If the majority of Guatemala’s corn farmers live in poverty, why do hundreds of thousands of Guatemalan farmers keep growing corn? If corn lacks key nutrients, why do millions of Guatemalans continue to eat it?
In Guatemala, the Mayan creation story teaches that the first grandparents were made from corn. The Popol Vuh, the sacred book of the Mayans, explains that their bodies were made of yellow and white ears of corn and their arms and legs were made of corn dough. “Corn is sacred to us because it connects us with our ancestors. It feeds our spirit as well as our bodies,” describes Juana Batz Puac, a Maya K’iche’ in charge of the Mayan calendar and rituals in her community. For centuries, corn has been the heart of Guatemalan culture and the basis of the Guatemalan diet. Corn tortillas, in particular, are the mainstay of every meal—and to this day, the Ministry of Agriculture estimates that every Guatemalan consumes 251 lbs. of corn each year.
Nelson, like many farmers in Guatemala, has been growing corn since before he can remember. He now In the community of La Pinada, Chimaltenango, in the Central Highlands of Guatemala, lives Don Antonio, a proud Maya Kaqchikel corn farmer. Now forty years young, he has been growing corn for 35 years with guidance from his grandparents and parents. “All our lives we have planted corn—ever since I felt life,” he adds. Don Antonio, a former mayor in La Pinada, estimates that 95% of his fellow community members are Kaqchikel corn and bean farmers. “Thanks to God, from generation to generation, our grandparents and parents have taught us to work the land and plant. It is our culture. That’s why my children accompany me and why I have taught them. We depend on planting [corn],” he explains.
His nineteen-year-old son, Luis, echoes this same sentiment, “We have been planting [corn] since we were little, but not until I turned fifteen, did I decide to get my own plot. Now, year after year, I have been increasing my harvest little by little.” He adds, “Corn is the main thing we eat at home. Planting [corn] serves an important purpose because it is our food. It helps us to not get this illness, this malnutrition.” Their corn harvest helps ensure that there is never food missing from their table. Luis states, “We store a portion of our corn harvest to eat throughout the year and we sell the rest.”
Luis, Don Antonio’s eldest of three sons, stopped attending school four years ago. He explains, “You learn a little in school, but being here in the fields, you learn more.” A big smile spreads across his face as he says, “I like—I love this job.” The Mayans believe that the land, Mother Earth, has a lot to teach us. She is a living being worthy of respect who provides us with the food and water we need to live.
Don Antonio planted our Fortaleza F3 seed for the first time this year to increase his family’s yields and income. “I am hopeful that we will have very good results,” he concludes, “All my brothers in agriculture and I continue in the fight. Since agriculture is the heritage of our grandparents, and our parents have taught us to continue instilling this in our children, our hope is that our children do the same with our grandchildren, that they continue to plant the good seed because it is the future of Guatemala.”
For hundreds of thousands of farmers throughout Guatemala, like Don Antonio and Luis, corn farming is about more than just livelihood and nutrition, it is also about honoring the legacy of their ancestors, preserving centuries of culture, and living in harmony with Mother Earth. That’s why at Semilla Nueva, we choose to work with rather than against centuries of culture. Our biofortified corn seed improves nutrition and incomes without changing diets, behavior, or culture.
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