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Our Blog: Guatemala
December 17, 2013
Helping Guatemalan farmers provide for their families

The Vibrant Village Foundation supports Mercy Corps with a $425,000 grant to build the capacity of small-scale farmers to improve incomes and reach higher value retail markets in the Western Highlands of Guatemala. Read more about the Inclusive Market Alliances for Rural Entrepreneurs (IMARE) program.

Strength to Fight

For years, Modesta Ramirez Mendez's life centered on caring for her family and her home, and raising small livestock to help provide for her family in their village of Cabrican, Guatemala. But seven years ago, the 57-year-old with a third-grade education had to take over the role of breadwinner for the family after her husband, a gas station attendant, lost his sight during an accident.

To meet the new challenge of providing for her children, she joined a local farmers' association, the Buena Vista producers' group, participants in the Vibrant Village and Mercy Corps agricultural support program, Inclusive Market Alliances for Rural Entrepreneurs (IMARE). As a member of the Buena Vista producers' group, she began planting radishes, potatoes and cauliflower on a small, 110-square-meter plot. She sold the produce locally.

“After that first harvest, I realized that [all the work] was all worth it. We wouldn’t have been able to do it on our own, but Mercy Corps provided us with support to improve our production and helped us improve our income," Modesta says. "Now, I’m planting 220 square meters and have diversified the crops. I’m planting cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli and potatoes. Everything is coming up nicely and I’m able to sell the harvest here in the community and on the local market. I have made $70 to $105 in profit, aside from what we eat at home, and I reinvest the capital so I can keep up my production.”

She says that before Mercy Corps, her income was very uncertain. She was not used to working outside the home, having always relied on her husband.

“I’ve taken on the role of both father and mother to my 15-year-old daughter, Gloria Onoria, who is in high school, and my 17-year-old son, Joaquin, who is studying to be an accountant," Modesta says. "Before they head off to school, they help me out in the field with the crops.”

“Since I started participating in the Mercy Corps IMARE Project, I have found support and grown as a woman. I realized that we can be successful in supporting our families," Modesta says proudly. "I have learned so much. And I can be there for my husband, who is no longer able to work.” Modesta is now the Vice President of the Buena Vista small producers' group in Cabrican. 

“As a result of my participation in the vegetable production project," she continues, "I have been able to pay for my children’s studies, household expenses, medical treatment for my husband, and a few other things that I need.”


May 16, 2013
Catching up with Natividad in Guatemala
I met Natividad last fall when I was in Guatemala visiting a project we support in the highland community of Buena Vista. I found Natividad incredibly charming, with a contagious smile and a delightful blend of confidence and earnestness. Needless to say, I was excited to see Mercy Corps publish a story on Natividad in their latest project update (adapted below).  – Laura Koch, Program Manager.
For the past two years, Natividad has been an active member of the Buena Vista producers’ group in Cabrican, Guatemala. She manages her time as secretary-treasurer of the 12-member association alongside her work as a mother of two small children. She and her husband are working together with other members of the group to build a sustainable agricultural business in their community. 
“With the support of Mercy Corps IMARE program, I have learned a lot of important things, like how to use a water purifier and how to make better food for my family, thanks to the Household and Plot Management Plans.” 
Natividad and her husband built and manage a 2000 square-foot greenhouse. “Since I started participating in the IMARE Project, I have been able to grow professionally,” Natividad explains. 
“The project really helped me with the tomato crops. So far, the first harvest was 182 kilograms, which I sold for $104, and I hope to harvest at least 680 kg more,” Natividad says. “I sell the tomatoes locally to my neighbors here every day, and I feel good that I can offer them fresh tomatoes produced without too many chemicals.”
Since the fall, the Buena Vista producers’ group has sold almost half of their total vegetable production, earning an income of over $1,000. Natividad says she will use her share of the proceeds to pay for her children’s schooling. 
In addition to agricultural training, co-op members participate in workshops promoting gender equality, and last year, Natividad represented her group at the national Women’s Network for Prosperity Conference. 
“The ongoing training has changed our lives as a couple,” Natividad says. “Before, we used to just each do our own thing; but now, thanks to the gender trainings, things have really changed for the better in our relationship.”
December 10, 2012
Gender equality in Guatemalan co-op
by Laura Koch
On my recent trip to visit the IMARE project (Inclusive Market Alliances for Rural Entrepeneurs) in the highlands of Guatemala, I had a chance to meet members of the farming co-op in Buena Vista.
Natividad, the groups' treasurer, had been participating with her husband in IMARE’s gender workshops for several months learning about gender equity and the rights of women. In September, she was invited to attend the 4th Annual Potato Conference, which brings together over 1,000 producers, NGO’s and international corporations. When she first suggested leaving her husband alone with her two children for several days while she attended the conference, her husband was reluctant. She assured him the one year old would only cry when she was hungry or tired. After some negotiation, they agreed and she packed her bags for the trip.
When she returned home several days later, her husband greeted her quickly and immediately ran for the door. “I’ve got to get out,” he explained hastily. When she asked him why, he said “I’ve been going crazy with these kids at my heels for days! I need a break!”
At the story’s punch line, the group burst into laughter.  It is rare for men in Guatemala to outwardly appreciate the hard work of motherhood, and this comment in passing, albeit small, was significant. The treasurer pointed to her husband, who happened to be the young man facilitating our meeting. He smiled shyly and nodded in acknowledgement that this had, in fact, been both a challenge and a success for their family. Through this experience, he gained greater awareness and respect for his wife’s contributions and improved his own skills and confidence to take on more of the parental responsibilities.