How I’m Spending My Summer Vacation – Panajachel, Guatemala
I arrived in Guatemala five weeks ago to work with a technical training school and gain some experience in the field. I have been tremendously impressed by Universidad del Valle – Altiplano’s agricultural research programs and community outreach projects.
UVG has an expansive campus at the pinnacle of Sololá on what was a military base during the civil war. Now, it has been converted to an agricultural trade school and adult education university with open education and community outreach programs.
The first thing that impressed me was the state-of-the-art greenhouse used for growing tomatoes in the best of best practices. More impressive than this, though, was the greenhouse next door – the second best practice example – where they showed me how, with the proper techniques, my tomatoes could still attain the quality of the first example. But, this still wasn’t affordable for most people. Then, tucked behind the first two examples was the third, and most awesome, greenhouse. In this one, I was shown how to get best-in-show peppers to grow with less than best-in-show housing. The eventual plan of the university is to open a store to sell all of the produce and demonstrate the growing methodologies to the community.
The second stop on my tour was the flower garden. Here, the university had brought in different seed varieties from departments outside of Sololá to see if they would grow in the Sololá climate and soil. The theory is that if other flower varieties will grow in Sololá, farmers can differentiate what is sold in the market and raise incomes. The university is taking the risk so that subsistence farmers don’t have to.
Last on the tour was the most impressive garden in the world. Nutritionists, agriculturalists and various other experts have worked out the calorie count necessary for a family of five to live for one year. That calorie count has been converted to plants which are being tested out in two 12 ft by 6 ft rectangular plots. The plants are being irrigated only with rainwater and grown organically. Guatemala is approaching a food crisis and this is one experiment that hopes to address that. Start up costs are about $400.
My role at UVG, aside from being continually impressed by their programs, is to work with the newly developed Certification in Best Practices for Business Management to provide a summative evaluation and the infrastructure for an impact evaluation. The highlight so far was when the business teacher, while demonstrating how important it is to read the business section of the paper, held up a Prensa Libre (Guatemala’s second leading news daily), explained to the class that they could get one for free at any Pollo Campero (Guatemala’s version of KFC), and proceeded to rip the business section out, fold it up and put it in his pocket.
My other project is to work with a Fairtrade, Organic, Rainforest Alliance certified coffee association to survey the market for direct trade in Guatemala to Westerners. I hang out on coffee farms, talk to tourists and yesterday I even roasted my own beans.
My final project is global public health oriented. I am working with a public health clinic to see if they can properly diagnose and treat parasites and amoebas that are living in my digestive tract… Field research at its finest.