Educating community groups about the devastating impact of deforestation for the soil, food security, and water sources is an integral part of AIR’s projects. In 2013, USAID reported that Guatemala has the highest rate of chronic malnutrition in the Western Hemisphere—but AIR is fighting that statistic for the long-term!
AIR Technicians teach better Nutrition as well as Regenerative Farming methods that include farming with trees, terracing, polyculture, no-till farming, and organic fertilizers that keep carbon in the ground. Healthier families go hand-in-hand with a healthier environment.
Organic farming is part of this sustainability: Too often, farmers are pressured to buy chemical fertilizers because they seem profitable in the short-run—but they are highly destructive for future land use and are often harmful to human health. Instead of buying chemicals to farm, AIR technicians teach farmers how to make a potent organic compost called “Bocashi.” AIR hosted a Japanese volunteer in 1996-97 named Yoshitaka Ota. He received a small grant from the Guatemalan ministry of agriculture (DIGESA) and published a “Guide to Bocashi” in Spanish. AIR technicians then produced a morning radio program in Mayan languages to reach more farmers with the recipe—now Bocashi is in use throughout Guatemala!
Extensive deforestation in mountainous Guatemala, coupled with more intense rains in recent years from climate change means more frequent mudslides every rainy season.
In response, AIR technicians and volunteers have intensified planting of native “pino triste” pine trees that have deep, strong tap roots and grow quickly. AIR has planted almost 3 million of these trees on vulnerable mountain slopes. The people tell us that in just a few years these pine trees have prevented mudslides. This amazing 2010 photo shows the power of the AIR pine forest in Simajhuleu that stopped a mudslide in its tracks—before the mud could destroy a stream and house below. As AIR technician Luis Iquique said, “They look like little soldiers standing guard.”
Each AIR technician works with two rural schools, in addition to their work with farm communities. They will teach students to make “Bocashi,” and will establish a vegetable garden for produce they may take home, as well as establishing a tree nursery on the school campus. The rural school programs are vital for reinforcing the regenerative farming techniques that the neighboring communities are applying.
In addition, AIR produced a curriculum in forestry education for high school students with help from the Ministry of Education and BOPAZ (“Bosques Para La Paz”). This curriculum was updated and printed through a 2016 grant from the ERM Foundation (Environmental Resource Management, Inc.), and is available in Spanish and English, on request to AIR’s email.The AIR technicians and students often organize events showcasing skits, drawings, poetry, and traditional dances about nature.
Approximately 80 percent of the Guatemalan population uses wood as fuel for cooking and heating. The traditional open fires constantly emit harmful smoke (photo) and the World Bank estimates that 8 times more people die of lung disease in the developing world from open fires, than die from malaria. The open fires also cause accidental burns to the women and children.
But since 1996, AIR technicians working with family members and summer volunteers, have constructed 875 fuel-efficient brick stoves with chimneys. Not only do these stoves prevent lung disease, but they have conserved about 875 tons of firewood each year because they are so efficiently designed. AIR’s stoves are special because they have the large food preparation area that the women requested, and they are custom built for each woman’s height. We can build even more stoves, with your help!
In Guatemala, only a minority of rural teenagers are able to finish high school, because after the age of 12, a small tuition and school supplies are required that most rural families simply cannot afford for all of their children.
In an exciting program, AIR is now providing high school scholarships for boys and girls. The students agree to study hard, and to work in the tree nursery and plant trees around the community and their schools. The students are sponsored by individuals in the US who receive letters and photos from their students. The cost is only $800 a year, which covers the tuition, all school supplies, bus transportation, and mentoring by AIR’s staff. This is a program that directly provides more opportunities and choices for these young adults.
An exciting step often occurs after AIR technicians have finished their training with farmer groups: The AIR tree nursery belongs to the community, and the families decide to use the tree nursery as a source of income! The group members will continue to produce seedlings year after year because they are able to sell the tree seedlings to interested neighbors. The photo here shows one of the most successful AIR microbusinesses where Don Sebastian and his sons now sell 40,000 tree seedlings a year, and have been able to install an irrigation system and send all of their children to school.