I visited Sustainable Harvest Panama in August 2011 with fine arts students from Ohio Wesleyan University.
I especially enjoyed this trip because it was the first time I ever visited one of SHI’s field programs to focus entirely on female program participants. The students, with assistance from faculty and professors, interviewed 22 women from two communities served by our two female field trainers in Panama. After conducting the interviews, the students took photographic portraits of the women and then loaned each woman a camera to take with her for a few days to document her own life in photos. These interviews gave me a chance to once again see that I still don’t know all the ways that SHI’s work is impacting the environment and the lives of the people we serve. Maria Alonso, the woman on the couch in the pink shirt, explained how SHI’s program has improved her mental health. She told us that she used to suffer from depression when there was not much in her life besides housework. Now that she has her own organic garden and fruit trees by the house, she looks forward to each day’s activities caring for the plants and harvesting the fruits and vegetables with her grandchildren. Other women in the circle nodded their heads, saying that they had noticed the same improvement to their mental health.
When we visited the women’s homes and farms, we saw and heard about the core results of SHI’s work. Increased production of traditional staple crops, such as corn and rice, was one benefit of SHI’s program that all the women seemed to enjoy. Amada Meneces cooked some corn on the cob from her farm.
Even though most of the families still process the rice by hand, they are glad to have more of it so that they can always have enough to eat and even have extra to sell to their neighbors.
Migdalia is probably the women I will remember most from this trip. She told us that she had been working with our field trainer, Daysbeth, for more than three years, though in the beginning she had thought of quitting. She said that the transition to sustainable agriculture from slash-and-burn farming, using lots of agro-chemicals was a lot of hard work in the beginning. She stuck with it because the doctor who visits her community each month told her that the ago-chemicals were probably the reason that her three children were often sick and that her insufficient diet was the reason they were born underweight and the reason she could not produce enough breast milk to feed them when they were babies. Migdalia says that the hard work has gotten easier and that it was worth it because she and her children are all enjoying good health. Her youngest daughter, Yazmin, was born after Migdalia started working with SHI weighing in at nearly eight pounds. As a baby she got all the nutrition she needed from her mother’s milk and is growing up eating all organic fruits and vegetables grown on her families farm. Now that the family is enjoying a plentiful, healthy diet, the focus of their work with Daysbeth has turned to improving their cash income. To that end, they have begun growing pineapples and had their first harvest the month before our visit. Knowing that farmers in Central America generally live day to day, selling what they can when they can, I did not expect to get an exact figure from Migdalia as to what she had earned from her first sales. It became clear that she has been learning some new business skills from Daysbeth, along with the organic growing techniques, when she proudly told us that she had thus far sold 30 pineapples for a total of $49.60. With 200 plants now in the ground that production should continue and improve. She also spoke with conviction about the superiority of her organic pineapples over the conventionally grown pineapples available in the market. Explaining that her neighbors were curious about how her organic pineapples would taste, she was pleased when they all found her pineapples to be sweeter and more flavorful than any they got from the market in town. Migdalia also explained to them about the health benefits of eating organic, which should ensure her local market well into the future.
After visiting with Midgalia, we went on to visit her neighbor, Baudilia, who had only been working with Daysbeth for about six months. Baudilia joined SHI’s program after seeing Migdalia’s success working with Daysbeth. Already, she could show us the yams and sugarcane she was learning to grow with sustainable, organic techniques. Although she already had a coconut tree growing by her house, she was also looking forward to planting more trees with Sustainable Harvest such as the variety of fruit trees and hardwood species that Migdalia says she is planting for her grandchildren.
At Baudilia’s farm and all the others, our hostesses were anxious to share their bounty with us. Baudilia was also happy to show how proficient she is at using her machete to prepare a coconut for drinking and the photography professor was glad for the refreshing drink that is especially good at warding off dehydration.
At another farm, our hostess sent her husband up into an orange tree to get oranges for everyone.
The gringos and the local ladies all enjoyed the sweet treat.
Another nutritious snack were the peach palm fruits. Marcial Rodriquez boiled some up for us in salted water after his daughter picked them from one of their trees.
I think what I most love seeing on the farms of SHI participants is the diversity of life. At Josefa’s farm, for instance, we saw the bananas and the mango tree with a turkey grazing under it. Then we saw the Chirimoya tree in the top right photo and the guava tree next to it in the middle right photo. Our last stop on Josefa’s farm was to admire the sweet potatoes in the bottom right photo that were growing together with several other crops.
At other farms we were given tomatoes and water apples. By the way, that is our Country Director for Panama holding the water apples.
Maria’s husband, Encarnacion, was so proud to show us the production of diverse crops on his farm, including pigeon peas, cassava, yams and other crops just in this small area.
While I loved seeing the diversity of crops being grown on the farms, it made me even happier to see the greater overall biodiversity that these sustainable farms make possible, including beautiful butterflies, flowers and birds. In the bottom right photo, you can see the national flower of Panama. Espiritu santo means holy spirit and the name of this orchid because of the white dove it forms in its center. noteL Yellow flower is sida spinosa?
Moving on to my most recent trip to Central America, I was in Honduras with members of SHI’s Board of Directors and other supporters in January. Every year members of the Board visit one of our country programs. That is our Board Chair, Tony Barrington, with the papaya tree on the left.
Horacio and Vicenta have seen tough times but are doing quite well now by local standards. They now share a four-bedroom home with five children and two grandchildren, but all nine squeezed into two bedrooms so that Tony and I could each have our own room for our visit. Horacio and Vicenta showed us the vegetable garden they had started with SHI on the left that was just getting started again for the dry season. Their youngest son, Carlos, loved to get into photos and gives a good sense of how big their papayas are growing in the center photo. They also had a number of animals wandering around the house including this hen with her chicks. The hen and chicks now have a nice hen house that keeps them safe from predators at night, thanks to SHI.
I loved Maria Oriana’s story about her husband wanted to keep burning their fields to grow their corn like he always had, but she finally insisted that they had to join the SHI program and learn how to grow without burning so that their grandchildren would have soil to grow their crops in when they are grown. Already we could see that they have grown beautiful corn without burning by using compost and other organic techniques. In the left-hand photo, you can see one of the erosion barriers of valerian that prevent the soil from washing down the hillside when it rains. Valerian is also a medicinal herb that the family can cut to use and sell to neighbors.
Angel also talked to us about how he used to burn and how he could then see the soil all wash down into the river each time it rained. Now he says he has completed phase two of his work with SHI and he doesn’t burn anymore. In addition to increasing production of his traditional staple crops with sustainable farming practices, he is now starting to introduce new crops such as the plantains in these photos that will improve his cash income. The plantains are also shading young fruit trees, spice trees and coffee plants that will someday produce even more farm products and a still healthier environment.
Antonio and his son Elvin are both working with SHI on a variety of projects including the establishment of shade coffee plantations that will improve their families’ incomes while protecting a local watershed, providing habitat for local wildlife and helping to stabilize the climate. Each farmer in La Reinada had put up a sign to explain what they are growing and the size and altitude of the plantation. Some of us stayed at Antonio’s house too, which was beautiful even before he made a new broom to sweep the floors inside and out. If you look carefully, you might see the baby chick catching a ride on its mother’s back in the bottom right photo.
This single mom planted her acre of coffee with help from her brother and hosted the rest of our group.
At every home we saw some of the smaller projects SHI does that mean so much to the families. Maira and her father Alonso are each the proud owner of a new chicken coop that provides them with more chicken and eggs to contribute to a healthy diet for their families. Lidia was one of the many ladies who were so happy to not have breathe smoke all the time any more and to be using a fraction of the firewood they used to thanks to the wood-conserving stoves that SHI has helped them build. It always brings me great joy to see the clean white walls around the stoves, having seen so many black, soot-covered walls around the traditional open stoves and knowing what this means for the women.
It has been a long time since I had talked with members of one of the first rural banks we helped establish in Honduras six years ago. Hearing about the results of our micro-finance project In the community of El Rosario could not have made me happier. This group gathered a small amount of seed capital six capital six years ago and then SHI added to it for a total around $1,000. We also provided them with training on how to set up and manage their rural bank and checked in with them periodically on what additional support they might need. Over the past six years, they have grown that initial capital of $1,000 to more than $12,500 by making short-term loans to 45 families in the community. This has allowed half of the population to gain access to loans with a reasonable interest rate for the first time in their lives so they can expand or improve their farms and set up small businesses. The group can not keep with the demand for these loans within their own community and from people in neighboring communities. To address that need, we are helping them get incorporated so that as a small business they can get a loan that will allow them to expand their reach. They are investing in the future of their community in other ways too by making donations to the construction of the communities first high school and providing some funds for their youngest member, in the plaid shorts, to study business and accounting at the university level to that he can help guide their community loan fund into an even more prosperous future.
One of the new businesses in the area is this bakery. A small loan got them started and as they have been improving their baking and business skills, they have been selling enough sweet breads locally to pay off their loan and make further investments in their facilities. After a year of learning and building up their business, they soon look forward to starting to take home some of the income for their families.
Of course, these projects that I have been showing you are all contributing to the health of not only the participating families, but also their communities and the surrounding forests.
Although fundraising has been difficult in recent years and we have not been able to reach new families as quickly as we would like, I am still thrilled with all that we have accomplished. As you can see, we have 877 families currently enrolled in our sustainable farming extension program plus 562 more who have graduated from the program and are continue to farm sustainable on their own and show their neighbors how to replicate their success. I am especially excited that SHI recently planted our three millionth tree. On the bottom half of the screen, you can see some of the things we accomplished just from July 2010 through June 2011.
We continue to get all this done for a relatively small investment too. As you can see, when we break it down it costs us an average of $500 to work with one family for one year or $2,500 to put them through the full five-year program. We also hope to find that our initial survey results with graduated families will hold true and each graduated will train an average of seven more families so that a $2,500 investment actually allows a total of eight families to become prosperous, stewards of the environment.
As you can see, we continue to put the vast majority of donations to work in our programs
I want to take the opportunity today to say thank you for all that you have done to make this work possible. We really could not do it without you.
I am also sure that you are aware that there are many more families waiting for SHI to work with them too and may more forests we we could be helping to preserve. I am thrilled about the impact that SHI has had on the lives of over 10,000 people in Central America, but at the same time I am aware that there are over 2.1 billion rural poor in the world at that most of them could probably benefit from SHI’s sustainable farming extension program. So the big question in my mind is always how we can reach a significant portion of all those people. One thing that I hope will help us is the ripple effect that we are starting to document. If we can maintain that initial statistic of each family training seven more families, then the 10,000 people we have helped are already well on the way to becoming 70,000 and I plan to keep looking at how we can further document that ripple effect and make it a regular part of our work. I am also looking forward to some research, feasibility studies and pilot projects that SHI is going to implement in the coming years to see whether we establish businesses that will buy the products from SHI graduate farmers at a fair price and then resell them at a profit with the profits funding our extension work with more families. If this model works, success would breed more success and we would no long rely entirely on donations to reach more families. As we continue our work with all the current program participants, though, while trying to get some of these new endeavors off the ground, we are relying more than ever on people like you to keep all of our efforts moving forward. I hope you will be able to join with us (again) by investing some of your financial resources in our ongoing work.
SHI’s AccomplishmentsGrowing slowly but surely since 1997 877 active families in over 100 communities in four countries receiving technical assistance (and an additional 562 graduates) 3.1 million trees planted since 1997 14,000 acres of degraded land converted to sustainable farming 70,000 acres of tropical forest saved from slash-and-burnIn fiscal year 2011, SHI… planted 451 organic vegetable gardens built 362 wood-conserving stoves opened 4 new rural banks farmed 1,307 acres sustainably gave 296 loans, totaling $18,873
Supporting SHIA Lot of Bang for Your Buck‣ $25,000 supports the work of one field trainer for an entire year.‣ $8,000 sponsors an entire village program for a whole year.‣ $4,000 takes a family through SHI’s whole five-year program.‣ $800 provides a family with technical support and materials for one year.‣ $250 sponsors a village school garden in a rural community working with SHI.‣ $100 sponsors a beekeeper to pollinate crops and sell honey in the community.‣ $60 buys the materials for a wood-
Income Partners 7% Smaller World 10% Events 1% In-Kind 6% Foundations 27% Individuals 49% Expenses Management 9% Fundraising 11% Program 80%FY2011 Income & Expense