Bye Bye King Corn

Guatemalan farmers look to new crops for increased incomes

The Maya people of Guatemala were made from corn - at least that’s how the story goes as recorded in the “Maya Bible,” the Popol Vuh. But while corn may provide just enough for a smallholder farmer to feed a family of seven (yep, families are big in this part of the world), it is not enough.

All this is starting to change, with the IFAD-funded programs in the highlands of Western Guatemala allowing these people made from corn to look beyond the cob and open up new markets for an amazing variety of crops, including onions, carrots, peas and more.

Pedro Tun, President of the IFAD-supported ADIES producers association, met with IFAD’s President Kanayo F. Nwanze in the remote village of Magdalena La Abundancia on August 6 to share the successes of the new production models for the region.

“We used to plant corn, but now we are mostly planting onions,” said Don Pedro. “With corn, we were only able to harvest our crops once a year. Now with onions, and our new irrigation system, we are able to harvest three times a year.”

The numbers tell the story in black and white. One hectare of corn can bring in around US$624 per year, while a hectare of onions yields about $1900 yearly (no tears there!).

But what good is it having a quality product if you don’t have a market? By working with private-sector alliances through organizations such as the Guatemalan Exporters Association (Agexport) the smallholder farmers of the region were able to open new markets and sell their onions to large chains like Wal-Mart.

For Don Pedro and many small-scale producers like him these new revenue streams are not just reducing seasonal migration to work in the sugarcane harvest, it’s also making for a better life.

“We have suffered much in our life as campesinos,” said Don Pedro. “But now, thanks to these new projects our children are able to go to school, we have new jobs, and the people here are healthier.”

Throughout his career in agricultural development, President Nwanze has been a staunch supporter of looking to farming as a business, and the successes of smallholder farmers like Don Pedro in accessing major markets and increasing their incomes indicates that this pro-poor, pro-market model is working.

“Every farmer in every village wants to make money, wants to send his children to school, wants to eat three meals a day,” said Nwanze. “By providing them with better access to markets, tools, and training, they are starting to achieve these goals.”

Photos by Santiago Albert


Anonymous said…
Very interesting! So "sowing" the economy( teach a man to fish) rather than creating a dependent society by virtue of a hand out program can in fact work! I am pleased to see AFAD has developed such a forward thinking program. we need to see much more of this throughout the world. That includes the USA.
Don Pablo