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In Central America, Smallholder Farmers Get Plugged In To Markets

For generations Central American farmers have eked out a living growing the local staples of maize and beans, their harvests barely covering food and production costs. But today, some of the small rain-fed plots that dot the region are generating serious money.

PANAMA CITY – The 65 farmers of the El Garucho cooperative in El Salvador’s fertile Ahuachapan department used to sell poor-quality harvests to small traders at rock-bottom prices. As a result their income was low and, from one season to the next, they were seldom really sure they would be able to feed their families.

But thanks to an initiative called Purchase for Progress, which helps poor farmers connect better to markets,  they have recently found a way out of the age-old predicament. They now count government and institutional buyers like WFP among their clients. Others include private sector heavyweights like Salvadorian flour company Harisa.

Two farmers stand beside a large container of flour at the El Garucho cooperative in El SalvadorSome of their counterparts over the border in Guatemala, have scored similar achievements and have signed deals with American supermarket giant Walmart.

“We have learned not to farm to survive, but to farm to commercialize”, said Karla Trujillo, president of El Garucho, referring to the business and production skills acquired through Purchase for Progress (P4P).

In order to strength food security and nutrition, almost 300 P4P farmers from El Salvador also received trainings on good nutritional practices. This training focused on how to achieve a healthy and nutritionally balanced diet within the P4P framework.

'High nutrition crops'

A man lifts a sack of flour“The training has helped me realize that, as a farmer, I can grow crops with a high nutritional value,” said Kenia Noely Marquez, a member of the COMUS farmer organization in Ahuachapan.

These farmers are among nearly 28,000 family farmers in Central America who are now plugged into mainstream markets.

Partnering with governments and regional institutions in four Central American countries, WFP helps P4P farmers increase production and overcome difficulties accessing credit that prevent them from fetching competitive market prices. By sometimes acting as a large scale buyer, WFP has stimulated growers to invest more in their production to attract more business.

With more money coming in, the farmers are sinking their profits into healthcare, education and better living conditions. They have also learned better ways to store their grain for home consumption and sale. And by cultivating more land and investing in no-till farming and other sustainable practices, they are buffering the impact of future shocks in a region prone to natural disasters.

At El Garucho and elsewhere, these P4P growers are learning that small can be powerful. “As a cooperative we understand our strength and small entrepreneurs,” says Trujillo.