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Feeding the Soil (not the crops) means Feeding Ourselves

July 2012

The women in Sololá, Guatemala keep a very neat garden. The plumb straight fence protects the garden from chickens and other intruders. The seedlings pop out in straight lines, as the gardeners had used a GPS to plant them. In fact, everything was as precisely built as it is well kept.   The women in Sololá have done this over and over again for years. The formula is simple. They nurture the land with the same care they have for their own children. The women continue working in new ways to “feed the soil” (not the plants, like in industrial agriculture), so there always be bountiful harvests.   But caring is not enough when the land you have is too small to feed everyone. It requires new, innovating ideas. And it requires that these tenacious farmers demand respect for their indigenous territorial rights – as established in the 1996 Peace Agreements of Santo Andres and the UN Declaration of Indigenous Rights.   With the technical support from women organizers from the National Coordination of Peasants and Indigenous People (CONIC), the women in Sololá are finding new ways to get more out of the land. They are building composting areas and diversifying the crops that they plant. And they are very much open for other ideas. Like earthworms.   During Grassroots International’s recent site visit to the projects in Sololá, an impromptu demonstration took place. One of the women was eager to show her neighbors how effective earthworms are in producing compost and more food for the soil.   “What? Are you using earthworms?” asked an amazed posse of small children who were following us each step of the way, eating popsicles. They jumped in front of the group to see the worms first, totally indifferent from their mothers’ warning calls.   When we finally get at Katerina Yaxon’s home, the kids were jubilant. The women quickly gathered around to learn how to feed and take care of the worms.   Katerina told us that she brought a bag full of worms during a visit to a family member in another community. Her husband built a wooden container and a shelter to contain the earthworms. Soon, they were producing dark rich organic matter for their entire garden and fruit trees in their backyard. “The only problem here is that you need to keep feeding them,” Katerina said. The family uses kitchen scraps and weeds they pull out of the garden to feed the hard working worms.   The women talked in small circles, processing this new information, their mental wheels already turning on how to utilize this new process to increase their own productivity. The majority thought that it won’t be too hard to keep the earthworms busy. Some believed selling compost and earthworms could be a good way of making extra cash. Their discussion and planning offered a clear example of what women’s empowerment meant for these small farmers.

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