Flor de Tierra, an agriculture with love, free of agrochemicals
“We don’t want to change agriculture, we do that already.” This is Benjamín’s slogan, founder of the Guatemalan initiative Flor de Tierra, winner of the Rural Youth Innovation Award in the Conservation category. Benjamin is an Agricultural Production Technician, an Agricultural Engineer and dreams of seeing a Guatemala with clean agriculture. This is why he invests in his initiative, which has more followers every day, by uniting science with experience.
In 2016, Benjamin started the process of writing his thesis as a student in sustainable agriculture. In search of alternatives to the use of agrochemicals and with the financial support of the IICA’s CRIA program, he focused his research on creating a fertilizer made from organic matter for farming tomatoes. When comparing his findings with common fertilizers made with chemicals, he quickly realized that he obtained the same results or even improvements in production – more fibres, protein and minerals – with a product made with just local raw materials.
However, it was not easy to convince others. “Guatemala has had several organic fertilizer projects, but they did not work. They do not work because, on one hand, people are used to buying chemicals and, on the other, because the alternatives generally come from abroad and they just want to apply them without testing beforehand. So usually they don’t work and people keep on using chemicals”, explained Benjamin. In 2019, certain of the efficacy of his product and after the death of his grandfather from gastric cancer, Benjamin decided to associate with three friends, Guadalupe, Cristian and Ernesto to found Flor de Tierra.
One of the first experiments was carried out in Tejutla, in the San Marcos region, with a tomato producer who loaned them, quite sceptically, a test plot. The results were an increase of approximately 40% in the producer’s yield and tomatoes of a larger size than those he had cultivated with the use of agrochemicals. Thus, the members of Flor de Tierra were proving that changing people’s minds was possible, but it required awareness from all market players.
On the consumer side, the following happens: “People go to the markets and believe that just because they buy vegetables, they are consuming in a healthy way, but in reality they do not know how many pesticides and chemical fertilizers they have in their products,” Benjamin says. Moreover, on the farmers’ side, they spend more and more money because pests are getting stronger and farming is becoming less profitable. Faced with this double problem, Benjamin is using what he learned and inherited from the elderly: he is combining ancestral knowledge and love for the land with scientific knowledge that he acquired at the university.
Today, Flor de Tierra organizes workshops up to three or four days long to teach producers how to make their own fertilizers with local organic products. It is also introducing new products to different agroservices. Contacted by organizations and municipalities, the team is spreading its proposal throughout Guatemala. Then, it offers monitoring via WhatsApp that also allows for measuring the impact of changes made. Because beyond selling, Flor de Tierra is developing a network of converted producers who are convinced of the benefits of using organic fertilizer: “This idea has to be watered,” said Benjamin.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Flor de Tierra’s activities have had to adapt. Instead of stopping from the start, they have expanded their market significantly, now turning to the city. With new workshops for orchards and urban gardens, they have found new followers. “We have gone from nobody believing us to advising thesis,” Benjamin explained. Without a doubt, the shift in mentalities towards good practices and the use of chemical-free products, so longed by Benjamin, is already underway.