Soil conservation is a cooperative effort

ASOBAGRI is a smallholder coffee cooperative located in the small rural town of Santa Cruz Barillas, Guatemala, and is currently made up of approximately 1300 producers.  ASOBAGRI’s mission is to improve the standard of living for people whose livelihoods are centered around coffee production, people who are working, sometimes struggling, to thrive in the face of various socioeconomic and biophysical challenges and stresses. 

I have the fortune of spending the summer in Guatemala working with this organization on soil conservation matters as part of my Master’s thesis work.  In honor of 2015 International Year of Soils, I felt it appropriate to bring to light the progressive vision and action on soil health of this little organization, tucked far away in the big, lush green mountains of Guatemala.

ASOBAGRI has established 54 demonstrative plots located on farmers’ lands, where they are implementing various soil conservation and plant nutrition practices, including terracing and green barriers to control erosion, organic residue management, and the use of bokashi composts and microbial foliar sprays to replenish soil fertility and support plant health.  These parcels serve to be experimental as well as educational.  Part of my work here is to aid in establishing a baseline data set for various soil properties.  The cooperative will continue to monitor and observe changes in soil and plant health parameters over time. 

These parcels are used as an educational resource within their community of growers.  Technicians visit farmers’ parcels, demonstrating how to implement practices properly, bringing farmers to different parcels, creating a network of knowledge sharing.  This is an effective and powerful way to disseminate information about soil management practices, as all is illustrated right before the eyes of farmers.  This project also serves as an educational tool for young people.  I sat in on a training day for young, aspiring agronomists where technicians demonstrated how to properly construct terraces, prepare compost and foliar sprays in the correct ratios of ingredients and the best methods to then apply them in the coffee plantation.  These young people would then return with the information gained from this interactive, hands on experience to share with farmers in their communities. 

ASOBAGRI as a whole understands the importance of soil health, and realizes that it is not enough to simply understand, that action must follow. 

In spite of being historically marginalized in the past, working against extremely volatile markets and unfair trading policies, limited access to capital and other resources, and frequently affected by the forces of climate change and extreme weather events, this collective group of coffee farmers and the technicians have committed to reclaiming and sustainably managing their soils.  

Dana Christel hails from Wisconsin, and is currently a Soil Science graduate student at the University of Vermont. She is spending the summer in Guatemala working in soil conservation and sustainable soil management with smallholder coffee farmers as part of her thesis work.

Submitted by Dana Christel


Anthony Lynch 14-12-17 08:40
I appreciate it!. I really like it when people get together and share ideas. Great website, continue the good work!. Either way, great web and I look forward to seeing it grow over time. Thank you so much.

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