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Visiting Santa Cruz

July 19, 2010

Last Tuesday, we Yorito girls had a day off, and were able to visit Santa Cruz, a community 1400 meters up in the mountains. We went with Marvin, the regional coordinator of FIPAH, and Melvin, the director of the youth CIALs. The Santa Cruz CIAL has been together for 10 years and has pioneered fitomejoramiento, or plant breeding, in the region. Fitomejoramiento, the development of new seed varieties that best suit the needs of small farmers, is one of FIPAH’s central goals. Most seed development is targeted at producing varieties that grow quickly and best resist disease in the most ideal conditions. These varieties are not well suited for the rocky, mountain-side land on which most small farmers live and work. FIPAH’s aim is to take the variedades criollas, traditional seed varieties, which possess certain desirable characteristics, and cross them to produce new varieties better suited to those difficult conditions. With FIPAH’s model of participatory research, the people doing the crosses are not scientists in some laboratory, but the very farmers who are planting the seeds and eating the products. Since the farmers choose which characteristics to look for in a cross, factors such as tradition and taste (in addition to yield and disease resistance) also come into play.

After sitting in on a CIAL meeting, in which both adult and youth CIAL members were present, it was time to hike. Marvin needed to check on the progress of some of the CIAL’s crop fields, located about 20 minutes up the mountain. The views were absolutely breathtaking. We could see the entire valley of Yoro, and the scenery surrounding us felt like a story book setting, with rows of beans and corn and clusters of white rock.

Marvin and Juan Pedro, a member of the Santa Cruz CIAL, showed us the differences between bean and corn varieties, some criollos and some hybrids. Several of the parcelas, or plots, contained beans, corn, coffee, plantains, yucca, avocado, sweet potato, and peaches, all of which were planted in the same tract to increase variety and yield. A big problem in the mountains is erosion—a rainstorm can cause a landslide and wipe out half a field. One solution is to build grass barriers to keep the soil from falling, but the diversified tracts, which include fruit trees in addition to basic grains, also help keep the soil in place.

Many of the houses in Santa Cruz were beautiful and picturesque, with clean whitewashed walls, picket fences and flowers in the gardens. I commented on this to Marvin, who said that it didn’t look at all like this when he’d first visited. Most of the homes have only recently been renovated. FIPAH collects yearly economic data on each community and the data have shown that over time, the people in Santa Cruz have had more security in their food source and have been able spend more money on things like home improvement. We saw for ourselves that day that FIPAH’s model, which has been implemented in Santa Cruz now for a decade, has improved the quality of life in the communities in which they work.

This experience and so many others that I’ve had over the past several weeks have made me so admire the work FIPAH does. It’s been really inspiring to work with a development organization with a model that involves the participation of the community and whose effects are truly visible. We’re down to our final week here working with FIPAH, and I know I’m going to have a hard time leaving.

Sarah

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