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Cultivating Independence

On September 9th, Guatemala commenced a weeklong celebration of their independence complete with fireworks, parades, countless marching band performances, the famed running of the antorcha (torch), family gatherings, and fairs across the country. It is a time of recognizing Guatemala’s roots, commemorating the progress of a country long divided by war, and celebrating the future of independence we are cultivating for our farming communities here at Semilla Nueva.

photo credit: cgecentralamerica.blogspot.comGuatemalan Independence Day is a celebration not just of the independence gained from Spain in 1821, but of a unified Guatemala and the peace and progress that have followed since the end of the civil war in 1996. Though the time of Spanish conquest is long gone, the history of the Guatemalan Civil War is still fresh. When the Peace Accrods were finally signed, an estimated 200,000 people had been killed or “disappeared.” The overwhelming majority of those killed were victims of sanctioned terror by government forces. The election of Alvaro Arzu in 1996 brought a purge of senior military officers, signed peace agreement with rebels, and the end of 36 years of civil war. Though injustices still abound with discrimination, malnutrition, and a widening division of wealth, Independence Day is ultimately a celebration of this beautiful culture that has endured years of division and conflict.


Planting pigeonpea, one of our
improved bean varieties

Semilla Nueva brings simple changes in growing techniques that can break this cycle of dependence by reversing soil degradation, decreasing dependence on fertilizers, and raising incomes. No-till agriculture can cut drought losses in half. Green manures rapidly restore soil fertility while cutting fertilizer needs. And improved bean varieties with nitrogen-fixing abilities help produce more on the same land, while diversifying the farmers’ crop portfolio from the traditional corn and sesame.

Celebrating independence is not just about looking backwards to a nation’s history, it’s about looking forwards and celebrating what it truly means for individuals to become independent. Most poor Guatemalans are farmers, relying solely on agriculture for their incomes and food. Conventional and chemically-intensive farming methods have slowly destroyed the fertility of their soils. While impoverished soils produce less and less, they require more costly fertilizer inputs – since 2008 the price of fertilizers has tripled. This creates an ongoing cycle of dependence with farmers needing high production to make a living and more fertilizers to reach this higher yield. Many farmers barely break even, while some even end up paying to farm with no easy way out for lack of alternative economic opportunities.

For Semilla Nueva, true independence is about cultivating possibilities and creating opportunities for hard-working people to flourish. Every time one of our farmers makes enough profit to send a child to school, or every time a young person sees a future of opportunity here in Guatemala and rejects the desperation-driven, illegal immigration to the US, we get a glimpse what we are truly celebrating here today. As we celebrate independence in Guatemala at Semilla Nueva this week, we celebrate the planting of seeds for a better tomorrow.

Bernabe, one of our promotores

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