Posts Tagged ‘guatemala’

Photo: Kurt Stüber.
Some amaranth species are cultivated as leaf vegetables, says Wikipedia. The Guardian adds, “The plant is indigenous to North and Central America but also grown in China, India, Southeast Asia, West Africa and the Caribbean.”

Here are a couple stories on plants that may hold the potential to feed the world. One is the amaranth; the other is a bioengineered wheat grass called kernza. Pretty sure that one will not go over well with the non-GMO crowd.

Cecilia Nowell reports on amaranth at the Guardian, “Just over 10 years ago, a small group of Indigenous Guatemalan farmers visited Beata Tsosie-Peña’s stucco home in northern New Mexico. In the arid heat, the visitors, mostly Maya Achì women from the forested Guatemalan town of Rabinal, showed Tsosie-Peña how to plant the offering they had brought with them: amaranth seeds.

“Back then, Tsosie-Peña had just recently become interested in environmental justice amid frustration at the ecological challenges facing her native Santa Clara Pueblo – an Indigenous North American community just outside the New Mexico town of Española, which is downwind from the nuclear facilities that built the atomic bomb. Tsosie-Peña had begun studying permaculture and other Indigenous agricultural techniques. Today, she coordinates the environmental health and justice program at Tewa Women United, where she maintains a hillside public garden that’s home to the descendants of those first amaranth seeds she was given more than a decade ago. …

“Tsosie-Peña and her guests spent the day planting, winnowing, cooking and eating them – toasting the seeds in a skillet to be served over milk or mixed into honey – and talking about their shared histories: how colonization had separated them from their traditional foods and how they were reclaiming their relationship with the land.

“Since the 1970s, amaranth has become a billion-dollar food – and cosmetic – product. Health conscious shoppers embracing ancient grains will find it in growing numbers of grocery stores in the US, or in snack bars across Mexico, and, increasingly, in Europe and the Asia Pacific. As a complete protein with all nine essential amino acids, amaranth is a highly nutritious source of manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, iron and antioxidants that may improve brain function and reduce inflammation.

“ ‘This is a plant that could feed the world,’ said Tsosie-Peña. …

“ ‘Supporting Indigenous people coming together to share knowledge’ is vital to the land back movement, a campaign to reestablish Indigenous stewardship of Native land, and liberation of Native peoples, Tsosie-Peña said. ‘Our food, our ability to feed ourselves, is the foundation of our freedom and sovereignty as land-based peoples.’ …

“Amaranth is an 8,000-year-old pseudocereal – not a grain, but a seed, like quinoa and buckwheat – indigenous to Mesoamerica, but also grown in China, India, south-east Asia, west Africa and the Caribbean. Before the Spanish arrived in the Americas, the Aztecs and Maya cultivated amaranth as an excellent source of proteins, but also for ceremonial purposes. When Spanish conquistadors arrived on the continent in the 16th century, they [feared] that the Indigenous Americans’ spiritual connection to plants and the land might undermine Christianity. …

“Although the Spanish outlawed amaranth when they arrived in Central America, Mexico and the south-western United States, Indigenous farmers preserved the seeds – which grew with remarkable resilience. …

“While amaranth is no longer banned, Tsosie-Peña says ‘planting it today feels like an act of resistance.’ Reestablishing relationships with other Indigenous communities across international borders is part of a ‘larger movement of self-determination of Indigenous peoples,’ she says, to return to the ‘alternative economies that existed before capitalism, that existed before the United States.’ …

“Every year … farmers with [a Guatemalan agricultural community called Qachuu Aloom, or ‘Mother Earth’] have traveled to the United States to share their knowledge of amaranth with predominantly Indigenous- and Latino-led gardens. … In 2016, when Tsosie-Peña and her colleagues at Tewa Women United broke ground on their public garden in Española, Qachuu Aloom was there to plant amaranth once again. …

“Tsosie-Peña says that this exchange between North and Central American farmers isn’t just about amaranth as a crop; it’s also about reconnecting to ancient trade routes that have been disrupted by increasingly militarized borders.

“Maria Aurelia Xitumul, a member of Qachuu Aloom since 2006 who has traveled on exchanges to California and New Mexico, echoes Tsosie-Peña.

‘The goal is to share experiences, not necessarily generate income, like capitalists. What we want is for the whole world to produce their own food. … For the seeds, distance doesn’t exist. Borders don’t exist.’ …

“The week before the emergency declaration of the pandemic Tsosie-Peña was in Guatemala. When international borders began closing, she had to rush home to the United States. But a few months ago, after vaccines were widely distributed in the US, she and a handful of delegates from each of the farms that had begun planting Qachuu Aloom’s seeds traveled back to Guatemala. With them, they brought seeds from the amaranth they had each grown in their home gardens … to plant in a shared plot: a kind of solidarity garden.

“ ‘We’ve always viewed our seed relatives as relatives and kin,’ says Tsosie-Peña. ‘We have co-evolved with them as fellow Indigenous peoples of this place.’ ”

More at the Guardian, here.

Meanwhile another plant that’s supposed to feed the world was described recently at the Washington Post. Sarah Kaplan reported on kernza, “a domesticated form of wheatgrass developed by scientists at the nonprofit Land Institute. … A single seed will grow into a plant that provides grain year after year after year. It forms deep roots that store carbon in the soil and prevent erosion. It can be planted alongside other crops to reduce the need for fertilizer and provide habitat for wildlife.” More on kernza here.

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Photo: Jeff Abbott.
Martín Zapil stands among the lettuce plants growing in one of his plots of land on June 10, 2021, in the village of San Martín la Calera in Zunil, Guatemala. He chose to build a future in Guatemala instead of migrating to the U.S.

It was with considerable disappointment but not much surprise that I heard the message that our vice president was dispatched to relay to Central Americans: Stay home.

But, you know, people leave home only as a last resort. If you want them not to, you have to help make it possible to stay. Today’s article indicates how that might work.

Jeff Abbott and Whitney Eulich reported the story from Guatemala and Mexico for the Christian Science Monitor.

“Martín Zapil crouches down and examines the lush green leaves of a lettuce plant growing on one of his small plots of land here in Guatemala’s western highlands. Access to this land – parcels that he rents from neighbors and family – has given Mr. Zapil the opportunity to build an organic agricultural business, supplying restaurants and local markets with his fresh vegetables.

“And it’s done something else that few in rural Guatemala can claim: It’s given him hope, and alleviated his drive to migrate to the United States. 

“ ‘I’m tied down here; these lands have absorbed me and told me living here is possible,’ says Mr. Zapil, taking a seat on a nearby boulder where he surveys his onion, lettuce, and spinach crops.

“Guatemalans make up one of the largest groups of migrants apprehended on the U.S.-Mexico border in recent years. Many are fleeing rural areas, where climate change and lack of access to land and food have severely limited opportunities to thrive. Rates of chronic malnutrition are some of the highest in the world, racism is rampant toward the nearly 44% of the population that identifies as Indigenous, and corruption is rife, with high rates of violence and crime.

“U.S. conversation about halting migrants and asylum-seekers along its southern border tends to center on ‘push-pull’ factors. Crime, violence, hunger, lack of public services, and limited formal job opportunities push migrants away from home, while promises of employment, family reunification, safety, and education pull them north. But rarely does the conversation focus on learning from cases like Mr. Zapil’s: those who fit the profile of someone prone to migrate, yet decide there’s a way to build a future at home.

“It’s a perspective migration experts say could make or break the success of new U.S. initiatives. …

“Kamala Harris visited the region – her first international visits as vice president – and was criticized for telling Guatemalans, ‘Do not come.’

“ ‘The United States will continue to enforce our laws and secure our borders. … I believe if you come to our border, you will be turned back,’ she said at a press conference.

‘It’s not about telling people not to come to the United States; it’s about explaining or showing them why they should stay’ in their home countries, says Nicole Kast, head of programs in Guatemala for Catholic Relief Services (CRS).

“The international aid organization, which receives the vast majority of its funding from the U.S., recently published a study exploring factors that tend to decrease someone’s likelihood of leaving Guatemala – like education and training opportunities that feed into formal employment, access to fertile land, and a sense of connection to one’s community.

“The U.S. has traditionally looked at migration from Central America ‘as what are the problems that exist in those countries that are pushing people out, and not from an opportunity or resilience perspective,’ Ms. Kast says. She’s hopeful there could be a broader shift in the future to focus on what’s keeping people at home and tailoring aid initiatives accordingly.

“ ‘People don’t migrate because they want to,’ says Juan José Hurtado, executive director of the migrant advocacy group Pop N’oj, based in Guatemala’s western highlands. ‘The lack of hope, the despair is something that pushes [migration].’ Like most people, Guatemalans want to remain in their communities, he says – if they can.

“Mr. Zapil, single and in his 20s, fits the profile of many Guatemalans who head to the U.S. in search of opportunity. He estimates four of his seven closest friends have left in recent years.

“He half expected to do it himself. Zunil is an agricultural town, where children can attend school locally through junior high. If they want to continue studying – as Mr. Zapil did – they have to travel to a nearby city, making a diploma a sometimes cost-prohibitive prospect.

“His father migrated, like many before him, when Mr. Zapil was just 2 years old. The elder Zapil couldn’t read or write, and spent 10 years in the U.S., driven by poverty and a desire to provide for his family. The children’s grandfather raised them, while their father sent paychecks home to put food on the table and keep them in school. When Mr. Zapil was 13, a cousin proposed they migrate north together, and he considered the offer. But his dad had just returned home, and his grandfather raised him with an emphasis on the value of working the land and connecting to his K’iche’ Maya history.

“ ‘I don’t know what would have happened if I had gone,’ he says. ‘My connection to the land helps maintain me. … This is what opened opportunities for me,’ he says. …

“His access to land is key to building what he refers to as the Guatemalan dream. It allowed him to develop his company, Sorel Granjas Ecológicas – a project he’s been working on and dreaming about for at least five years. The pandemic shuttered many markets and restaurants, but he’s continued making connections with potential partners.

“ ‘Those who have sufficient land to live on will not migrate,’ says Mr. Hurtado.”

More at the Monitor, here.

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Photo: Alison Wortman
Ingrid, a Mayan community health promoter in Guatemala, is delivering direct health services to another Mayan woman in the Mayan language.

US city hospitals have known for years that it’s important to provide health care to patients in their own language. That’s why hospital interpreter is a growing career option. But you can imagine how grateful a patient might be if the providers themselves spoke her language.

In remote parts of Guatemala, a socially conscious coffee company is supporting an initiative to do that.

As Alison Wortman wrote at the Dean’s Beans blog in May, “When I looked through all the colorful photos I took while on my most recent Dean’s Beans development trip to Guatemala, this one stuck out the most. …

“What we are witnessing here is no small feat. This is a picture (above) from a home-visit in a remote mountain village to check up on a new mom and her baby (the little guy is strapped to her back). What makes the visit so extraordinary is that Ingrid, a Mayan community health promoter, is delivering direct health services to another Mayan woman in their own Mayan language.

“This direct, language inclusive health service from the Mayan Health Alliance (known as Wuqu’kawoq) is the only health organization in Guatemala providing home-based health care to indigenous populations in their own Mayan languages. This women’s health program is one of many in their comprehensive health-care programming which includes primary and women’s health services, nutrition and early child development, treatment and support for chronic disease, medical case management services and clean water education.

“In addition to culturally inclusive services, [the] community outreach workers at Wuqu’kawoq have also become role models for the future generation of girls in a country where 70% of indigenous girls do not make it past 6th grade. …

“Dean’s Beans sent three social workers to Guatemala (Annette Cycon, Jean Marie Walker and myself) for 10 days to prep, introduce and facilitate trainings in Annette’s Group Peer Support Model (GPS). GPS is a powerful and effective group support model that focuses on social support groups to address isolation, mental health concerns, self-esteem building and women’s empowerment. …

“At the end of class the woman served lunch. They all ate half of their portions and wrapped the rest in a bowl covered in bright cloth to take home. Although at first we thought it was to share with their families, we learned later [that] it was to prove to their husbands and mother-in-laws that they had indeed gone to class. This was another example of the oppressive conditions many women face in a country where gender based violence are at epidemic levels.” More here.

That comment reminds me of certain Syrian refugee women I work with. The men are definitely controlling what they do. I think you have to be careful to teach without messing around with another woman’s culture unless you are sure that is what the woman wants. So hard to witness some things, though.

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I’ve followed countertenor Terry Barber’s Artists for a Cause for several years. He lines up musicians who, like him, believe in the importance of sometimes donating their talents to a worthy cause. I heard him perform in Rhode Island (check this 2011 post).

Lately, I stared wondering whether other sorts of artists and craftsmen were doing this sort of thing. So I Googled “crafts for a cause” and discovered that someone had used those very words to name a website:

“In 1975, Hetty Friedman first traveled to the Highlands of Guatemala to learn back strap weaving from a Mayan weaver. After that time, Guatemala entered a period of intense political unrest. Thirty two years later, Hetty was able to return. In partnership with Asociación Maya de Desarrollo, a Fair Trade Weaver’s Coop, she is designing unique woven products, training weavers and leading tours. Together they produce a line of hand dyed, hand woven items that are being marketed in the USA.”

Regarding her tours: “Adventurous travelers are provided with a unique exploration of the Guatemala Highland pueblos, Antigua, a Unesco World Heritage City, and visits to various artists and fair trade jewelry and weaving co-ops. Join Hetty on an intimate tour of Guatemala’s fabulous cultural heritage. Lots of guacamole gets eaten.

“Small group travel for women. Meet Mayan artisans, visit Antigua, a Unesco Heritage site, and travel on Lake Atitlan. Great food, wonderful hotels and good company.

“Call 617-512-5344 or email hetty.friedman@gmail.com for details. Contact us to get put on the list for 2018 travel.”

From the nonprofit that Hetty is supporting, “The objective of Asociación Maya de Desarrollo is not to just provide an income for families in post-conflict communities. Asociación Maya also aims to provide an opportunity for women harmed by the war to become leaders in the cooperative, their homes, their communities, and of the Mayan tradition.”

I am filled with admiration.

More at Hetty Friedman Designs, here.

Photo: Hetty Friedman Designs
Weaver Hetty Friedman says, “It all started at age 13 when I took a weaving class at summer camp. It was like a miracle to me.”

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Heifer Project is a charity founded by Dan West, “a farmer from the American Midwest and member of the Church of the Brethren who went to the front lines of the Spanish Civil War as an aid worker. His mission was to provide relief, but he soon discovered the meager single cup of milk rationed to the weary refugees once a day was not enough. And then he had a thought: What if they had not a cup, but a cow?”

Recipients of Heifer Project’s cows, chickens, pigs, and other assistance commit to giving the offspring of the donated animals to others in need. That way the giving grows and spreads.

Recently, Heifer Project has been helping poor farmers in Guatemala make enough from their cardamon crops to live on.

Editor Jason Woods, has the story in the nonprofit’s magazine, World Ark.

“Miguel Xo Pop farms his own plot of land. Everyone in the Sierra de las Minas depends on two crops, cardamom and coffee, to survive. Xo and his family are no different. Traditionally, the cloud forest’s climate helps the two plants thrive, but in the past few years a pair of plagues cut cardamom prices in half and reduced coffee income to nothing.

“Recently, Xo joined a Heifer International Guatemala project that will help him keep the pests away from his cardamom while adding more crops to his farm, but the project is still in its initial stages, gaining momentum. So for now, Xo spends a quarter of a year away from his wife and five kids to earn money.”

More on the lives of the farm families, here.

The reporter also describes how an altruistic businessman moved to a “double bottom line,” one that includes charity.

“A couple of years ago, McKinley Thomason was searching for a way to use his Nashville-based spice business to make a positive impact. After hearing about Heifer International’s burgeoning work with cardamom, he knew he had found his organization.

“Shortly after contacting Heifer, Thomason’s company, The Doug Jeffords Co., started donating 10 cents to Heifer Guatemala for every seasoning blend sold from their J.M. Thomason line. But Thomason’s passion for Heifer’s work in Guatemala moved him to do even more.

“Thomason has been acting as a project adviser to Guatemalan farmers, sharing his market knowledge and technical expertise in the world of cardamom. He is also making connections and introducing Heifer Guatemala to other like-minded spice companies that could support this or other projects.”

More at Heifer Project, here.

Photo: Dave Anderson

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