Wednesday, November 05, 2008

San Andrés Semetabaj and San Juan La Laguna--and Other Spots Around Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

Excerpts from--Toward Integrated Pest Management and Sustainable Livelihoods in the Sololá Department, Guatemala: Report on Workshops During the Week of 10/12/08

Summary. Sustainable livelihoods and quality life in sustainable communities are a desired goal for the Sololá Department of Guatemala--or any region of the world. Production and the marketing externally of high value organic vegetables and oil crops using integrated pest management in a sustainable agroecosystem, and agriculture education and other cultural exchange is a means of increasing income and quality life. However, it does seem that for both the short and long-term, … robust and healthy agrotourism—and associated cultural exchanges--have more potential for introducing hard cash into the local Sololá economies. (Of course there are always risks of tourist-related social ills if wealth in local economy is not regulated and is not distributed equitably. Moreover, I do have concerns that agro- and eco-tourism are not really appropriate for developing truly long-term sustainable livelihoods and communities, i.e., ones that are ecologically sound, socially just and humane—and “forever”.) ...

Objectives. Encourage Guatemalan campesinos and associated collaborators to focus on the relative importance of insects in local community, … and then branch out to introduce processes of integrated pest management, sustainable agriculture and holistic management. Then in a facilitated participatory, site-specific, hands-on (and hopefully empowering) manner, explore means of realizing sustainable livelihoods/communites for all (including other species) for a long period of time. ...

Field Activities. ... In the workshops given over four days, a PowerPoint presentation was used (primarily as a handout to all of the audience members) in a participatory manner with the following captions, points and questions (translated and paraphrased herein) included along with various illustrative photos and illustrations:

# Name five types of living organisms. (Illustrating that we humans commonly focus on mammals, rather than bacteria, protists, plants and/or fungi—or even insects?)
# What is the dominate form of life on this planet? (Humans) Where do the most dominate of these humans live? (“The North.”)

# What do we mean by a “sustainable livelihood?” (“A livelihood comprises people, their capabilities and their means of living, including food, income and assets. Tangible assets are resources and stores, and intangible assets are claims and access. A livelihood is environmentally sustainable when it maintains or enhances the local and global assets in which livelihoods depend, and has net beneficial effects on other livelihoods. A livelihood is socially sustainable which can cope with and recover from stress and shocks, and provide for future generations.” . “ The sustainable livelihoods approach … is a way to improve understanding of the livelihoods of poor people. It draws on the main factors that affect poor people's livelihoods and the typical relationships between these factors. It can be used in planning new development activities and in assessing the contribution that existing activities have made to sustaining livelihoods.”

# What are the major challenges in your life? What are major “pest” “problems” with which you have to deal? How do you manage these challenges?
# Some integrated pest management strategies.
# Certain insect ”pests” are edible, and various human cultures, (including just north of Guatemala in Oaxaca) do eat them. [They can be a good source of lipids and protein—and Nelson Diarte (Project Coordinator, Guatemala Food For Progress) and I demonstrated the "enjoyable" eating of worms found in high numbers on broccoli foliage. … They actually tasted like broccoli.]
# Major edaphic, hydrological, energetic and biotic community components of agroecosystems which affect “pests”.
# Techniques for sampling for “pests” and their natural enemies in crops. (We went to the field at every workshop and demonstrated egg collecting, the use of sweep nets, and the use of hand lens and microscopes. Moreover, we made general insect identifications and discussed the fact that most insect are not pests—and that many are beneficial in various ways.)
# Examples of insects and insect life stages found in samples. Examples of insect parasitoids and predators.

# Basic integrated pest management of pests: Prevention; monitoring; action thresholds; cultural, physical, mechanical, biological, genetic/plant resistance, chemical, and legal control; evaluation, analysis, replanning, … .
# Holistic and ecological approach to integrated pest management. (The focus is not on the pest(s), but the ecological whole.)
# Sustainable agriculture. (Long-term protection of the natural resource base for quality life for all humans and other life forms.)
# Sustainable livelihoods and sustainable community. [Targeting the poor with education and socio-political/economic (and ecological) power over resources/capitals--in a participatory, site-based manner, with short and long-term strategies and tactics which yield real and sustainable results.]

# Ecology: A simple food web.
# Ecology: The energy pyramid and the Second Law of Thermodynamics.
# Managing ecological succession sustainably and for sustainable livelihoods and community.
# Ecology: The nitrogen cycle and other mineral cycles (conventional vs. sustainable agriculture).
# Ecological knowledge must be used to modify human social systems toward sustainable livelihoods and quality life for all—including other species.

# The area around Lake Atitlan is a beautiful and agriculturally rich area of the world! Consider agrotourism, especially for the “short” term. (Sololans can sell their cultural and ecological knowledge, and help their own community--and tourists--to better live with “pest problems” … in concert with Nature. … The mission of the Norman Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture at Texas A&M is "to employ agricultural science to feed the world's hungry, and to support equity, economic growth, quality of life and mutual respect among peoples." Therefore, I propose(d) that Sololans might do well in to improving quality life and achieve sustainable livelihoods, by selling their agricultural knowledge—both traditional and newly- acquired ecological, including knowledge of the beautiful morphology/physiology and life histories/ecology of regional insects.)

# Although it can be precarious to introduce numerous domesticated animals into an area, do consider some increased home use of chickens, pigs, sheep and goats, and cattle, etc. in your agroecosystems of the Solola Department. ...

I have traveled in a number of areas of Latin America, including in Nicaragua, Oaxaca and Tabasco and other areas in Mexico, Bolivia, and Brazil. Nevertheless, Guatemala was particularly striking and novel to me in many positive and some negative ways. In this area around Lake Atitlan the volcanic soils are beautifully deep and rich; the lake and volcanic mountains, and diversity of agricultural crops including coffee are fantastically scenic; women’s blouses (huipilles)and skirts (cortes) are beautifully colored and patterned, woven and embroidered; kids' kites are creatively made out of recycled materials; and folk work hard at cutting and back-carrying wood up steep inclines, or carrying other products/materials on their wonderfully erect feminine heads, or in getting around the mountain roads by bicycle or foot. The mixture of indigenous Mayan languages and Spanish (by the same person in the same phrase) is interesting, very different and enjoyable to hear. And everyone graciously greets you wherever you meet them! … Finally, it was refreshing to look over Lake Atitlan and environs during the evenings at Hotel Pa Muelle, San Juan La Laguna, while eating Nelson Diarte’s homemade vegetable salad made from ingredients from an adjacent public market (and having some enjoyable verbal exchanges with Don Alvino, the hotel manager, and watching his grandkids and young empregada play futbol).

On the other hand, the villages of Sololá are far from my desired goal of Zero-waste for my home of Seguin, Texas. Trash is prevalent of the streets of villages--and mounds of waste are dumped on mountainsides, and pollutants are leached out and washed down into the lake. Buses and trucks spew black fossil fuel pollutants into the local atmosphere. And wood-burning fires are used by all, with the air above the villages (and homes) commonly filled with smoke. This practice has also resulted in substantial deforestation. … Finally, during the evening I was packing for the trip back to Texas, I became mesmerized with a televised interview of Guatemalan human rights activist Rigoberta Menchú, winner of the 1992 Nobel Peace Prize. This wonderfully-thorough interview made me much more aware of the deep scars from past, and the socio-political/economic challenges (and holistic ecological challenges) Guatemala and the Sololá Department face. (Subsequently, I listened to some music/a video of Enrique Franco about Rigoberta Mencha —and it made me think a bit more about our North-Central American connections, and especially Texas/Mexico-Guatemalan connections.) ...

Some Concluding "Soft-Suggestions".
Local indigenous people should be more and more involved in coordinating the TAMU Borlaug Institute programs and decision-making in the future.
2. Continue to primarily target poor women and children (including with microenterprise loan programs?) .
3. Continue to research activities of previous Farming Systems Research-Extension work , efforts of CLADES , Sustainable Livelihoods and Local Development programs, Holistic Resource Management , and Natural Systems Agriculture , etc., and attempt to apply the appropriate components of these works--in a grassroots, site-specific, participatory, hands-on, and empowering fashion--in the Borlaug Institute’s Guatemalan programs toward quality life for all.
4. Consider attempts at facilitating more cultural and socio-economic (sustainability) exchanges of Spanish-speaking Mexican-American small farmers/entrepreneurs from Texas and indigenous campesinos from Guatemala. … Use these complexes of farmers to investigate processes for making robust, economically-viable, and socially-just and ecologically-sound agrotourism develop in the Sololá Department of Guatemala.


Woodlandpixie said...

Sounds like that was a very interesting meeting and thank you for sharing it with us. That wasn't your first worm eating experience, was it?

paul bain martin said...

Nope! I've eaten them and grasshoopers, etc. on a number of occasions before.