The rights of Guatemalan farmers take center stage in a new study released by the Global Forum on Agriculture Research (GFAR), titled Strengthening the Implementation of Farmers’ Rights in Guatemala. The report, which was sought by Guatemalan farmers’ rights and government groups, examines farmers’ autonomy over their “plant genetic resources and traditional knowledge” and the practical application of this knowledge. With food insecurity a widespread concern throughout much of Guatemala, traditional farming practices and the support of farmers’ rights protects crops and increases food access.
Two case studies, taking place in the farming communities of Aldea Quilinco Chiantla and Aldea Climentoro, Aguacatan, indicated similar methods of seed and cultural preservation through traditions and a reliance on maize as a major food source.
Farmers’ groups in Aldea Guilinco Chiantla shared with researchers their technique for preserving “18 to 23 local varieties of maize per family.” In this community, maize is used to make traditional foods such as tortillas, in addition to having a prominent role in celebrations, such as weddings. Unfortunately, the diversity of the maize plant has come under threat due to food insecurity, violent storms that destroy plants, plant diseases and pests.
GFAR researchers learned from local officials about methods for protecting the diversity and integrity of the maize crop in several ways. These methods include “repatriation of local seed varieties” from nearby regions, the use of community seed banks to conserve “genetic diversity, seeds for emergencies, and good quality seeds,” and “participatory plant breeding.” The last practice has resulted in a shorter plant that is not as susceptible to high winds and straighter corn grains.
The second community of Aldea Climentoro, Aguacatan, utilized similar methods to protect biodiversity. A seed bank, with a collection of both maize and potato seeds, is overseen by the Association of the Cooperativa Joya Hermosa de las Tres Cruces with the aim to protect native plant species.
In addition to these two case studies, GFAR held a conference centered on farmers’ rights and “how they can be realized at national and local levels.” From this meeting, the goal to amplify the voices of farmers in discussions about their own rights and the future of seeds was prominent. The need for improved cataloging systems for seed banks and better systems was also a key finding from the meeting.