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Rotary International supports a Global Grant that is changing Guatemalan Farming

What is a Global Grant?

Individual Rotary clubs are helping communities help themselves all over the world in a number of incredible, impactful projects. Then along came Rotary International’s (RI) Global Grant – a new idea that combines the contributions of several individual clubs, matches those contributions at the Rotary District and International level, and creates significant financial support for a project.   In January 2013 Semilla Nueva became a recipient in the Global Grant pilot program, a collaboration of more than 13 clubs in Guatemala and the United States, and several incredible individuals who made it all come through.  This was our first large institutional grant, and we want to share a little bit about the BIG impact it has made this year with farmers in Guatemala.


Where did the money go?

Rotary’s Global Grant 2013 went directly to support work in five communities in the departments of Retalhuleu, Guatemala.  With grant money, we were able to form and train Sustainable Agricultural groups and Women’s Food Security groups in each of the five communities.  These groups use promotores, local volunteer leaders, to experiment with new sustainable farming and food technologies that help them increase their income, rebuild their soils, and improve their food security.  A total of 37 promotores have been trained and are leading small-scale experimentation with new sustainable technologies like soil conservation and pigeonpea. More than 50 promotoras participate in our Food Security groups, experimenting with new recipes using crops like Chaya  and Quality Protein Maize  that help feed their kids better.


Promotoras practcing new recipes using local crops that help feed their families better


In only the first year of the project we were able to get a lot of new sustainable technologies into the hands of thousands of families who need them. Quality Protein Maize is a corn variety with 90% of the protein of milk, and is a simple, cost-effective way to help families get protein to the table.  With help from Rotary nearly 100 families received QPM seed and training on how to grow it and cook it.  Pigeonpea is a high-yielding bean that provides protein for the family, grows in the dry season and acts as a natural fertilizer fixing nitrogen into the soil.  With Rotary support 100 families planted pigeonpea this year.  Chaya, nicknamed “the spinach tree”, is a native tree that grows quickly and easily, and offers leaves that boast hard-to-find nutrients like zinc and iron.  Rotary helped us plant Chaya with 50 families in their gardens this year.


Chaya is a native, fast-growing drought tolerant tree nicknamed “the Spinach Tree”. More than 50 families are growing chaya under the Rotary project.


While the technologies are taking off, more importantly the Sustainable Agriculture and Food Security groups are helping to lay the foundation for long-term sustainable development in these communities. The overall goal of this grant is to create a locally-led, self-sustaining source of agricultural and food security expertise that can function far into the future, and the groups we were able to form this year are doing just that. The Rotary Grant provided the resources necessary to train these groups in small scale experimentation and leadership skills so promotores can help neighbors try out new technologies and spread the word to the rest of the community.  These groups hosted farmer-led conferences in each community where promotores presented their experiences with things like no-till farming and using Chaya to increase chidlren’s iron intake to their neighbors.  Overall, the conferences reached a total of 100 additional farmers in the communities.  Word is spreading, and the technologies are starting to grow like wildfire.   According to Semilla Nueva’s 2013 census, 79% of families non-affiliated with the project are employing the pernicious practice of field-burning, while only 32% of families affiliated with the project are burning their fields – representing a major success in technology transfer. Next year, we expect to expand the number of leaders being trained in these groups, as well as the number of farmers trying out new technologies with Semilla Nueva.


Farmer-led conferences in communities were extremely successful this year, where local promotores spoke about their results experimenting with new sustainable agriculture and food security technologies.



It doesn’t hurt to have the name “Rotary” in your corner…

Indirectly, the grant strengthened the organizational capacity of Semilla Nueva to continue this work with farmers for years to come.  Last November  we were a small, unknown NGO with a broken-down car and passionate staff of four that was determined to build lasting change in Guatemala’s farming communities.  Support from Rotary has allowed us to achieve unbelievable growth and impact in our communities, giving us publicity, networks, and legitimacy that has helped us develop into a real NGO making big changes in Guatemala.  The grant specifically helped us buy a better car, getting our staff out to communities more safely and more efficiently. In 2013 alone we were invited to the inaugural class of Ignite Good, our executive director was elected as an Ashoka Emerging Innovator,we were invited to Africa by one of the most prestigious agricultural development organizations (ICRISAT) to explore pigeonpea development, we presented at regional conferences on Agricultural Development and Food Security, and national institutions like Guatemalan Ministry of Agriculture have put us at the top of the bulletin board of “important agricultural NGOs” in the country.  None of this would have been possible without the institutional support of Rotary, and it allows us to continue this impactful work with farmers for years to come, in more communities.

The Clubs that made all the difference

We want to make a huge thank you to the clubs that participated from Districts 5400, 5440, 4250, and 5110:

Quetzaltenango, Guatemala

Boise Southwest, Idaho

Nampa, Idaho

Ashland, Oregon

Emmett, Idaho

Boise Sunrise, Idaho

Boise Downtown, Idaho

Eagle-Garden City, Idaho

Fort Collins, Colorado

Caldwell, Idaho

Boise Centennial, Idaho

Boise East, Idaho

And special help from:

Ketchum-Sun Valley, Idaho

Rexburg, Idaho

Rigby, Idaho

St. Anthony, Idaho


A few people to thank along the way

Rotary has been a cornerstone of the history of Semilla Nueva, even before the grant.  The Rotary Global Grant of 2013 was just the icing on the cake.

In October 2012 a group of 21 Rotarians from Colorado and Idaho came to Guatemala to see Semilla Nueva’s work first hand, meet the communities, and decide on their individual clubs’ contribution to the Global Grant. Out of that trip we gained a handful of board members, numerous technical support from experts, and a lot of friends.


In October 2012 twenty one Rotarians from Colorado and Idaho visited project sites in Guatemala to evaluate the potential grant partnership with Semilla Nueva.



Kathleen and Ben Simko were on that trip, and have come to be Mother and Father figures for our team. Kathleen now serves as the Chair of Board of Directors for Semilla Nueva, offering incredible mentorship in organizational management from her years of leading her own non-profits.  Ben currently serves on our Technical Advisory Committee as well as our Board of Directors, providing invaluable technical support from his 20 years in agriculture and pest management in the United States.  John Gulley also came on the Rotary trip in 2012, decided soon afterwards to donate a new truck to the project, and has since returned for a week-long immersion trip in August 2013 where he harvested corn faster than any local campesino!  Two other trip participants , Mike Sieler and Don Lojek jumped on the opportunity to drive that donated truck down from Idaho to Guatemala in January 2013, growing beards and good memories along the way, and stayed an additional month in Guatemala to offer assistance to the team. Mike currently serves on our Board of Directors as well as Associated Fundraising Board, and is a source of unending encouragement and friendship to the team.

With past and present Board members, technical experts and friends, Rotarians have helped develop this dream into a reality.


Ben Simko looks at yield data and pest results with Executive Director Curt Bowen during his trip to Guatemala in 2012

Ben Simko looks at yield data and pest results with Executive Director Curt Bowen during his trip to Guatemala in 2012




Mike Sieler examines pigeonpea seeds and listens to the opinion on the ground of a local teenage boy who likes the taste.


Teach a Man to Fish and…

In the first year the project has seen great success in farmer interest, participation, and experimentation with technologies. Yet due to the nature of agriculture’s slow change, continued experimentation and training is needed in order to move towards technology adoption, local leadership and long-term regional impact. We are currently seeking and developing the appropriate partnerships to continue the project, providing additional training to sustainable agriculture and food security groups, expansion of technology experimentation, and the fortification of local leadership. With an average of 300 farming families in each community, there is an estimated 1500 total potential farming families that will benefit from this project over the next couple of years, and Rotary was the ignition to start this movement. During the year of our project, Rotary also also received Guatemala’s highest recognition award, the Order of the Quetzal, from the Guatemalan National government for its service in the country, further proving how important and impactful this partnership is.  We are so proud be connected to all the amazing work that Rotary does in Guatemala.

All of the impacts at the community level are important, but the best way to see the real impact is through one family, one story.  Juan Manuel, a rural corn farmer in Guatemala, had a great year in 2013.  Juan Manuel started three different experiments on his land with Semilla Nueva – he has an plot where he has stopped burning his crop residues and started using them for natural fertilizer, another where he has stopped tilling thereby saving himself money, and another where he is planting pigeonpea for a third harvest and additional organic fertilizer.

Rotary helped get the gas in the truck so that Trini, our Guatemalan Agronomist, could help Juan set up his experiments.  Rotary helped Juan get access to the seed and resources required for these sustainable techniques.  Rotary helped Juan’s wife learn new recipes with Quality Protein Maize and Chaya that is changing their family’s nutrition.  Lastly, Rotary helped Juan lead a conference in his community, where he spoke in front of more than 40 of his neighbors about these new, sustainable technologies that were helping his yields go up and his costs go down, all the while protecting his land. Juan Manuel’s neighbors used to look at him, like he was crazy for not burning his land; now they stop by in the afternoon to ask him questions about soil fertility.

Something happened with farmers in Guatemala in 2013, and Rotary was a big part of it. Rotary is supporting the building of a foundation for a movement that is going to last far into the future, a movement lead by local, Guatemalan farmer leaders.  Sometimes we can measure impact in terms of objectives and numbered indicators.  Sometimes, the impact can be summed up in the self-confident and proud smile of a beneficiary.


Juan Manuel, local Guatemalan farmer beneficiary, with his wife and daughter.

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