Crop diversity improves nutrition and outcomes

Gabriela and her mother, Yamileth with our technical team Jorge and Camilo

Historically, rural farmers in Central America grew a few crops, corn, beans and squash, that were staple crops.  They grew a lot of each because it was easier, and if they lost half of their crop in bad weather, there would still be enough to feed their families and animals.  In Guatemala, these three staples were grown with great success and helped to feed countless rural Mayan communities.

Changes to climate and farming technology in the 20th century left many rural communities to grow these same crops on depleted soils and with less reliable rain.  Today, with the acceleration of rain loss and warming temperatures, rural farming has collapsed leaving rural communities without a way to subsist on their land.

The resulting poverty and malnutrition are driving rural communities into their last hope: migration North. ViviendasLeón recognizes these challenges to rural farming and has developed a way forward for rural families.  Our program implements modern farming methods and new training for farmers that improve food security, nutrition and economic development by increasing the diversity of crops, more than 30 varieties of vegetables, that are grown in these new family farms.

Most recently we have developed some new strategies for rural farmers:

  • Create activities in the field to train and work equitably with families: This strategy has allowed farmers to learn from each other about the importance of having a family farm on their small properties, how to succeed at growing a diverse crop of fruits and vegetables, and how it helps to improve their diet and quality of life.
  • More frequent field testing on plants, and use of homemade organic pesticides helps to better control pests and diseases.
  • Diversify vegetable crops by obtaining and supplying farmers with new seeds, and produce a healthier diet: Actions or strategies such as these contribute to reducing malnutrition and immunological diseases caused by poor nutrition.
New rabano (beets) grown in Gabriela’s farm

Gabriela Davila, one of our family farmers

”Before I received my training and materials to start my family farm, we only harvested grains such as corn and wheat, and vegetables like bell peppers. We did not eat many vegetables due to lack of money. With our training and materials for a family garden, our lives have changed. I work with my mother in the garden. It is a challenge for my family and I because we had never grown vegetables and we did not know the importance, the nutritional and economic benefit that we could obtain from our garden. Now we grow tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, beans, lemons, bell peppers, eggplant and cucumber, and we have more varieties of seeds such as: apple tomatoes, carrots, passion fruits, squash, watermelons, melons, radishes, purple onions, lettuce, cabbage and Flor de Jamaica.

These are vegetables, fruit and herbs that we did not think we would be able to grow. This has improved our nutrition, our children are healthier, they consume vegetables in salads, soft drinks, and in our meals. We share the surplus production with our extended families and sell part of it inside and outside our community, helping us to buy other foods we want, and afford other important expenses like school supplies, clothing and medicines.”