Alva was born and raised in the southwestern Guatemalan department of Jutiapa, but soon felt that the land there was not as suitable for growing crops as in other areas. She eventually moved her family to the department of Petén in the north where she purchased a small plot of fertile land.
There, one of her neighbors invited her to attend agricultural training led by FRB’s local partner APIDEC in its Guatemala Four Departments program. Although Alva was afraid at first that others wouldn’t let her join the program, they quickly accepted her. She eventually began to form new relationships, regularly attending workshops and learning alongside the other participants.
After a few years of living in Petén, her son married a woman named Sheyla who was from his mother’s hometown in Jutiapa. Sheyla was heartily welcomed by Alva and their new community. The two women now work their gardens side-by-side.
Both Alva and Sheyla say they’ve been encouraged by their friendship and how it has strengthened the bond between their families. The women have learned many new cultivation techniques, such as how to diversify their crops, make organic insecticides, construct their own seedbeds, and graft plants. The families are growing many varieties of crops on their plots and are now able to sell their produce. Their economic well-being has improved as a result of training and practice, and they saved enough money to start a fish hatchery, further diversifying their families’ diets. Alva and Sheyla have begun to teach their children how to grow food, and many people from their community come to see how they plant and grow produce on such a small plot of land.
Alva feels blessed to have been a part of APIDEC’s training and now teaches others in her community what she has learned.
Guatemala-Four Departments encompasses 25 communities, 750 households, and 4,500 individuals
Participants in FRB’s Kenya-Ngong Intashat program who join Self-Help Groups (SHG) learn a variety of skills that help them improve their families’ lives.
For example, Esther’s SHG received training on growing vegetables in sacks as a first step in starting their kitchen gardens. She became interested in the workshop during her community’s Participatory Rural Appraisal exercise on how to cut household costs through producing her own food. She started out with one sack garden set up near her kitchen and now has two. Once she began harvesting vegetables she realized how much they improved her family’s nutrition, and hopes one day to have 10 sack gardens. As she put it, “My children no longer eat only ugali [a starchy porridge] with tea. We have a balanced diet.” She uses the money she saves at the market to cover other household expenses. Esther encourages group members whose sack gardens are at the early stages of development by sharing her experience and suggesting possible solutions to challenges that may arise.
Members of six SHGs attended a two-day training on conservation agriculture and establishing demo plots on their fields so they could share their learning with others in their communities. Attendees learned how to select seeds, apply both organic and inorganic fertilizers, plant, and maintain the demo plots. Three demo plots were immediately established, and the farmers have begun interacting and training other people from other communities and sharing their new ideas.
Some groups are receiving training in "table banking" (community savings and loan practices) to learn to be more self-sufficient and reduce their dependency on donors. When groups save money together at regular meetings, they amass enough capital to provide low-interest loans to members who are then able to start or maintain income-generating activities. One such endeavor was to make and sell liquid soap. Since people have to use soap daily, soap making is an excellent way for SHG members to earn money. One SHG held a workshop on making liquid soap, and was able to sell 80 liters of surplus soap at market.
Kenya-Ngong Intashat encompasses 10 communities, 4,500 households and 31,500 individuals
My name is Martha Elena. I’ve always enjoyed having plants in my yard, and used to try to grow vegetables but without much success; they would wilt and not produce. I figured my soil wasn’t any good, or I just didn’t have a “green thumb.” I also got very discouraged when the animals would eat all my plants.
Then, a year ago, I participated in a workshop with ACJ about how to grow a vegetable garden. They showed us pictures of how folks like me had done it in other communities where they work. I agreed to give it another try, so the technical staff showed me how to prepare the earth for planting and how to use recycled materials like plastic bottles and other containers to plant in.
We constructed raised beds, out of the way of the animals. I was worried about how I would get enough water for my plants, but the ACJ staff assured me that they wouldn’t need as much in the containers. It was very satisfying for me to find that I could harvest lots of vegetables like onions, cucumber, beets, peppers and tomato after all. What’s more, our family can enjoy eating all our fresh produce knowing we aren’t consuming toxic chemicals, because we know what we put in our soil.
I’ve also learned how to keep my own seeds for planting. That helps me save money because I don’t need to buy seeds or fresh vegetables any more. And I’ve started a small business pickling vegetables from my garden to sell to local restaurants. My kids are learning right along with me, since they help me with our garden. They’ve learned about recycling at school, and they like to find ways to make good use of our plastic garbage.
I’m grateful to God for giving me strength and perseverance, and I hope to continue learning about how to grow healthier, tastier food in my garden.
FRB’s local partner, ACJ, has learned that women are motivated by concern for their children to learn to grow, prepare and eat healthy foods. Using creative planting containers like sacks, bottles, or raised beds makes it easy for them to look after their vegetables close to their homes. Not only do containers conserve more water than traditional open beds – especially important during the dry season – but placing them close to their homes means they don’t have to carry water very far, and can re-use wash water for their plants.
Nicaragua-Boaco encompasses 8 communities, 210 households, and 860 individuals
In December of 2015, twelve women from a village in Northeast India attended a meeting where FRB’s local partner NEICORD was mobilizing Self-Help Groups as part of its India-Umsning program. The women liked the idea of receiving training designed to help farm families achieve maximum productivity on their land. The concept of Self-Help Groups also appealed to them since they often had difficulty making ends meet, despite the hard work their families did as day laborers.
These women formed a Self-Help Group of their own, and since then have participated in a number of workshops on a wide range of topics, from farming to group management, bookkeeping and leadership. The new agriculture techniques they’ve learned include Sloping Agriculture Land Technology (SALT), System of Rice Intensification (SRI), kitchen gardens, composting, water harvesting and livestock rearing. All 12 members have now planted kitchen gardens, and their families enjoy the nutritional benefits of a wide variety of vegetables. A group member declared that, “The kitchen garden has increased our nutrition security in the family.” Most have either begun or will soon begin using SALT and SRI practices as well.
The women all take part in monthly lessons organized by NEICORD on health, hygiene and nutrition. They also started raising pigs, using their savings to buy piglets and rear them as a group income-generating activity.
They’re saving small but significant sums of money every month. Says one, “Now we have access to loans through the internal-lending aspect of our group.” They even opened a group account at a local bank where they deposit their savings after every meeting. The members make loans to each other when requests are approved by the group. These women are looking forward to a better future. They understand that lasting change takes time, and they are willing to work hard and wait patiently for the best results for their families.
India-Umsning encompasses 12 communities, 190 households, and 950 individuals
April 26, 2016 - On March 29, I was honored to be among the 250 people gathered at the Hall of Laureates in Des Moines, Iowa for “Women and Agriculture: The Road to Global Security”. Organized by the Foods Resource Bank, Oxfam America, and the World Food Prize Foundation, the event celebrated the critical leadership of women and the importance of ensuring human rights and eliminating hunger in order to achieve global peace and security.
Iowa’s Senator Joni Ernst shared a particularly powerful source of inspiration. While in college, she had the opportunity, through a government exchange program, to work alongside peasant farmers on a collective farm in then communist Ukraine. After a full day of manual labor, there were no tractors available on the collective farm, the Ukrainians and Americans would eat supper together. These conversations often included questions about agriculture in the United States, but the Ukrainians were even more interested in what it was like to be free.
What is it like to be free?