Teaching sustainable farming protects the environment and increases crop yield.
We use trees that fertilize the soil naturally and are extremely fast-growing.
Our education programs provide a fun way to inform the generation of the future.
We strive to sharply reduce and eventually eliminate use of chemical pesticides and herbicides on family farms.
Educating the community groups about the importance of conserving the environment and the devastating impact of deforestation on the soil, food security, water sources, and air quality is an integral part of AIR’s projects. These educational programs have a life-long impact on attitudes and behavior in terms of conserving their lands.
A central part of AIR’s work is teaching Sustainable Farming methods to residents where AIR has established tree nurseries. It is clear that where farm land is extremely scarce,reforestation is only going to happen in combination with planting food crops—farming with beneficial trees (agro-forestry). AIR is also committed to sharply reducing and eventually eliminating use of chemical pesticides and herbicides on family farms.
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 our planting of native pino triste pine trees that have deep, strong tap roots and grow quickly—2 million and counting!
We select vulnerable mountain slopes for this reforestation, and the people tell us that in just a few years the trees have prevented mudslides. This amazing 2010 photo shows the power of the AIR pine trees in Simajhuleu that literally 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.”
AIR staff trains community members on production and grafting techniques for a variety of fruit trees and native decorative trees. Oftentimes, community members choose to start micro-businesses to sell fruit trees, and fruit products, decorative trees, and shampoo—AIR even has a small store they can use!
If the community group wants to learn how to make Aloe Vera shampoo, AIR staff will plant Aloe Vera in the nurseries and will provide all the materials for making and bottling shampoo. AIR believes that if tree nurseries become income-generating, the communities will have an added incentive to continue reforestation programs.
Each AIR technician works in two or three rural schools, as well as with individual farmers. They organize “field days” for school children to plant trees along a stream, for instance. They also establish a tree nursery and organic gardens on the school grounds that will provide nutrition for school lunches and teach youth to farm without dangerous chemicals.
In addition, AIR will organize events for youth to present skits, dances, make drawings, write poetry and songs about nature—recognizing the emotional as well as the practical gifts nature provides each one of us. These events are especially fun when the volunteer teams from the US join in the program. The photos here are from the Godinez school in Solola where AIR has been working for four years; in 2014, Stetson student Joseph Davis was invited to sing a solo!
Farmers often feel pressure to grow their own food crops and export crops with heavy use of chemicals—because it seems more profitable in the short-run. But this is highly destructive for future land use, and because the chemicals are usually used without protective clothing or training, they are extremely harmful to human health.
Time and again, farmers tell us that since they have begun using AIR’s methods “they feel better, and my children are not sick.” In addition, in just two years, farmers have as much as doubled their crop productivity without chemicals—because AIR plants fast-growing trees that enrich the soil.
AIR hosted a Japanese volunteer over a two year period in 1996-97, Yoshitaka Ota. He was able to receive a small grant from the Guatemalan ministry of agriculture (DIGESA) and wrote and published a “Guide to Bocashi,” which is a Japanese recipe for a potent organic compost. AIR technicians make Bocashi in their farmer training and also went on national radio to teach more farmers the recipe—Bocashi is now in use throughout Guatemala!
Approximately 75 percent of the Guatemalan population uses wood as fuel for cooking and heating. The traditional open fires are inefficient, wasting a great deal of calorific energy and large quantities of wood. In addition to contributing to the daily destruction of local forests, the fires constantly emit noxious smoke within the houses, causing severe health effects for the families.
Since 1996, AIR technicians working with community members and summer volunteers, have constructed over 800 fuel-efficient brick stoves conserving about 800 tons of firewood each year! 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.
Our stoves are far more efficient than open fires, so children do not have to spend days hunting for scarce firewood. They also are built with chimneys that greatly reduce the smoke inside the homes, bringing health benefits. As a side benefit, the stoves provide an immediate incentive for farmers to participate in the patient work of training and reforestation.
Working under an agreement with the Guatemalan Ministry of Education, AIR and an agency called “Bosques Para La Paz,” (“Forests for the Peace”) produced a curriculum in forestry education for high school students, and another curriculum for elementary school children that has been used for over 15 years in Guatemalan rural schools. AIR technicians also trained hundreds of rural school teachers in the basics of deforestation, climate change, and sustainable farming.
In rural Guatemala, only a small minority of teenagers are able to finish high school, because a small tuition and school supplies are required after the age of 12 that poor families simply cannot afford.
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 young people. The cost is only $425 a year (for the tuition, all school supplies, bus transportation and a graduation party) for a program that provides hope for a young person in extreme poverty.