Project helps Guatemalan farmers with ag, horticultural needs
Guatemalan farmers are benefiting from the information and expertise provided by Texas AgriLife personnel, said Johanna Roman, coordinator of Latin American programs at the Norman Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture in College Station, Texas.
Roman said plant pathology and agricultural marketing experts from the Texas AgriLife Extension Service and Texas AgriLife Research are among those who have already traveled to Guatemala this year.
"They've come to Guatemala to share their knowledge with small-acreage farmers as part of a U.S. Department of Agriculture-funded Food for Progress project," Roman said.
Since 2005, the Borlaug Institute has been assisting Guatemalan farmers through the project, which is aimed at improving that country's horticulture and food processing sectors.
"Many crops in Guatemala are affected by plant disease, greatly reducing yields and the potential income for farmers," Roman said. "In addition, many farmers do not know how to get the most out of their horticultural products because they are unfamiliar with how to market them."
Dr. Tom Isakeit, a professor in the department of plant pathology and microbiology at Texas A&M University, has been to Guatemala twice to deliver training programs to farmers on plant disease identification. Isakeit has a joint appointment with AgriLife Extension and AgriLife Research, both part of the Texas A&M System.
Roman said Isakeit and Dr. Ron French, a Spanish-speaking plant pathologist with AgriLife Extension in Amarillo, were in Guatemala in February to deliver two workshops in plant disease identification to farmers and in-country Food for Progress project technicians.
"They brought in microscopes and lab supplies to help the farmers identify diseases affecting their vegetable and fruit crops," she said. "Then they showed the farmers and project technicians simple methods that can be used in Guatemala to identify and treat those diseases."
"We focused on the diseases that might be found on crops in the Guatemalan highlands," Isakeit said. "Many of the vegetable plant diseases we identified were the same as those found in the same crops grown in Texas."
Lettuce, peas, carrots, tomatoes, cabbage, cucumbers, berries, zucchini and celery are among the crops grown in the Guatemalan highlands.
About 60 percent of the small farms in Guatemala are located in the highlands, and most are two acres or less, according to the U.S. Agency for International Development.
"It may be very important to be able to identify plant diseases and the pathogens that cause them in Guatemalan vegetable, grain, fruit and other crop production systems for another reason," said French. "Knowing the plant diseases in Guatemala will allow us to be better prepared in case we get similar or the same diseases in Texas."
"Texas is only 900 miles away from Guatemala," he added, "and there are cities in Texas almost that far from one another."
French, who also supervises a Texas AgriLife plant diagnostic lab in Amarillo, said the ability to correctly identify plant diseases and treat them will have a significant impact on crop yield and quality.
Additionally, four agricultural technicians from the Food for Progress project will come to South Texas in mid-April to participate in another hands-on plant pathology training by Isakeit and French.
The training will include trips to several commercial agricultural fields in the Rio Grande Valley, as well as to agricultural test areas at the Texas AgriLife Research and Extension Center in Weslaco.
"The technicians will have an opportunity to see the occurrence of diseases of many horticultural crops in the field, improving their ability to diagnose these and other plant diseases back in Guatemala," Isakeit said. "They will also be exposed to production practices in the most agriculturally diverse part of Texas."
"Through the Food for Progress project, we've had success in helping the Guatemalans market their horticultural products, too," Roman said.
Dr. Marco Palma, a horticultural marketing specialist with the department of agricultural economics at Texas A&M University, was in Guatemala twice last year as part of Food for Progress project efforts. He returned in March of this year to present a marketing workshop to a group of growers, agricultural cooperative members, private industry representatives, and members of Guatemala's ministries of agriculture and economics.
"I started off by talking about the impact the Central American Free Trade Alliance will have on them and the ability to produce and sell their products," Palma said. "Then I gave an overview of horticultural trends and marketing trends in the U.S."
Palma said he focused on trends in marketing of fruits and vegetables for fresh and processed foods.
"Central America has done well exporting horticultural products like coffee, bananas, pineapples, tomatoes and melons to the U.S.," he said. "But now the trend is more toward having specialty or niche products like okra and eggplant provided year-round, as opposed to seasonal basis."
Palma said he also provides guidance with marketing of ornamental plants and flowers, as well as with the development of marketing plans and helping Guatemalan producers meet quality standards of other countries, including the U.S.
He said there have been several success stories among the growers, and many Guatemalan communities already have been positively impacted by their ability to export horticultural products.
"I'm originally from Honduras and my main motivation is to help the people in Central America," said Palma. "But I also want to help keep Texas A&M in the forefront of agricultural activity and to have a strong presence there."
Palma said best management practices being applied in Guatemala will also benefit horticultural producers in the U.S.
"The goal of the Food for Progress project is to improve the income and quality of life for Guatemalan farmers," said Roman. "Thanks to the efforts of people like Dr. Isakeit, Dr. French and Dr. Palma, as well as our in-country project staff and other faculty and staff of Texas A&M, we've been able to achieve that goal."
For more information on the Guatemalan Food for Progress project and the Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture, go to http://borlaug.tamu.edu.
Guatemalan farmers learn how to identify and treat plant disease with help from Texas AgriLife experts working with the Food for Progress project. (Photo courtesy of Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture)