Practices and Results
Traditionally Salvadoran farmers grew and developed lots of native seeds which were well adapted to their local conditions and climate. Since the 1950s Government campaigns have persuaded farmers to buy hybrid seeds from multinational companies instead – but these need to be bought afresh each year and can’t adapt to the conditions here. Many native seeds – especially vegetables – have been completely lost and farmers have come to depend on these expensive hybrid seeds.
We teach farmers to select and save seeds from their crops and encourage them to experiment with different seed varieties to find the best ones for their specific conditions. Farmers who have kept local seeds, are encouraged to share them with others and we also teach them how to store and reproduce their seeds.
So farmers have free access to stronger crops that are well adapted to the sometimes harsh conditions here. At the same time we are creating a seed bank reflecting the real diversity of crops for future generations to use.
Ensuring Food Security and Soverignty
The communities with whom IPES works are so poor that often their greatest problem is not having enough food to feed the children. relying on maize tortillas, rice and beans for their diet, supplemented by eggs and cheese.
We stress how important it is for farmers to have the right and ability to feed their own families (‘food security and sovereignty’) and help families to analyze the quality, cost and quantity of the food they produce. Families learn to plant a diversity of food crops and use local materials like chicken manure, the waste of leaf cutter ants and dried leaves to fertilize their land. They learn how to prevent and control pests by planting insect repellent plants such as marigold and making pesticides with plants such as neem. Next we help them to make semi-organic weed killers to use alongside semi-organic fertilizers and native seeds.
Using these methods, families save an average of £323 a year on agricultural chemicals, decreasing their debt and their need to sell crops at low prices to pay off their debts as well as saving an average £30 per year by growing vegetables and raising additional income by selling their surplus crops to other communities.
“We have a trade between those who have vegetable gardens and those who don´t – vegetables for tortillas” – community leader, Dolores Avilar
“Last year I made 44 hundred weight sacks of compost and sold 15 to my father, making nearly $100 profit” – IPES volunteer community worker, Oscar Herrera
Water and Sanitation
Water shortage and contamination are huge problems for all of the communities which we support. Families – and particularly women – may spend hours each day collecting water for their essential daily needs, and injuring themselves by carrying all the weight. Their drinking water often comes from untreated springs, streams or wells and local health clinics deal with high numbers of water-related illnesses such as amoeba infestations, infant diarrhoea and even deaths.
We teach the building of rainwater collection tanks with easy to use hand pumps – making best use of the abundant rainy season water. We help communities to protect their springs by safely enclosing the spring water in collection tanks which filter out the silt and prevent animal contamination. We also work alongside communities to inspect their hygiene problems, carry out community clean ups and teach them how family hygiene and health are linked. A shocking 50% of families have no toilet facilities at all and the remainder are mostly reliant on unsanitary pit latrines which contaminate the ground water and spread disease. IPES works with communities to build compost latrines which not only protect the family´s health but also recycle human waste for use as compost.
“The children used to have lots of problems, but there is less diarrhoea now”
“In the past we had to get water from the creek which is dirty or walk over 2km to get water. Now our spring water and rainwater are enough for us.” Quotes from family members in El Franco community
To feed your family you need good soil but in El Salvador years of traditional ‘slash and burn’ farming has destroyed all the goodness of the soil. With no trees to protect it, the soil has washed away into the rivers and blown away in the winds.
Some of our permaculture community workers think our greatest success has been in stopping farmers from using the slash and burn method, and training them how to protect and rebuild the soil. To prevent strong water currents from washing the soil away, for example, they are taught to create barriers of plants or rocks to hold the soil back. We teach farmers how to rebuild soil fertility, training them to make a variety of composts, natural fertilisers and plant nitrogen fixing green manures.