AIR’s expert technicians either are invited by community leaders to teach Sustainable Farming, or they approach community residents speaking their Mayan languages and ask if they would like to begin a five-year training program in the farmers’ own fields. Weekly training sessions begin to improve their crops—without dangerous chemicals.
The residents themselves decide which farmer’s field will be mapped first; where the tree nurseries will go; the schedule for maintaining the tree seedlings; whether to begin a micro-business and other key decisions.
The AIR Technician visits weekly and together with residents they construct a tree nursery and plant tree seeds in small bags. The residents have a schedule for caring for the growing tree. Meanwhile, the AIR technician works with each farmer to map out and terrace their crops and teaches the entire group how to make organic products to sell, such as shampoo and cough medicines.
In the summer months—the rainy season—small groups of volunteers arrive from the US to help the residents get the tree seedlings in the ground. Tens of thousands of tree seedlings will be planted by hand on mountain slopes—and they grow quickly!
If funds are available, fuel-efficient stoves will be built for the participating residents. The group will decide who should receive a stove and in what order—this is not AIR’s decision nor the volunteers’ because the residents know which families have worked the hardest in the tree nursery and are the most needy.
AIR succeeds where other training and reforestation programs fail because technicians train and implement in a community for five years, and continue monthly or bi-monthly visits thereafter. AIR’s philosophy is to empower rural families to continue sustainable farming and reforestation long after the AIR technicians leave. They form relationships with farmers and relinquish key decisions to the residents themselves from the first day. They also stay long enough for residents to experience the benefits of sustainable farming.
After 22 years, we have clear evidence of maintained projects because mountainsides are now covered with trees instead of barren; crops are healthier and diverse; and many communities still have tree nurseries and some have turned their nurseries into income-generating micro-businesses.
Another way AIR maintains the lessons and projects is through school programs: environmental curriculum; school nurseries and gardens; scholarships. Reaching the residents at a young age with the lessons of sustainable farming and reforestation reinforces the community projects for the next generation.