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.
The town is called Maria del Mar. The house has no electricity, no running water. The toilet is a hole in the backyard, a wooden seat inside a wooden shack. Like almost every family on the coast, the Gramajos bathe with a bucket, so I do too, for the days I stay with them.
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.
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.
Semilla Nueva envisions a developing rural Guatemala, where farmers have harnessed the power of new sustainable agriculture technologies, community organization, and engagement with local government.
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.
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.
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?
It is not every day that you find yourself entering a room filled with humble farmers donning denim and cowboy boots alongside titled professionals in tailored suits. A space in which findings shared by researchers are followed by off-the-cuff open discussion, with moments of culture clash as seemingly opposite worlds collide.
“It makes me sad just to look at it because of everything I’ve invested in it,” Wilson Reyes tells us as we take in his dry corn field. “I’ve invested around 10,000 Quetzales in this land: in seeds, fertilizer, labor, insecticides… but I’m not going to be able to get it back.” That’s roughly $1,400 USD and no small chunk of change for a rural Guatemalan farmer. Legal minimum wage for agricultural work in Guatemala is roughly $3,600 per year (MAGA), but an independent corn farmer’s work is seasonal and unpredictable, usually leading to real wages of far less than that.