EcoLogic has coordinated a series of meetings with key stakeholders in the coastal town of Sarstun, Guatemala, in an effort to find sustainable solutions to dwindling fishstocks. Results of these meetings include the training of fisherfolk to develop business and waste management plans to ensure fisherfolk are getting the most out of their daily catch. Potential business plans help identify and develop new marketable products such as fish sausage to make use of the entire catch and improve their price per fish. Waste management plans include the production of silage, a nutrient-rich liquid made from fish byproduct used to enhance soil conditions.
The heart of sustainability, as you and I both know, is protecting fragile resources while creating healthy livelihoods for families. It is also the heart of EcoLogic’s work. Your support can continue to help the fisherfolk of coastal Guatemala and their families adopt fishing practices that improve fish stocks and implement better ways to bring fish to market.
In December, EcoLogic Program Officer Chris Patterson took a trip down to the communities of Ixcán and Sarstún Guatemala to meet some of the farmers currently working with and incorporating agroforesty into their farm land. While there, he collected data on how their plants are growing. From 5:00 in the morning until to 8:00 at night, Chris and a team of dedicated staff, field experts, and interns met with farmers, toured the land, and compiled data on how the trees were growing.
The team randomly selected 15 inga trees per plot for recording tree height and growth. Inga is the type of tree used on these agroforestry plots. By integrating inga into their agriculture, farmers can reduce erosion, provide a source of organic fertilizer, maintain a healthy climate for crops, and increase yield thus reducing the need to clear more forests for agricultural lands. If trees were chest height, the team took the diameter and a small soil sample to have a baseline of the soil quality before the trees reach maturity.
By taking advantage of the natural benefits of trees, small-scale farmers can use agroforestry to produce more using less land, easing their burden while improving their crops. We’ll continue to keep you up to date on our activities around the growing agroforestry plots in Guatemala.
Since early June 2012, two recent Harvard University graduates, Julian Moll-Rocek and Janie D’Ambrosia, have been visiting EcoLogic’s agroforestry plots in Guatemala to observe, gather data, and provide “tips and tricks” to our EcoLogic field technicians and community farmers on ways to measure and track the progress of their agroforestry efforts. This is the second post in a two part series chronicling their time in the region.
Hi again, It's Janie this time. The last time we wrote Julian and I had just arrived in Ak'Tenamit, a vocational boarding school composed largely of students from the Q'eqchi Mayan communities of the Sarstun region of Guatemala. We received an incredibly warm welcome from APROSARSTUN, an NGO located on the Ak'Tenamit campus and EcoLogic's partner on the ground, and we were finally able to meet the two students with whom we would be working for the next two months. The students, Roland and Matteo, are both in their sixth and final year at Ak'tenamit, and working with us is how they will complete their "practica" -- a two month long field project required to graduate. We rented one of the bungalows on campus for the week as we prepared for our 4-6 week trip to the field. Originally, we thought three days would be more than enough to finalize our field methodologies, plan our route, and pick up supplies. As much as we had prepared, our first chat with Rolando and Matteo revealed just how much we still had to learn, including community structure and dynamics, cultural norms and taboos. As biology majors in college, we felt comfortable taking soil samples and measuring tree diameters and soil cover, but evaluating project impact through interviews and community activities was a new experience for us. During our first one-on-one interview, it became apparent that farmers do not keep reliable track of crop yield, so there was no easy way to quantify the benefits of agroforestry in terms of production. We had to think on our feet and developed a mini-workshop on important numbers for farmers to keep track of during different plot stages. During the coppicing (trimming) of the trees, they can measure how much wood is produced. During harvest, how many ears of corn are harvested. During fruit harvesting , how much fruit is collected. We created a “cheat sheet” to distribute to the farmers with important dates relating to the plot (planting, coppicing, harvest) and the important productivity measures related to each.
By far the most important part of our work here has been speaking with agroforestry farmers about why they participated in the project, and finding out what problems they have had related to their plots, and about the help they've received from Ecologic and APROSARSTUN. Their answers are as interesting as they are diverse, ranging in subject matter from community politics to group dynamics to land tenure issues. Overall, the project participants and communities have received us with great warmth and openness. Discussions are often lively and insightful and never so serious that there isn't time for a good laugh and playful banter. When we aren't in plots or interviewing project participants or doing community-based work, Julian and I are enjoying the beauty of the small villages, learning how to cook Q'echi-style, and, most importantly, taking an occasional break! After our last meeting in Cerro Blanco, we invited the community to a ukulele jam session (Julian and I both play) as a thank you for their hospitality.
The evening of ukele strumming was wonderful. A whole mélange of people showed up-- men straight from the field, women and children taking a break from household chores, and young people who wanted to learn chords. By the end of the night, we had young boys singing "Drop, baby, drop" (a Hawaiian favorite) , and translated "Eight Days A Week" for a sing-along. One of my favorite moments was when a farmer asked, "So what talk do we have to listen to?" We were able to say "No talk, just music and a bit of fun. We hope!" It seemed the least we could do in light of the kindness we'd been shown by the entire community. Now we're off to our next community -- Sarstun Creek. The adventure continues! -Janie
Janie D’Ambrosia has previously worked on a national reserve in Southwest Kenya and Julian Moll-Rocek has done research in the Amazonian rainforests of Madre de Dios, Peru. Both Julian and Janie have degrees in organismic and evolutionary biology, a field that looks at the function, evolution and interaction of organisms—or in this instance, how crops and trees can work together and integrate beneficially into the broader natural ecosystem. They are also showing our field staff techniques to use new technology (such as GPS) to create more accurate maps and georeference the agroforestry plots of the farmers we work with.
In Guatemala, EcoLogic has recently established four plots of land that will be used to grow and cultivate Inga edulis seeds, and increase farmers’ access to the plant, which is used in agroforestry. Agroforestry is a method of agriculture that integrates trees and shrubs with crops like corn, beans, and coffee. By taking advantage of the natural benefits of trees, small-scale farmers can use agroforestry to produce more using less land, easing their burden while improving their lands.
Though tropical forests are often destroyed for agriculture, EcoLogic is helping small farmers to reap the rewards forests offer by reintroducing trees onto their lands. By integrating Inga trees into agriculture, farmers can reduce erosion, provide a source of organic fertilizer, maintain a healthy climate for crops, and increase yield thus reducing the need to clear more forests for agricultural lands.
Local farmers’ use of Inga for agroforestry is one way in which EcoLogic is working with communities to promote alternatives to the ecological destruction of slash and burn cultivation, while also increasing crop yields.
We believe that in order to save forests and water sources, we must work with communities to provide the tools and training they need to sustainably manage their natural resources. Inga is one of the tools we use and an integral part of that solution.
Our work with communities along the Sarstún River in Guatemala and Belize is to ensure the health of both the human communities and marine ecosystems. Recent strides have been made with the establishment of aquacultures. Aquacultures allow the fisherfolk to have a steady and reliable stock of bluefish to sell in the market. The project recently received a large cooler unit for storage. Since the aquaculture and cooler unit have been used, fisherfolk are reporting greater earnings when selling the fish wholesale on either side of the Sarstún River, a natural border between Belize and Guatemala.
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