Title: Developing sustainable livelihoods for farmers living in the dry corridor through hydroponics
Type of Project: Humanitarian and Vocational Training
Central America is one of the region's most vulnerable to disaster risks due to its geographical location, high climate variability, exposure to extreme hazards and the institutional and socio-economic weaknesses of its population. Agriculture and food security face multiple threats disrupt regular weather conditions. One of the areas most affected by extreme hazards is the "Dry Corridor".
Climate risks in the Dry Corridor are mainly represented by recurrent droughts, interspersed with periods of excessive rains and severe flooding affecting agricultural production with greater intensity in degraded areas. The Dry Corridor stretches from the pacific coast of Chiapas, Mexico, to the western part of Costa Rica and western provinces of Panama. The countries that are the most prone to drought or extreme precipitation are Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua. During the past 10 years of El Niño-ENOS precipitation dropped by 50% - 100% in some areas with long periods of heatwaves during which there is hardly any rainfall. This window of time with no precipitation, which has been increasing over time has had disastrous consequences on the cultivation of basic grain crops, such as corn, which are part of the region's subsistence agriculture. In Central America's Dry Corridor more than 1 million families rely on subsistence farming. The levels of poverty and malnutrition are alarming and mainly affect rural populations and indigenous communities.
According to studies done in 2019 by the Minister of Agriculture in Guatemala, USAID, and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the percentage of producers of basic grains in Guatemala is 67 percent. In southern and eastern Guatemala, 24.1% of the surface of the country is affected by the Dry Corridor, including 311 municipalities in the departments of Quiché, Baja Verapaz, El Progreso, Guatemala, Zacapa, Chiquimula, Jalapa, Jutiapa, and Chimaltenango. The impact has been most severe on subsistence farmers and has been compounded by the global economic downturn, which has brought declining remittances, higher seed and fertilizer costs, and fewer work opportunities for seasonal and unskilled workers. One in three families lacks sufficient food to meet their daily needs and more than three-quarters have no food reserves. FAO and the World Food Program (WFP) reported in 2019 that these families are subsistence farmers, which means that they harvest and eat the food that they grow, mainly maize and beans. If they lose a crop, they will not have reserves to eat or sell, to survive until the next harvest. Once their food reserves have been depleted families often resort to emergency coping strategies. According to FAO, WFP, and the governments, up to 82 percent of the families have sold their farming tools and animals to purchase food. They often skip meals or eat less nutritious foods.
Several strategies that have been used by these organizations to improve the conditions of food security and health (malnutrition) include:
1. Risks management and disaster preparedness due to environmental catastrophes during the rainy or drought seasons (mudslides, famine with migration of farmers)
2. Replacing the existing water-dependent crops with sorghum and tubers, which need less water, or sowing short-cycle crops with the first rains in the dryer zones.
3. Producing high quality seeds and establishing reserves (community seed banks for contingency).
4. Use of Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) seeds. This strategy has been applied to maize in various areas of Guatemala including the target area of Chimaltenango. In interviews conducted by Phalarope in 2019 during household visits, farmers from Chimaltenango expressed that while the sowing cycle is shorter (6 months) compared with the regular corn seed (8 months) the quality of the corn is not good. Farmers must buy seeds after the harvest, and they need more fertilizer and pesticides.
5. Revitalization of the soil.
While these strategies have been effective in some areas, there still is a large percentage of farmers who do not have enough income to cover their basic food needs and there are families who reported that they plan to migrate in response to this situation.
At this moment there are no programs to introduce farming techniques that can be done quickly, cheaply, easily, and in a small space. The program we are proposing will help expand and built on work done by Phalarope last year in one of the communities of the dry corridor. Phalarope's pilot was the first hydroponic strategy to be implemented in the dry corridor.
Phalarope's pilot program (Phase-1) started in 2019 on a small scale in one of the target communities (2 square meters) where 40 lettuce and strawberries were grown. From Sept 2019 weekly evaluation and maintenance of the system has been going on by Phalarope's staff. Community members were able to see the process from the start to the harvest of these two crops. The pilot demonstrated the feasibility and acceptance of this new farming technique for a large-scale implementation in this area. The Mayor of Tecpan has requested in writing for Phalarope to expand the program and teach farmers in these 45 communities.
The project will be implemented to help Phalarope expand its hydroponic program with the local authorities in the municipality of Tecpán, Chimaltenango and will use Phalarope's current Economic Empowerment Program to solidify the economic impact needed for this intervention. There are 45 communities in the target area of the Dry Corridor. The program will concentrate on 100 families who live in 4 of the 45 communities which are closer to the area where the hydroponic systems will be installed. These communities are: Chuachalí, Zaculeu, Chajalajya, Caserio San Carlos. There is a total of 751 households in these communities, 779 families for a total population of 4,676. Families are of low income and educational level (50% finished lower school, 35% had no education at all). Sixty two percent had soil floors in the houses. Their diet consists mostly of starchy grains, with consumption of high protein foods once or none during the week (meat, dairy products). One hundred percent of the families are farmers. Some on the women in these families are also basket weavers, huipil weavers, or potters. Sixty eight percent of the farmers own their land. 82% of the farmers have a plot less or equal to 0.29 acres, 15% between 0.30 and 0.5 acre, and only 3 % own a plot larger than ½ an acre. Farmers harvest mostly maize, black beans, and sporadically they grow other vegetables like carrots, broccoli, cabbage, green beans, onion, potato, and herbs. An assessment conducted by the Oficina de la Mujer (a program of the Municipality) in March 2020 found that among the target population farmers' crops take 4 months before they can harvest new ones. During the 4 months of growth the farmers must invest in fertilizer and land preparation investing around Q3,2000 for each crop. Once the crops are harvested, farmers have difficulty finding a place to sell their product directly. When they find a way to sell it, it is through a third party who purchase their crops at a price of Q4,200 to Q5,000 ($562 to $663) per cuerda (0.29 acre). The farmers with the current agricultural practices can only produce 1 crop of corn and beans, or 2-3 crops a year of vegetables in their small parcel, depending on the weather conditions. Therefore, if the weather is good and the farmer is growing vegetables with 3 crops a year, he will have a gross yearly income of Q15,000 ($1,990). When we subtract his investment for each crop the net yearly income is Q5,400 ($716) to pay for basic needs for his family (food, education, health) and invest in the next year's crop. However, severe drought has reduced the number of crops they can have a year. During the year, farmers also try to complement their income by working in other days, 3 to 3.5 days a week at a salary of Q40 a day ($5 a day). There is a large flower private industry in the area that exports 7 million flowers a year during Mother's Day to the USA. Some of the farmers who cannot grow their own crops work on these private farms.
The program proposed here will be implemented in 4 communities of the municipality of Tecpan, Chimaltenango. should dramatically increase food production. It should drastically diminish water requirements, investment in fertilizer and time for harvesting food. Additionally, it will allow the farmers to create their own business and increase income. This will enable them to increase the consumption of high nutrition foods, improve access to better healthcare, and increase acquisitive power.
Community Needs that will address :
- Low production of viable crops in the target area due to the severe drought that exists.
- Low income due to lack of crops to sell in the market
- Food Insecurity (lacks sufficient food to meet their daily needs ) that exists due to the environmental conditions of severe drought in theses area.
- Developing opportunities for productive work and improving access to sustainable livelihoods
The program has 4 training components:
1. HYDROPONIC FARMING TECHNIQUES. This will be done by the Vocational team form by members of Phalarope and Skidaway Rotary Club. Farmers will learn a new farming technique - hydroponic farming. The training consists of 11 modules containing 20 classes. During the training they will learn how this farming technique works, how to build a system, why it is a great solution for the type of terrain in which they live (Dry Corridor), how it saves water drastically with reduction of water evaporation , and how it is cost -savings as they will use less fertilizer. Farmers will learn to grow a new crop in this area that has a higher economic value in the market than the current crops they grow and has a shorter period for harvest. Lettuce can germinate in temperatures anywhere from 40-85°F and harvest in 8 weeks. The system will allow them to grow lettuce and have it at different stages of development so as soon as they harvest the first batch, they will have seedlings ready for the next harvest period. Currently, corn takes 4 months to harvest (if you use Genetically Modify seeds) or 6 months for the regular seeds. Therefore, this crop will allow them to have a rapid yield. Farmers will learn to improve crop management, post-harvest handling, and integrated pest management so farmers can increase the quality of their crops using hydroponic systems. Phalarope will work with Caban Systems to install solar panels and provide technical training of their use and maintenance.
2. COMMUNITY ENTERPRISE MANAGEMENT EMPOWERMENT. EMPRESA COMUNITARIA COMERCIAL (ECC). This training will be done by Phalarope as it is part of the priority programs. Farmers will form an agricultural business through Phalarope's Economic Empowerment Program- (Empresas Comunitarias Comerciales). This is an established program of Phalarope where members of the community are helped to establish a business from the ground up. Phalarope is currently working with 50 women who are weavers, basket makers and potters. For this specific proposal, farmers will be enrolled in this program as they are trained simultaneously by the vocational team in the new agricultural techniques. Phalarope will help them to establish their own business by teaching farmers about business development, finance, and marketing. Workshops are taught by experts in these areas with more than 20 years of experience. Phalarope will help farmers develop basic administrative and operational policies and procedures, quality control, distribution of product. finance, accounting, and governance. Phalarope also will help them register their business as a cooperative. A logo, a simple website, Facebook, and Instagram account, will be created for them. We will train them on how to maintain and update these technology sites. Finally, the host Rotary Club - Vista Hermosa Club and Phalarope will work together to identify buyers for the crops (lettuce or strawberries) produced by on their "new business" at a competitive price set.
3. LEGAL AND TRIBUTARY REQUIEREMENTS TO FORM A COOPERATIVE
This training will be done by Phalarope as is part of their priority programs. It has 4 modules. The objectives are that at the end farmers will understand all the legal and tax laws to form a cooperative in Guatemala, draft Legal Papers and Incorporate with the Government of Guatemala and obtain own tax ID number.
4. PROCESSES TO OBTAIN ORGANIC CERTIFICATION OF HYDROPONIC PRODUCTS BY NATIONAL ORGANIC PROGRAM (NOP). This training to help farmers had organic operational systems to ensure that foods grow can meet all national and international standards for organic food production, distribution, and certification.
This training has 2 main modules with 21 classes total. (This will be done by Phalarope)
- Organic Production and Handling Requirements (8 classes)
- Labels, Labeling and Market Information (13 classes)
Cooperative Organization - Phalarope will conduct with the Vocational team the development, implementation, data collection, and evaluation
Phalarope Phalarope, Inc. is a non-profit 503(c) NGO with operations in USA and Guatemala since 2016. Phalarope's
mission is to improve children's lives by empowering women through education, community outreach and opportunity, enabling families and communities to reach their full potential. The organization has no religious or political affiliations. Phalarope has six priority areas: women's economic empowerment, education, food access-agricultural, maternal and child health, professional training, and technical support of other nonprofits. Phalarope senior members and have more than 25 years of experience working on the medical field, with expertise in public health, epidemiology, medical anthropology, program development, implementation and evaluation in the USA and Guatemala. Phalarope currently has several projects in Guatemala.
EMERGENCY RESPONSE COVID- Currently during the COVID pandemic, Phalarope developed protocols for the 25 Comadronas working with Phalarope to decrease exposure to the virus, learn how to use protective personal equipment (PPE). Phalarope developed a monitoring and referral system for patients found to be presenting signs and symptoms for COVID. This was done in collaboration with the municipal firemen of Tecpan and San Jose Poaquil of possible (pictures attached). Phalarope with the help of the Vista Hermosa Rotary Club and Engineers without boarders were able to provide PPE.
AGRICULTURE - Phalarope has an agricultural demonstration program in the corridor Seco to showcase the concept of hydroponic agricultural practices and the feasibility to grow crops with a nutritional and economic value. The project has been in place since Sept 2019 with a first crop of strawberries. Phalarope is well respected by the communities and community leaders. Its community assessments shows that there is a need to develop a formal teaching component where farmers can be certified, train and receive technical support in hydroponic systems on an ongoing basis.
MATERNAL AND CHILD HEALTH - in 2019 Phalarope participated as the cooperative organization of a global grant that implemented a maternal and child health program in 8 communities in Guatemala, where traditional midwives (comadronas) were trained as traditional medical teams. Midwives were trained to identify high risk patients that developed hypertension and gestational diabetes using basic medical equipment. Also, they were taught to use medical equipment to conduct fetal monitoring and growth using portable Doppler, to measure uterine height, and fetal position. These teams continue to work under the supervision of Phalarope. The program will be expanded to 13 more communities in 2021.
ECONOMIC EMPOWERMENT PROGRAM (Empresas Comunitarias Comerciales). This program helps members of the community establish a business from the ground up. Phalarope is currently working with 50 women in the Santa Apolonia Chimaltenango who are weavers, basket makers and potters. and sell the products locally. Phalarope is helping them establish their own business by helping with product design and development , business development. Phalarope helps develop basic administrative and operational policies and procedures, quality control, distribution of product, finance, marketing, accounting, governance, and tax law. Phalarope also helps them registered their business as a cooperative. A logo and a simple website, Facebook and Instagram account are created and women will be train on how to keep it update it. Finally, Phalarope and partners work together to identify buyers for the products. Workshops are taught by experts in these areas with more than 20 years of experience.
EDUCATION - Phalarope's educational program "Learn to action STEM Program" promotes math and science education among elementary school children using aquaponic systems as a hand-on learning tool. This program is being implemented in Jocotenango, San Juan Sacatepéquez, Guatemala an done in Midway, Georgia USA and in Panama. Phalarope developed lessons plans, games and problem -solving activities to teach STEM concepts. Phalarope built a aquaponic ecosystem in Jocotenango (Guatemala), funded the construction of one system in Midway GA (USA), and it is in the process of establishing the program in a rural school in Volcancito in the district of Boquete, Provincia de Chiriquí in Panama.
INTERNSHIPS AND FELLOWSHIP TRAINING PROGRAMS
Phalarope supports internships/fellowship training opportunities for qualified undergraduate and graduate students and professionals who want to gain meaningful experiences in a public health setting. These opportunities can be done as a summer internship or a year-long fellowship
Sustainability : Phalarope is committed to continue funding this agricultural teaching intervention. The Board of Directors are committed to put personal funding to the program and find local foundations and donors including grants.