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.
Most students have to quit school after the age of 12. We're helping more girls and boys stay in school.
Educating the community groups about the devastating impact of deforestation for the soil, food security, water sources and the increase in mudslides is an integral part of AIR’s projects. AIR technicians teach Sustainable Farming methods—farming with beneficial trees—to interested groups where AIR has established tree nurseries. It is clear that where farm land is scarce, reforestation is only going to happen in combination with planting food crops (agro-forestry). After 23 years of training and planting, we have the countless examples showing that Sustainable Farming improves food crops and the environment for the long term!
Organic farming is part of this sustainability: The heavy use of chemicals may seem more profitable in the short-run, but it 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. But instead of chemicals, AIR technicians teach farmers how to make a potent organic compost called “Bocashi.” AIR hosted a Japanese volunteer in 1996-1997 named Yoshitaka Ota. He received a small grant from the Guatemalan ministry of agriculture (DIGESA) and published a “Guide to Bocashi.” AIR technicians even produced a morning radio program to reach more farmers with the recipe—now Bocashi is in use throughout Guatemala!
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 technicians works with two or three rural schools, in addition to their work with farm communities. In the schools, they organize “field days”
for school children to plant an organic vegetable garden to grow healthy produce; or they plant trees along a stream, for instance. They also establish a tree nursery on the school grounds and teach youth to farm without dangerous chemicals. The rural school programs are vital for reinforcing the new sustainable farming techniques that the community groups are applying.
In addition, AIR produced a curriculum in forestry education for high school students with help from the Guatemalan Ministry of Education and BOPAZ (“Bosques Para la Paz”). This curriculum was updated and reprinted through a 2016 grant from the ERM Foundation (Environmental Resource Management), and is being re-distributed to dozens of rural schools.
The AIR Technicians and students have fun with their environmental lessons as well—they organize events showcasing skits, dances, drawings, poetry and songs about nature. These events are especially fun when the volunteer teams from the US join in the program—just look at these photos!
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.
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.
It takes time for even fast-growing trees to show their value for farming, so as the trees grow, AIR technicians will teach interested community leaders how to make nature-based products: Aloe vera shampoo, for instance, or menthol cream for colds. Group members are able to use these products, but they are also able to add a little to their family incomes by selling them at market.
The most exciting micro-businesses are when families use the tree nursery itself 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. Thus, oftentimes, the AIR tree nursery used during the first years of Farmer Training becomes a micro-business after AIR moves on to other communities—and new farmers buy the little seedlings and learn sustainable farming methods from the original group.
Dozens of AIR nurseries have become community micro-businesses—including the one owned by Don Sebastian’s family in Chucalibal: Don Sebastian happens to have a plot of land near a major intersection which he transformed into a tree nursery business with AIR’s help. Now his extended family raises 40,000 trees at a time, selling virtually all of them for 15 cents each
to farmers from three Departments—and they have raised enough funds to put in an irrigation system for food crops and the nursery!