Smallholder farming accounts for most of the agricultural production in Guatemala. Together with San Juan Agroexport, Bayer Food Chain Partnership supports growers both in and off the field, thereby improving their livelihood as well as promoting sustainable agriculture.
On the one hand, Guatemala has unique biodiversity and great growing conditions due to the humid climate and very fertile land. On the other hand, the income of more than half of the population falls below the poverty line and almost as many suffer from chronic malnutrition. “Guatemala is a country of many, many smallholder farmers,” says Tulio René García Morales, General Manager at San Juan Agroexport. “So we need to find a way to make sure they increase their income so that they can improve their quality of life.”
As one of the largest exporters of fresh vegetables from Guatemala, San Juan Agroexport works with more than 10,000 contracting smallholder farmers and around 25,000 workers employed in agriculture. Since they could not improve sustainable agriculture and social conditions among growers by themselves, they looked for a partner that could make a key value-enhancing contribution to their business and help them promote good agricultural practices. That is why, in 2008, San Juan Agroexport decided to work with Bayer Food Chain Partnership, a collaboration that has continued to this day.
Farmers can be farmers
The Food Chain Partnership team has been supporting San Juan Agroexport in training growers in this small Central American country. “We train them on how to use plant protection products safely and more effectively, how they can reduce costs, and how they can improve their yields and the quality of their products,” says Tulio René García Morales. Beyond supporting farmers in the field, Bayer and San Juan Agroexport also aim to improve their quality of life. “We also talk with them about hygiene and food security,” he adds.
Tulio René García Morales, General Manager at San Juan Agroexport
Most farmers in Guatemala used to grow only two crops – barely enough to feed themselves and their families. “By providing growers with ongoing support and technical advice, they’ve been able to increase their income sixfold,” says García Morales. “That way we’ve been able to really change their lives because now they don’t have to leave their farms to work a second or even third job – they can continue to be full-time farmers.”
Fighting pests with technical expertise
Despite its excellent growing conditions, in recent years both climate change and severe pests and diseases have made farming in Guatemala increasingly difficult. “We have had serious problems with thrips and white fly in our pea fields,” says Tulio René García Morales. “Just increasing the spray volume is not a solution, however. It drives costs up and is not very sustainable.”
Bayer has provided San Juan Agroexport staff and farmers with technical support in implementing integrated pest and disease management programs. In several trials, they compared their integrated solution with conventional programs. “Our goal was to have better pesticide efficacy,” says Juan Carlos González, Sales Representative at Bayer in Guatemala. “It has helped growers increase their yields and also enables compliance with pesticide residue requirements – which has opened up new market opportunities.” In addition, multiple tests have shown that environmental impacts have been reduced – verified by the presence of more beneficial insects in the fields.
No end in sight
“The hands-on, technical support we’ve been getting from Bayer is really making a difference for smallholder farmers in Guatemala,” says Tulio René García Morales. “In fact, more and more farmers are approaching us because we collaborate with such a big company. Bayer is one of few companies that have highly experienced people that come to the field and listen carefully to the farmers’ needs.”
There is no end in sight for this project; in fact, there are plans to expand the cultivation acreage and include more crops – which will make it possible to support even more growers while also promoting sustainable agriculture in Guatemala.