Why I switched to Fortaleza F3: A farmer’s testimony

Don Jorge grew up in a corn farming family in the state of Huehutenango of Guatemala’s Western Highlands. He began farming at a young age and continues to do so now. He is the primary caregiver in a house of 17 people. Like most corn farmers in the area, Don Jorge relies on the corn he grows to feed his family for the year. While Don Jorge’s easy smile tells another story, the past several years proved challenging with prolonged droughts damaging his yields and threatening his ability to provide enough food for his family.  Before switching to Forteleza F3, a high performing hybrid seed, Don Jorge planted criollo (a traditional, non-hybrid seed). Criollo seeds are cheaper but also provide lower yields. Additionally, they do not perform well against extreme weather events – such a prolonged droughts and storms – which are increasingly affecting Guatemalan farmers due to the effects of climate change. For Don Jorge, recent years of criollo harvest would only provide enough food to cover his family’s needs for half the year, forcing him to supplement by buying more seed to cover the rest of the year.

Two years ago, facing another impending food shortage due to criollo’s performance, Don Jorge asked his son Jorge Jr. to go into town and but additional criollo seeds. In town, Jorge Jr. met Semilla Nueva co-founder Trinidad (Trini) Recinos. Trini understood the challenges facing Jorge Jr.’s family – they needed an affordable alternative to criollo that could produce higher yields. Trini presented F3’s higher yield potential, which Jorge Jr. found outweighed the cost difference. Don Jorge was disappointed with his son’s decision to move from his historical brand, criollo H3. However the investment had already been made, so they planted Fortelaza for the first time in the 2017 growing season. When the crops began to grow, exhibiting a much higher yield and stronger drought resistance, disappointment in the decision to switch quickly gave way to joy and gratitude. Fortleza’s improved performance meant that Don Jorge would once again be able to provide enough corn for his family’s yearly consumption. Don Jorge recalls even having to ask forgiveness from his son for getting so upset on his seed purchase. 

On a recent visit to Don Jorge’s land, he proudly showed Semilla Nueva staff his crops and explained that he  had chosen to remain with Fortaleza F3 for the past 2 years because of its outstanding yield performance. Don Jorge maintains a demonstration parcel; demonstration parcels are a common marketing technique in agriculture to show the benefits of a certain crop to potential farmers. As a community leader and a self proclaimed Forteleza advocate, Don Jorge agreed to be one of our demo parcel farmers and showcase the benefits of F3  to his neighbors and potential buyers. 

Don Jorge spoke to his personal experience with Forteleza F3. The stalks, Don Jorge explained, don’t waver or break in the case of  high winds or rain. This resistance to storms is known as lodging resistance. Additionally, Fortleza’s drought resistant quality was critical to ensure his family’s food security for the year. The area had recently gone through a  20 day drought during the rainy season. These events are precarious for farmers who depend on predictable rains and harvest for their family’s diet. However, for Don Jorge, Forteleza far outperformed criollo in withstanding drought conditions.. In comparison, the criollo crops were short, weak, and experienced significant pest infestations. s. 

Don Jorge enthusiastically shares his testimony about  the benefits of Forteleza with his neighbors and the local farming community. When he originally told his neighbors about the improved harvest, they were hesitant to  believe him. They couldn’t believe that it was possible for corn to grow so strongly in drought and storm conditions. . When asked how did he finally convince them that it was corn, he responded “La gente tiene que verlo para creer.” (The people have to see it to believe it.) Semilla Nueva is grateful that Don Jorge continues to manage his demo parcel and invite his community to see the performance of Forteleza first-hand! 

Growing biofortified corn is anything but predictable.

When it comes to planting corn seeds, sometimes things don’t always go as planned. Experiencing days of drought or having pesticide problems are usually the more common issues faced; however, every once in a while mechanical problems arise and have the potential to threaten the entire planting process. This was the case in Semilla Nueva’s experimental center in the municipality of San Jose La Maquina, Suchitepeque. Luckily, our experienced and quick thinking staff knew exactly how to handle the problem and ensure that a day of work on the fields was not lost.

Adolfo Pop Caal is one of Semilla Nueva’s field workers on our experimental plots. He works to maintain our biofortified corn crops in those areas and ensure that despite all outside factors, our crops are still able to flourish and thrive. This requires regular cutting of the grass to maintain the plot. However, when Adolfo tried to start the machine, as usual, to cut the grass one day, it wouldn’t start. Instead of throwing in the towel losing an entire day of field work, Adolfo used his quick thinking and recalled on traditional agriculture techniques. 

Adolfo got right to work and pulled out a very sharp machete  (large knife) and garabato (Guatemalan slang for a wooden hook) to cut the grass manually. Using the garabato in his right hand to grab the long blades of grass, he used his left to whack away at them with the machete. This technique is actually the traditional way of cutting grass in Guatemala. In fact, it’s not uncommon to see workers walking to work in the morning all over the country with machetes hanging off their backs.

Adolfo exemplified his determination and commitment to the job that day. Here at Semilla Nueva, we couldn’t be prouder of our workers on the fields and the dedication they have for the art of harvesting our biofortified corn seed every day.

Launching a Brand: Fortaleza

Juan Manuel “Elotón” and Noé Estrada “Don Fortaleza”, two members of our sales team — setting up for the field day.

It’s a really exciting time for us here at Semilla Nueva. We’re currently in the midst of farmer field days, where we’re showing off our newest Fortaleza corn seeds. Fortaleza is our biofortified seed brand, one of our main strategies at Semilla Nueva, that competes in the market undifferentiated from other seeds.

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The Rotary Global Grant: Fueling Semilla Nueva’s Next Phase into Self-Sufficiency

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Jaime Quevedo from the Quetzaltenango Rotary Club volunteers with community seed distribution, May 2016

Semilla Nueva owes a great deal of its present success to Rotary. Rotary has been Semilla Nueva’s core source of support throughout the organization’s evolution, and without its generosity, the depth of Semilla Nueva’s growth in recent years would not have been possible.

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What the buzzword ‘Sustainability’ really means to Semilla Nueva and how One Day’s Wages is helping us to ensure we achieve it

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Six years ago, the founders of Semilla Nueva envisioned the development of sustainable systems to improve the lives of families in Guatemala through agricultural technologies.

That remains our goal. Yet what does that mean – what is sustainable? The word has become diluted in the development world, tossed around to mean anything from earth-friendly to viable long-term. Out of context the word has become basically meaningless.

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The Journey of a QPM Seed

It’s the middle of the night, and we are driving across Guatemala in a semi-truck. It is filled with 1,283 bags of QPM, highly nutritious corn seed for farming families to plant, harvest, and save for years to come. We drive through dawn to get the bags to southern coast so that Semilla Nueva farming families can have their seed in time for the rain. Over the past two months our team has witnessed an incredible journey of this corn from the cob to a fully processed seed, bagged and ready for the soil of rural corn fields in Guatemala.

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Social Marketing Changed Everything We Thought About Nutrition: A New Approach to Get Farmers to Share QPM

Semilla Nueva Field Technician Hugo holds his seven-year-old son Jander as he addressed farming families gathered from 40 communities across the southern coast of Guatemala at April’s Farmer Field Day.
Semilla Nueva Field Technician Hugo holds his seven-year-old son Jander as he addresses farming families gathered from 40 communities across the southern coast of Guatemala at April’s Farmer Field Day.

We all feel proud when we can grow and give our families corn and tortillas. What is more Guatemalan than a family sitting around the table sharing tortillas? Imagine the table where your family eats with a basket of hot tortillas. You grab one- it is soft and tastes sweet. After eating, your family feels energized and they stay full for hours. These tortillas come from a new kind of corn called FORTALEZA, the corn that gives you and your family strength.

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QPM: Planting Protein for the Rural Poor

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Malnutrition impedes the cognitive, emotional, and physical development of half of the children in Guatemala under the age of five. Without access to essential vitamins and minerals, stunted motor and cognitive development early in life makes it close to impossible to achieve economic and social prosperity. How can we at Semilla Nueva help enhance the nutrition of these children so that they have a chance to thrive later in life?

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