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Big Words & Micro-nutrients: Elmer’s Sustainable Strategy to Improve Nutrition in Ixcán

Elmer at a meeting with Semilla Nueva Staff

Elmer at a meeting with Semilla Nueva Staff

EcoLogic is very proud of the success and innovation that has taken place over the years in western highland departments of Huehuetenango and Quiche, Guatemala. Through EcoLogic’s Indigenous Peoples for Thriving Ecosystems in Northern Guatemala project, community adoption of agroforestry has been particularly successful. Agroforestry, specifically alley-cropping, or planting food crops with trees, is a farming approach that intends to address the challenges of deforestation, but also the lack of food security in the area.

In this region, around 2013 communities in Ixcán, Guatemala began to take particular strides to measure the results of established agroforestry parcels through data collection, which was done jointly by EcoLogic field staff and the farmers themselves. This data has shown that EcoLogic’s alley-cropping systems—which typically integrate the tree species, Inga edulis with corn—result in improved soils, sustainable sources of firewood, and enhanced food security for communities involved. As a result, a wave of interest and demand for agroforestry continues to grow in the area.

Building off of farmers’ interest to maximize the benefits of agroforestry systems, Ixcán has become a sort of testing ground—a place that offers EcoLogic and field staff the opportunity for observation, practice, and experimentation with ideas and innovations that could potentially solve some of the most pressing challenges that communities in the areas face. Elmer Urízar—an EcoLogic Field Technician based in Ixcánhas been at the helm of some promising pilot projects that advance sustainable agriculture and livelihoods, including the introduction of beekeeping.

Most recently, Elmer has been hard at work innovating to find a sustainable solution to micronutrient deficiencies through the agricultural production of micronutrient-rich foods—in particular, a variety of biofortified corn called Maíz Fortaleza.

Maiz Fortaleza

A photo of Maíz Fortaleza Elmer took during his training

This opportunity was introduced to EcoLogic by Curt Bowen, the Executive Director and Co-Founder of Semilla Nueva, and explained in detail during an EcoLogic regional staff retreat. Semilla Nueva (or “New Seed”) is an organization that has been introducing this corn variety and working with farmers in Guatemala since 2010. Elmer, understanding the realities of malnutrition in Guatemala and the potential ease of integration of this corn variety into the fertile agroforestry testing grounds of Ixcán, went to visit some of Semilla Nueva’s projects to learn everything he needed in order to implement a pilot project in the region. After two trainings with Semilla Nueva staff and much correspondence—feasibility studies, reports, community meetings, etc.Elmer and EcoLogic were ready to begin two pilot plots in Ixcán.

It is important to note that these big words; micronutrients, biofortification, and the like, were certain to raise some eyebrows when Elmer presented this information to farmers, and even to EcoLogic staff! Introducing food labeled with sciencey jargon is always a cause for caution for those that will potentially consume it. However, these are conventionally bred seeds to contain higher levels of essential nutrients. After learning more about the benefits, 20 farmers were eager to test Maíz Fortaleza on their plots.

Our Maíz Fortaleza pilot project consists of seven small parcels in Ixcán, which incorporate Maíz Fortaleza corn with Inga edulis. Elmer, local farmers, EcoLogic, and Semilla Nueva will all be monitoring the results of the project with great interest. An agricultural system that combine the food security benefits of highly nutrient-rich corn with the environmental benefits of Inga edulis could be a win-win for Ixcán farmers and beyond. We will make sure to keep you updated on the project’s results!

At EcoLogic, we feel very fortunate for the ability to experiment, innovate, and collaborate with thought-leaders and impactful organizations that work the same region we do. Thank you for your continued support!

*An article published by the FAO was used as a reference when writing this story. This note is intended to give credit to authors for their knowledge and terminology. You can find the article here.

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