The rural Nicaraguan communities of Las Breñas and San Sebastian are not easy to access. My recent journey from the SHI-Nicaragua office took nearly six hours and, in transit, everything I passed was either enchanting or disheartening – mangroves, swamps, tropical low-land forests, pastures, the ruins of what was once nature now slashed and burned. As the path took me deeper and deeper into human-induced destruction, ignorance and lack of knowledge, I grew more and more disappointed until, that is, I would arrive at an SHI participant farm, such as Don Esteban’s, Don Santos’ or Don Candido's. In the past, these farmers raised cattle, deforested vast tracts of land and ignored the need to diversify, but now they are changing as they learn from SHI Field Trainer, Don Cipriano, using his farm as an example.
Few times during our life do we have the opportunity to meet an individual who awakens us from our sometimes forlorn dreams and directs us on a new path of hope. For five days in February 2011, SHI’s field staff were delivered such an awakening at the hands of Jairo Restrepo Rivera - consultant for the Latin American organization COAS, organic visionary, activist, author and scientist. Jairo preached to us on the basic of conventional agriculture, the agro-industrial complex, farmer-to-farmer communication and organic agriculture as a social movement. His passion and knowledge resonated deeply with many of us, but most importantly, forced us to reflect on organic farming and its future in society, particularly in rural communities throughout Latin America.
With the rains of the new season having begun and the first crops beginning to emerge, SHI-Honduras is hopeful that harvests will again be bountiful and provide the 500+ participant families with not only sufficient food to eat, but also enough surplus to generate additional income.
In addition to improving the nutrition and income of rural farming families, SHI-Honduras successfully planted over 103,000 trees and initiated work in Sulaco, Yoro. Families in Sulaco are already composting kitchen waste and crop residue, and beginning preparation of raised beds for their future vegetable gardens. Though still in their first phase, families in Sulaco are eager to learn other means of soil conservation and sustainable farming.
Following a two week intensive course on permaculture, organic farming and chromatography, staff has broadened their knowledge and will be staging similar trainings for their co-workers and program participants. Additional emphasis on economically viable, low-input farming systems will contribute to a healthier and greener future for many of Honduras´ rural poor.
SHI-Belize continues to strengthen the self-sufficiency of local citizens through educational programs. New initiatives include integrated school programs in Toledo and Stann Creek Districts and incorporating bamboo in latrine construction. SHI-Belize is paving the way in innovation by testing plantain and banana stalks as a natural alternative to plastic seedling bags.
With the support of field staff, families have planted over 281 acres of mixed-use forest (agroforestry) and incorporated a variety of native tree species and fruits including bilimbi (Averrhoa bilimbi) and Honduras mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla). Since July, SHI-Belize planted approximately 33,285 trees on those 281 acres - roughly 118 trees per acre. In conjunction with mixed forests, SHI-Belize aided participants in the community of Colombia to establish a small business selling small batches of coconut oil. The group sells the oil to local community members and in the nearby town of Punta Gorda.
In October, SHI-Belize organized and sponsored the first organic fair in the country, giving SHI participants the opportunity to showcase their vegetables, tree saplings and farming techniques. According to participants, the fair was an opportunity to represent the future of small-scale farming in Belize and strengthen their self-esteem.
During the past fiscal year, SHI- Panamá expects to graduate 27 families in the communities of Bella Florida, Los Alonsos, La Cabuya, and La Mata, and begin incorporating new families into already participating communities.
Staff have received several trainings in collaboration with APOCHI, a collective of organic producers in Chiriqui, and is introducing families to nutrient dense crops like amaranth (calaloo). Over the next several months, we will be working to integrate various projects according to nutrient flow in order to produce zero waste. Systems will vary but consist of pig pens, duck and fish ponds, vegetable gardens and rice paddies.
During the last fiscal year ’09, we converted 174 acres to sustainable land use, installed more than 45 wood-conserving stoves, and provided direct market access for families through various local farmers markets and fairs.
In the last year, SHI-Belize has successfully planted 80,000 multi-use trees on over 350 acres. With the support of SHI’s field trainers, the program’s 323 participants have further honed their skills and understanding of sustainable agriculture. We worked with families to integrate pig pens with fish ponds in order to recycle nutrients and waste, and minimize contamination of the local environment.
Country Director, Nana Mensah, and staff have been developing training curriculum for staff and participant families. As a result of much hard work, the program was recently selected to be the recipient of a grant from Annie’s Naturals to fund one full-time field trainer to work closely with schools in Toledo and Stann Creek Districts. Educating the youth of Southern Belize on the benefits of sustainable agriculture and livelihoods is the next step to creating a healthy, sustainable community in Belize.
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Voices from the Field