By: Wende Duflon, USAID/Guatemala

Dr. Shah and LAC Assistant Administrator, Mark Feierstein, were accompanied by U.S. Ambassador Stephen McFarland, USAID Guatemala Director, Kevin Kelly, and USAID staff on a visit to the village of Magdalena la Abundancia (Magdalene of Abundance) in the municipality of Sacapulas of the Quiché Department.  The visitors were met by leaders of the ADIES (Sacapulas Association for Integrated Ecological Development), a small-scale producer group that forms part of the network of USAID agriculture value chain alliances that USAID has supported throughout Guatemala with our long-standing  implementing partner, the Guatemala Exporters Association (AGEXPORT).

The successful agriculture value chain approach is a key cornerstone of the USAID Guatemala Feed the Future Strategy to reduce food insecurity and poverty.  The value chain program enhances food access for rural populations by assisting small-scale agricultural producers to increase their incomes and improve family quality of life.

Administrator Shah with villagers from Magdalena de la Abundancia, Sacapulas Photo Credit: Wende Duflon

Magdalena la Abundancia is similar to thousands of other villages in the highlands of Guatemala in terms of the high poverty (51% of the Guatemalan population lives in poverty or extreme poverty) and high chronic malnutrition rates (nearly half, 43.4% of all children under five years old).  It is within this context of scarcity that ADIES was formed and is thriving, thanks to their ability and determination to maximize on assistance received from USAID and AGEXPORT.

The ADIES president Manuel Tum welcomed Administrator Shah and his team to a celebration of their successes.  The venue was the small concrete patio outside the simple processing and packing plant built in the middle of a field of export-quality onions.  A brightly-colored plastic tarpaulin protected villagers and VIP visitors from the strong high-altitude sun and the floor was covered with the traditional greeting of pine boughs that scent the air as people walk over them.  Villagers as young as a few months to 80 years old sat on plastic chairs or stood on the sidelines, many in colorful clothes, typical daily wear of this principally indigenous community.

The event kicked off with the ADIES president and board of directors describing the historical context of their community and then moving on to the specific gains that USAID assistance has given them that fuel their hope, determination and hard work.

“During the armed conflict we suffered the loss of many family and friends.  We will never forget this—the wounds are forever.  However, we who are left must forge ahead and USAID and AGEXPORT have made that hope come true.  We no longer are forced to migrate to the Coast to work on the plantations but can stay home, with our families, and develop our own land to produce ample harvests.  Our women work alongside us in the fields and in this new packing shed.  We no longer have to sell to the “coyotes” (unscrupulous middlemen) who came in big trucks and bought all our produce at low prices.  Now we have agreements to grow, harvest, clean and sell to buyers who pay us what our crops are worth.”

After the formal presentations, Dr. Shah asked questions about changes in production and sales.  ADIES members answered that the new techniques learned with USAID/AGEXPORT help have allowed them to double production and that the sale price has increased 67%–from 1.50 Quetzales to 2.50—approximately $0.19 to $0.31 per quintal, 100 pounds.  Yields have also doubled thanks to the improved varieties and production methods introduced by the USAID/AGEXPORT value chain program.  The resulting increase in income has allowed families to make great strides in education by getting children to school—the village is proud to now have two professional teachers in schools which did not exist before—and by improving health and hygiene at home. The USAID food security programs dovetail with the agriculture value chain alliances to improve the nutritional and health status of families, particularly pregnant and lactating mothers, infants and young children.

Small-producer groups like ADIES are composed of farmers and their families who receive technical assistance from the USAID program to develop new crops that meet phyto-sanitary standards (hybrid onions, snow peas, mini zucchini, strawberries, peppers, broccoli, and lettuce to name a few) and then find new markets that result in increased sales.  New markets tend to be to other Central American countries, the U.S.  Europe.

ADIES was founded in October 1999, by a group of 16 small-scale growers from Aldea Magdalena la Abundancia, Sacapulas, Quiché, who produced corn, black beans and white and yellow onions.  Now ADIES has 100 members, 45 of whom are women, as well as 21 hectares of irrigated land to produce horticulture products, a small packing facility and a cold storage room.  ADIES now generates more than 90 permanent jobs (21,340 work-days).  Annual sales are estimated to be $233,558.

The story that Administrator Shah heard from appreciative villagers and association leaders is the kind of story that the USAID agriculture value chain alliance program generates in villages across the highlands of Guatemala.