According to the United Nations, Guatemala is the second most vulnerable country in the world to global climate change; this makes work on adaptation indispensable. We are introducing ecologically sustainable agriculture techniques to improve the production of basic grains such as corn and beans through the use of more sustainable fertilizing practices; improving soil quality and soil preservation; reducing harvest-related risks; and using seeds that are less susceptible to the effects of climate change. Goats are being introduced for their milk, a good source of animal proteins. At the same time, it is important to improve storage of grains and the post-harvest management of crops to reduce losses. We are piloting new approaches for storage of basic grains including the use of rotating funds, enabling farmers to buy food from the open market when prices are low and consume their stored grain when prices are high. We are also introducing family gardens, which ensure a low-cost and easily available source of vitamins through fruits and vegetables.
The disastrous impacts of climate change result in erosion, the destruction of crops, and a need to nurture plants that can weather extremes. New techniques to maintain and increase food production levels are vital for survival, otherwise food sources are compromised. Increasing production rates of basic grains and the availability of fresh vegetables from the family gardens simply means there is more good food in the home.
Chimaltenango is highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change due to its geographic location and steep slopes. Crop loss has been significant in the past few years, resulting in food insecurity which exacerbates malnutrition in children. Corn and beans are the food staples in the region, yet they are the very crops which sustain the greatest losses. We work closely with community members on developing sustainable agricultural practices which will mitigate some of the impact that storms are having.
We boost the production of corn and beans through the use of organic fertilizing techniques to improve soil quality; reduce post-harvest losses through the use of corn silos; implement soil preservation measures; and use seeds that are less susceptible to the effects of climate change.
We are reintroducing the practice of terracing, a concept that has been used by rural communities worldwide for centuries, but was displaced by more conventional methods which contributed to soil erosion. Terracing on hillsides allows for the capture of water, while directing it away from soils that are not able to absorb it, reducing soil loss and water runoff. Hedgerows of zacatón, a type of grass, are being planted with the dual purpose of acting as a natural barrier (keeping the soil in place and absorbing water runoff) and serving as a food source for horses and livestock.
Community members are adapting their seed saving techniques to counter the effects of tropical storms, flooding, and drought. Local seeds require less external inputs; they are chosen because they come from the very plants that have best survived their given environment. Not only do local seeds offer good production rates due to their suitability to local conditions, but they alleviate the need to purchase seeds on an annual basis, a requirement when using genetically modified seeds.
Corn is the principal staple of the Guatemalan rural diet. Inadequate storage techniques create the potential for high post-harvest loss due to humidity, rain, and the infestation of rats and insects. This loss can have a detrimental impact on a family’s nutrition while also inhibiting a family’s ability to derive additional income from corn sales, which allows them to purchase other vital foods.
We work with communities to implement weather-resistant corn silos that greatly reduce these post-harvest losses. Corn silos can store grain produced by up to five families. With improved storage capabilities, people will have the option to buy and sell corn according to market fluctuations. After damaging tropical storms force corn prices to rise, stored corn can be sold for a profit. When corn prices are down, families can maintain their supply until the market favors selling, use the corn for their own needs, or purchase corn on the market to resell when prices rise. The introduction of a revolving loan fund will aid families in this endeavor. The simple concept of adequate storage allows for families to think and plan strategically around their main crop. Their health and future income is also less vulnerable to weather and pests.
Family gardens increase a family’s capacity to produce basic grains and foods rich in micronutrients, aiding the youngest children and pregnant women, those most vulnerable to malnutrition.
These gardens are also an important component of our strategy for adapting to climate change as they counteract nutrient loss resulting from the devastation of staple crops by tropical storms, a fierce by-product of climate change. Additionally, their size simply makes them more resistant to storms than large cultivation areas.
The indiscriminate use of fertilizers and pesticides resulted in the deterioration of soil quality and crop productivity over time. Families are learning to compost their organic material and animal manure which has the dual function of reducing waste and healing the soil. Within three years, we expect that the soil will have revived enough that synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides will no longer be in use.
Families will be able to sell surplus vegetables, and use the funds to buy new seeds and to satisfy other unmet needs.
Goats are an important component of our efforts to defeat chronic malnutrition and address the impact of climate change. They are a resistant source of nutrients that are not affected by tropical storms. Goat milk is an excellent source of calcium and vital minerals for children suffering from malnutrition. They are easy to sustain, can eat almost anything, and their manure serves as healthy compost for family gardens. Goats adapt to the rocky highlands of Guatemala better than cows do, require less food, and consume less water. Importantly, the pesky problem of lactose intolerance doesn’t occur with goat milk. Goats have been used in the fight against chronic malnutrition worldwide for decades, and with good reason.
Our project is simple and sustainable: families who have children under five that are malnourished receive a milking goat. The family commits to giving the first female offspring of that goat to another family.