Carlos Palacios of Agrequima Explains How
Agrequima is the crop protection association of Guatemala and a member of CropLife Latin America. As a non-profit, its mission is to improve domestic agriculture under the CuidAgro℠ Programme, which trains farmers on Integrated Pest Management (IPM) and the responsible use and management of crop protection products as well as certifies qualified applicators.
Agrequima also runs the Campo Limpio℠ Programme, which collects and recycles empty crop protection product containers. Such programmes increase crop production, minimise input costs, improve farmer livelihoods and build communities – both literally with recycled plastic materials and figuratively with better farm management.
Twenty years ago, CropLife International selected Guatemala as a pilot country for farmer training on crop protection product use and management and thus, Agrequima was established. In 2012, Agrequima trained approximately 50,000 farmers. It works with 14 partner organizations to reach tens of thousands of farmers annually. Carlos Palacios, head of training for Agrequima, who has been with the organization for 20 years, describes how it has been a global model in stewardship.
Q: What inspired the founding of Agrequima? How has the organization grown in scope and capacity?
Agrequima was founded in 1991 with the aim of bringing together the agricultural industry and developing educational programmes that favour productivity while protecting the health and safety of farmers and the environment. Since the beginning, the aim has been to support the farmer. Agrequima has developed a number of partnerships with related organizations to reach more people. Since 1991, Agrequima has trained close to 800,000 farmers.
The association continues to respond to farmers’ needs through a wide range of resources. Agrequima continuously offers new training courses and participates in everything that provides farmers with support and further development of IPM, including the responsible use of crop protection products. This includes a programme targeting elementary school kids and mini collection points for empty product containers.
Q: Why was Guatemala chosen by CropLife International 20 years ago as a pilot country for farmer training?
At that time, CropLife International selected three countries worldwide to set up pilot projects on the responsible use of crop protection products. In Latin America, Guatemala was chosen for several reasons: the national association was very strong and solid; the country has a great diversity of microclimates and crops; its agriculture was developed mainly by small landholders; and a large number of farmers sought training.
Agriculture continues to be the major source of employment in Guatemala; 38 per cent of all people employed here work in the agriculture sector. The main commodities are bananas, sugar cane, coffee, palm oil, rubber, pineapples, potatoes, tomatoes, mangoes, chilli peppers, corn, beans and export vegetables including peas, green beans and broccoli.
Q: How did Guatemala evolve to become a pioneer in the responsible use of crop protection products?
A professional staff of agronomists helped Agrequima design its own training programmes adapted to local conditions. Courses accounted for aspects such as high illiteracy among farmers, poverty and the diversity of dialects. They also used a dynamic teaching approach (70 per cent practice and 30 per cent theory) for better, long-lasting results. In 1997, Agrequima entered into an agreement with the Guatemalan Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Food under which it was tasked with the responsible manage-ment and use of crop protection products at a national level. This was a major challenge that Agrequima strongly embraced and has been dedicated to ever since. Today, the demand for farmer training continues to grow thanks to continual course updates, quality control and the direct contact that Agrequima’s staff has with various target audiences – they go where the farmers are.
Q: How has farmer training improved livelihoods and Guatemalan agriculture?
CuidAgro℠ teaches farmers how to farm more efficiently. This results in higher productivity while protecting the farmer’s health and the environment. Surplus crops from increased productivity can be sold and increase household income. In addition, farmers who complete responsible use training earn a certificate from Agrequima that attests to their crop protection product management skills and makes them more competitive in the market. This “diploma” allows farmers to prove to an international certification body and export companies that they are qualified personnel and their skills have been tested.
Q: What are the results of farmer training programmes?
After training, we see a change on two levels. First, the farmer improves his and his family’s personal safety as he learns how to manage crop protection products and apply them properly. Second, he is capable of reducing production costs as the IPM training helps him identify pests, their lifecycle and, more importantly, if and when it is critical to apply crop protection products. This helps reduce costs and improve efficiency in the use of inputs among small farmers. Overall, we see:
• More effective use of crop protection products and a decreasing number of accidents
• Increased productivity
• Proper use of personal protective equipment
• Sound storage practices
• Application equipment in better condition
• Correct disposal of crop protection product containers
• Improvements in the farmers’ handling of crop protection products
Q: What are results of the container management programme?
In the past 20 years, more than 24 million empty crop protection product containers have been collected in Guatemala under CampoLimpio. The annual average plastic collection is 300 tonnes, accounting for 65 per cent of all crop protection product containers used in the country per year. Guatemala is second in Latin America in terms of empty container collection.
End uses for recycled crop protection product containers include garbage bags, broom parts (where the bristles are attached) and plastic timber that is used as raw material to build docks in various locations.
Q: How many collection centres exist nationwide and what are future goals for the recycling programme?
There are three collection centers and more than 350 mini collection points that are well used by farmers. In 2012, we began replacing all the metal mini collection points with plastic ones. The new centres have been built with recycled plastic collected under the programme. This initiative aims to publicly show the final destination of the recycled plastic and to encourage farmers to continue returning empty crop protection product containers to CampoLimpio.
While Agrequima currently recovers 65 per cent of the plastic shipped into the market by the industry, the goal is to reach 75 per cent over the next five years. This shows Agrequima’s commitment to increasing the numeric, visual and environmental impacts of Campo- Limpio in the short and long term.
Q: How many and which types of organizations support Campo Limpio?
At the moment, there are up to 200 organisations that directly support CampoLimpio, including individual farmers, agro-exporters and local authorities such as the Ministries of Agriculture, Health and Environment. Their support includes raising awareness about environmental responsibility, donating infrastructure for collection points, and providing staff and technical training.
Q: What are key results of Agrequima supported initiatives?
• Helping small farmers become exporters
• Producing safe crops to improve local market revenues
• Fighting poverty by providing better opportunities to small farmers
• Offering training programmes certified by accreditation bodies
• Inspiring behavioral changes of new farmer generations
Other results we see are enhanced protection of water sources, growth in productivity and increased income due to surplus crops.
For more information about Agrequima, contact Rolando Zamora at email@example.com.