditional fruits, vegetables and flowers. “
Roman said since inception the project has benefited about 7,700 small-acreage farmers in Guatemala in communities with organized farmer groups or cooperatives. This includes about 2,300 farmers assisted through the transfer of technologies such as eight greenhouses, three irrigation systems, 60 rotation and diversification plots, five cold rooms and two food processing centers.
She said the officials’ visit coincided with four training programs for local farmers being conducted at the Borlaug Institute’s headquarters in Chimaltenango.
“They watched and participated as the farmers, most of whom were women, received training in floral design agribusiness, organic agriculture at the AGTEC training garden and confectionery at its food processing training center,” Roman said. “The farmers also received information on agricultural markets at a lecture at the facility relating to the Central American Free Trade Agreement.”
Carolina Oleas, in-country director for the Borlaug Institute’s project in Guatemala, said most of the program’s participants were contacted through leaders from the Catholic Foundation for Children and Aging.
“The CFCA is a partner foundation that provides scholarships for children in different areas around the Borlaug Institute’s headquarters in Guatemala,” Oleas said. “CFCA selects adult leaders from area communities to receive training from AGTEC. They learn about alternative sources of income such as food processing, starting a small business and establishing a community garden.”
The program’s goal is for trainees to apply the knowledge and skills acquired to increase their income and improve their families’ quality of life, Oleas said.
“The ambassadors were so interested in the organic agriculture training that they decided to help the Mayan farmers plant some vegetables in the training garden,” she said. “The ladies in the organic garden were surprised when the ambassadors decided to join to them, and later they were really happy to see them getting involved in what they do. They also felt honored to share with them.”
The program has been successful at providing technical assistance and educational outreach to small-acreage farmers at the field level, she said.
“It also has supported Guatemalan agricultural through instruction, technical assistance, training, exploring new markets and helping farmers reduce their post-harvest losses,” she said.
Oleas said the ambassadors “seemed pleased to see so many people engaged in learning about agriculture-related topics and were happy to observe quality and detail in the Extension teaching process,” adding that Cousin saw the project’s organic training garden as a tool for helping Guatemala’s food security.
“The purpose of her tour was really to visit projects funded by the United States Agency for International Development,” Roman said. “But we were selected as the only site she visited that was funded by the USDA.”
Roman added that Barnett Sporkin-Morrison, agricultural attaché for the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service in Guatemala who coordinated the officials’ visit, had previously visited the project site.
“He liked the program, training garden and training greenhouse, so he recommended that the ambassadors come to the AGTEC site on their visit,” she said. “Their visit was a great honor for us as we are in the closing phase of this USDA-sponsored project and we are looking forward to other funding opportunities to continue helping farmers in Guatemala.”
EDITORS NOTE: Ambassador Cousin wrote in her blog, http://blogs.state.gov/index.php/site/entry/guatemala_media_tour_hunger, writes: “Guatemala has the largest population in Central America (14 million people); it is rich in fertile land and natural resources, yet 53 percent of the population lives in poverty, 13 percent in extreme poverty . Most of these are rural, indigenous people, many of Maya descent, who make up about 40 percent of the population. It is they who are affected more than anyone else by the most tragic consequence of poverty in the country: chronic malnutrition.”
Borlaug Institute: Building on the work of Dr. Borlaug, Nobel Peace Prize laureate and father of the Green Revolution, the Norman Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture at Texas A&M
University employs agricultural science to feed the world’s hungry and to support equity, economic growth, quality of life and mutual respect among peoples. Its goal is to encourage and enable students, faculty, citizens and institutions to respond to opportunities in international agriculture. To this end, the Borlaug Institute supports and implements agricultural development programs throughout the world. For more information go to http://borlaug.tamu.edu.
AGTEC: “Agriculture in Guatemala: Technology, Education, and Commercialization” operations are based in Chimaltenango, serving farmers from the central Guatemalan highlands and reaching out to other sectors of the country, including the livestock sectors of Izabal, Petén, and the bioenergy crop sector of the southern coastal region of Escuintla. Through this project, approximately 4,800 beneficiaries, including small farmers, students, teachers and technicians, have received practical and theoretical training on a variety of agricultural topics. About 600 small farmers have been supported through the facilitation and negotiation of new local, regional and international markets, as well as through improved access to microcredit.