Agroecology schools in Guatemala are reinvigorating ancient techniques and ensuring food security.
Through the agroecology school system of learning called “campesino a campesino,” Guatemalan farmers are implementing sustainable, efficient, and organic food solutions.
Monocultures Have Devastated Our World
Throughout our world, monocultures have become the dominant way to conduct agricultural activities. The cultivation of cash crops for an open market has increased profits for the owners of the various plantations at the expense of the local farmers who work the land.
In Guatemala, like many other countries in South America, this fact is clear to anyone involved in the industry. Monocultures demand significant amounts of water to feed the crops, leading to the diversion and modification of river flows. In dry seasons, this can be catastrophic for the local people who rely on the water for their daily activities.
The development of monocultures has also made it necessary for farmers to rely on manufactured fertilizers and pesticides, taking advantage of the already precarious situation that these farmers find themselves in. This reliance on manufactured fertilizers and pesticides has also led to soil degradation, further reducing output.
However, a solution presents itself in agroecology schools, which tie into traditional methods of agriculture that have existed in the area for hundreds of years.
This push towards agroecology has manifested itself in the form of agroecological schools, where farmers teach each other their wisdom and knowledge on how to farm sustainably, effectively, and organically.
What is Agroecology School?
For those unfamiliar with the term, agroecology is the practical application of ecological principles within agriculture. This stands in contrast to conventional agriculture in that it shuns the use of fossil fuel-based supply chains to provide external inputs, like fertilizer and pesticides.
These methods aim to create self-sustaining farms capable of producing significant amounts of food from various sources rather than a single crop.
The fundamentals of agroecology schools are recycling, input reduction, soil health, biodiversity, and synergy. The way this works in practice is the creation of farms that use every bit that the farm creates through recycling, the reduction of external inputs that force reliance on an outside source, the prioritization of nutrient-dense soil, a large variety of different plants and crops, and having these systems work together.
Organic agroecological farms have become quite popular in some Western countries as the awareness of the degradation of farmland through conventional agriculture has become increasingly prevalent.
In other less developed countries, it has also become quite popular as it integrates traditional knowledge known for generations with self-reliance and food security, which is important for people struggling to eat.
However, education in these new and old techniques is of utmost importance to facilitate this transformation from a monoculture-dominant agricultural economy to an agroecological economy. That is why these farmer-led agroecology schools in Guatemala are sprouting up, so to speak.
How Does an Agroecology School Work?
Underneath the Utz Che’ Community Forestry Organization, over 40 indigenous and rural communities have come together to exchange knowledge and wisdom in ancestral and agroecological techniques.
These classes are not conventional in that an expert leads them in lessons; rather, they are focused on co-learning, with a mutual exchange of knowledge encouraged. This kind of learning is called “campesino a campesino,” also known as “farmer to farmer.”
These classes comprise 30-35 people, with a specific farmer who knows a particular field well taking the lead. De León Gramajo, project coordinator at Utz Che’ elaborates, “We identify a producer who has specific experience in a subject — for example, potato production, pig production or seed reproduction — and through this process, we transfer knowledge between farmers.”
Attendance is free; however, as part of the process, it is understood that former students will eventually be responsible for educating the next generation of farmers.
Through these new and ancient techniques being taught and implemented, the people of Guatemala better understand themselves and their land.
They can teach these methods to new farmers beginning their work on the land, and all the while ensuring that food is easily available for everyone nearby.