San Salvador, El Salvador, April 2012 (IICA). In a hilly, deforested country like El Salvador, every square meter of land (a limited resource), every cubic meter of water, and every ounce of human effort is more valuable and gives greater satisfaction because of the higher cost involved.
According to the most recent census (carried out in 2008), the country has at least 395,000 farmers who struggle to survive, feed their families and sell their surpluses. Some 325,000 of them work on farms smaller than 2.1 hectares in size and consume almost all their production; they belong to the subsector of subsistence family farming.
Another 65,000 farm more than 2.1 hectares and sell most of the goods they produce, which means that they generate sufficient income to hire people to work for them. This is the subsector of commercial family farmers.
The third group, comprising some 5,000 farmers, is more modernized and owns larger properties. They are the country’s large-scale producers.
The Family Agriculture Plan (PAF) being implemented by the Salvadorian Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock (MAG) is targeted at the first two segments, with technical support from the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, among other entities.
The plan is divided into four programs: National Supply for Food and Nutrition Security, Production Chains, Agricultural Innovation, and Links with Industry and Trade.
“It’s been 30 years since we showed real commitment to agriculture in El Salvador. We have to change that through a plan that everyone understands, supported by institutions that know what needs to be done, so we don’t waste time just putting things down on paper,” said the Minister, Guillermo López, who makes regular visits to places where the PAF is being applied, in the countryside, far away from his office.
López undertakes these visits to keep his finger on the pulse of the flagship project of the Funes Administration, which has a little more than two years left in office.
IICA is supporting the PAF’s supply program by managing agricultural inputs, but its technical cooperation is geared to facilitating the integration of commercial family farmers into production chains, specifically in eight subsectors that the MAG has made a priority: coffee, livestock (dairy products), honey, fruits, vegetables, cacao, aquaculture, and basic grains (corn and beans).
The Institute is applying the Field Schools methodology with these farmers, under which technical specialists from IICA, the MAG, and the National Center for Agricultural and Forestry Technology (CENTA) provide training right on the farms themselves.
These subsectors are vital because they create jobs and generate income in rural areas (thereby contributing to poverty alleviation), and also help to meet the domestic demand for food, since nearly 70% of the food that Salvadoran families consume has to be imported.
It is in this market, whose products mostly arrive by plane and by road from other countries, that El Salvador, with its hilly, deforested farmland and the small farmers who depend on it, is unable to compete.
According family agriculture the importance it deserves
Gerardo Escudero, IICA’s Representative in El Salvador, says that the PAF is an attempt by the country to return to its agricultural roots.
“The domestic market is the objective, the work consists of finding ways to link small farmers to it, to improve the quality of life of rural families,” Escudero said after accompanying MAG officials on a field trip to Jiquilisco (Department of Usulután) and Tecoluca (in San Vicente) on March 22, where they visited different field schools at which shrimp, sweet pepper and livestock producers received training to enable them to increase their productivity and become more competitive.
The training activities, implemented by technical personnel with broad experience and young professionals who graduated recently from the National School of Agriculture (ENA), focused on specific topics such as the drafting of business plans, the preparation of feeding systems for shrimp, the application of organic fertilizer to sweet peppers in shade houses (tropical greenhouses), and the treatment of mastitis (hardening of the udder in cows).
“The topics are not dreamed up by someone sitting at a desk or a team in an office; they are the topics that people want to learn about,” said Minister López, speaking on a livestock farm in Tecoluca. No one was expecting to see the minister; the MAG does not announce where or when he will be carrying out his visits.
It was the afternoon, and the training activity was only just getting under way. Other field schools start in the morning, but not this one, because the stock is the priority and their needs come first.
The delegation took its leave as quickly as it had arrived, and began the long journey back to the capital. But the technical personnel and producers remained in the countryside, where the PAF is making a major contribution to agricultural development.
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Video: Field trip of Minister Guillermo Lopez