Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Reality of El Salvador, Part 3: Agriculture

In August 2009, SHARE El Salvador Director, Marina Peña, gave a talk to Cretin-Derham High School about the National Reality of El Salvador. This talk has been split into three parts: The History of El Salvador, Economics and Violence in El Salvador and Agriculture in El Salvador. This is the third part of the talk.

Part 3: Agriculture in El Salvador

Another one of the large problems we have is the lack of employment in the campo. This was provoked by the fact that in 20 years of ARENA government, they destroyed agriculture in our country. There was a man who was the President of El Salvador named Cristiani, he has a business in which he sells agricultural seeds and products and he is the only one who sells seeds in this country. So in 1992 when they started to implement the neo-liberal model in our country, they negotiated with agricultural producers in the United States, that El Salvador would dedicate itself to the maquila industry. So that it wouldn't be necessary to have agricultural producers here in El Salvador, it would be cheaper to buy the corn and the beans from the United States and bring it here. Of course, it was cheaper because agricultural companies in the States are subsidized by the government. So they can sell their grains at a much cheaper price. This agreement made between Cristiani and the agricultural businesses in the States, forced small farmers into bankruptcy. People stopped cultivating, because they were spending money in seeds sold by Cristiani and agricultural supplies but when they went to sell the product, the prices were so low that they lost money, it put them in debt, they didn't even cover their costs. What many campesinos did was to sell their land and go to the United States undocumented. There are entire towns of Salvadorans living in the United States for this reason. Here in the Eastern zone in Morazan, San Miguel y La Union in El Salvador, where entire populations have left together to go to the States, but they left as a result of policies here.

What happens when a country can't produce its own food? It becomes very vulnerable and when the the United Nations World Food Program announced that there was a world food crisis, they started to think what is going to happen to the countries that don't even produce their own food? Like El Salvador. In 2005, when Hurricane Stan flooded farm fields in all of Central America, we had a food crisis. For example we buy vegetables from Guatemala and Honduras and meat and beans in Nicaragua. So when Stan came through and crops were lost, those countries wanted to save what they produced for their own people, they didn't want to sell to us. Here in El Salvador where there is no longer food production, there was as great crisis. The basic nutrition of our country is beans and corn. In 2005, the beans cost between 45 cents and 50 cents per pound, but after this crisis the price of beans shot up to 1.25 a pound. In our country there are families that live on a dollar a day, so those families couldn't even buy beans. What does that mean? That these families are condemned to die of hunger. And that is one of the big problems we have with agriculture. Before the Civil, 19 percent of the gross domestic product was agriculture. In 2005, agriculture represented about 1% of our GDP. That goes to show how ARENA governments destroyed the agricultural sector and that is one of the great jobs that this new government has, to reactivate the agriculture, because it is the life and work of the campesino population.

Another problem that we have in agriculture is the excessive use of chemicals. In our country before the war, they cultivated cotton, it is a type of crop that demands a lot of chemicals to grow it. During the war the production of cotton basically disappeared. However, the poison from the chemicals is showing up 40 years later. The chemical used to grow cotton falls into the earth but it isn't absorbed by the earth, but humans can absorb it and it has been poisoning our bodies. Women tend to hold the poison in the mammary glands, so that when a woman has a child and breast-feeds, she is passing poison to her child. This means that the effect of this poison isn't just the population of forty years ago, but also future generations. In Tecoluca, San Vicente, last week, a man who worked with us on the Seeds of Hope program died of kidney failure. That is the affects of the chemicals used to plant cotton. Don Lucio had started to work with organic products, but he was already sick and now he is dead. The region of Tecoluca is an area where there is a high number of kidney problems due to use of chemicals in the production of cotton. For that reason, the SHARE Foundation, is promoting the Seeds of Hope program to combat the food crisis and the use of chemicals in agriculture production. We give 300 dollars to each family that participates to grow corn for the year. But those families have to commit to using organic seeds not chemically modified seeds and use as few chemicals as they can and they must use organic fertilizers that they make. So some are currently using 50 percent chemical methods and 50 percent organic, some are 75 percent organic and some are now using completely organic products and methods for their agriculture. The zone of Tecoluca is an area where we are using this practices so that sometime in the future people will be free of chemicals.

Photo 1: Alfredo Cristiani

Photo 4: Don Lucio with his organic corn

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