Native seeds defeat climatic adversity in El Salvador

Native seeds defeat climatic adversity in El Salvador

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By Edgardo Ayala

Reyes performs what in El Salvador is called "tapisca", a word derived from the Nahuat "pixca", which means to cut the cob when the plant is dry and the grains are hard.

This process will culminate, weeks later, with the selection of quality seeds that will ensure the sovereignty and food security of a large part of the poor peasants of this Central American country of 6.3 million inhabitants.

Some 614,000 Salvadorans are farmers and 244,000 of them grow corn or beans on land of an average 2.5 hectares, according to the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock.

In rural areas, 43 percent of households live in poverty, compared to 29.9 percent of urban ones, according to the latest annual survey by the Ministry of the Economy.

"I see that the harvest is good, even though the rain has been bothering," Reyes, a 25-year-old woman, who earns about $ 10 a day "tapis", told IPS.

Domitila Reyes, 25, plucks an ear of creole corn in a plot of the Asociación Mangle, one of the two peasant organizations that produce these seeds for the government's Family Agriculture Plan in El Salvador. In addition to their high yield, Creole seeds withstand better than the others the onslaught of climate change that this Central American country is enduring. Credit: Edgardo Ayala / IPS

In effect, climatic changes have disrupted the productive cycles in the country, which endures long periods of drought in winter, the wet season from May to October, and rain in summer, the dry season, which has ruined many crops corn and beans.

But Reyes, dressed in a hat, jeans and a long-sleeved blouse to protect herself from the sun, is relieved that quality seeds, or improved, as they are also called here, managed to resist the onslaught of changing nature.

"This maize has resisted better, the rain affected, but little ... other seeds would not have withstood the blow," he told IPS in the middle of the cornfield, before continuing his task of stabbing the leaves of the ears, that the peasants Salvadorans call them “tuzas”.

Reyes is part of the twenty workers who, under the hot summer sun, temporarily work in a seven-hectare corn field, one of several belonging to the Mangle Association, in the Ciudad Romero settlement, in the municipality of Jiquilisco, in the eastern department of Usulután.

The region is known as the Bajo Lempa, due to the river that crosses El Salvador from the north until it empties into the Pacific Ocean. There are 86 communities with a total population of 23,000 inhabitants.

Many of them are ex-combatants of the former guerrilla of the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN), which from 1980 to 1992 waged a war against right-wing governments in which some 70,000 people died.

The Mangle Association is one of the two producers of Creole seeds (typical of each area) in El Salvador or of free pollination, which are not the product of crossing varieties, such as hybrids. The other is the Nancuchiname cooperative, also in Bajo Lempa.

Their production of 500,000 kilograms of these seeds is sold to the government for it to distribute to 400,000 farmers, as part of the Family Agriculture Plan (PAF). Each farmer receives 10 kilograms of corn and bean seeds, as well as fertilizers.

"An achievement of our organization is that the government has accepted the production and supply to the PAF of creole seeds," explained Juan Luna, Coordinator of the Agricultural Program of the Mangle Association.

Luna assured IPS that with these seeds, Salvadoran farmers are better prepared to face climate change and guarantee the population's food security and sovereignty.

A population of which 12.4 percent is undernourished, about 700,000 people, according to data from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

The Mangle Association and three other cooperatives in the area produce 40 percent of the PAF's improved seeds, either Creole or the hybrid variety called H59, developed by the government's National Center for Agricultural and Forestry Technology Enrique Álvarez Córdova (Centa).

The rest is generated by other cooperatives located in other regions of the country.

"The seeds worked by Centa are a high-quality genetic material that adapts from sea level to 700 meters," Alan González, representative and resident coordinator of FAO in El Salvador, told IPS.

He added that this effort to promote this type of seeds as a tool to face climate change and strengthen food security and sovereignty is framed within the Mesoamerica without Hunger program, promoted by FAO since 2014 in Central America, Colombia and the Dominican Republic.

"High-quality seeds are strategic for the country, because they allow producer families to reproduce their crops in a time of crisis, nationally and globally, given the variability of climate change," said González.

Until 2009, the production of seeds for the PAF was accounted for by about five companies. But that year the FMLN came to power, turned into a political party with the 1992 Peace Accords, and modified the rules of the game so that small producers organized in cooperatives could participate in the business.

Another advantage of these improved seeds, in addition to their resistance to drought or humidity, is their high yield. FAO estimates that productivity increases by 40 percent in the case of beans and by 30 percent in the case of corn, which affects the food and nutritional security of the most vulnerable families.

"It abounds more, and we have a little more income left," said Ivania Siliézar, 55, a producer of a variety of improved beans in the community of El Amate, in the municipality of San Miguel, in the department of the same name. 135 kilometers east of San Salvador.

Siliézar told IPS that he took the time to count how many pods of the legume has a single plant of this bean. "It had more than 35 pods, that's why it abounds," she proudly explained.

The variety of beans that she and 40 other members of the Fuentes y Palmeras cooperative produce is called chaparrastique, also developed by Centa technicians and named after the volcano on whose slopes that and six other cooperatives produce the legume, which they sell in local markets and the PAF.

Siliézar cultivates his farm of little more than three hectares, and in the so-called second harvest, the last of the year, he obtained 1,250 kilograms, an excellent yield.

The 255 farmers of these seven cooperatives have obtained such good results, that they founded a company: Productores y Comercializantes Agrícolas de Oriente SA (Procomao), and they have managed to mechanize their processes with the installation of a plant that has machines such as dryers, among others. .

The plant, with an investment of 203,000 dollars, financed by Spanish cooperation, was set up with the support of FAO, the International Fund for Agricultural Development, the San Miguel mayor's office and the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock. It has the capacity to process three tons of beans per hour.

Three other small producer companies have followed this path, involving another 700 families from the department of San Miguel, Usulután and another neighbor.

"We had plagues, but thanks to God, and to the quality of these seeds, we have the harvest there," Siliézar said happily.

Cover photo: The industrious hands of Ivania Siliézar, 55, collect brand-new improved bean seeds that she has harvested from her three-hectare plot on the slopes of the Chaparrastique volcano, in eastern El Salvador's San Miguel department. . Thanks to these Creole seeds it has managed to double its production. Credit: Edgardo Ayala / IPS

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