SMALL, FAThi SYSTEMS IN= THtREE ZONE~S OF GUATiEMt~AL
SMALL FARMZ" SYSTEMS PROGRAM
CEN~TRO. IN~TERNACIONAL~V D)E A4GRICULTURA TiROPICALV (CIAT)
SMEALL. FARMt SY1STEMS IN T:ERE ZONiES 'OF GUT:SERK~LA
The Systems Team has agreed to collaborate with ICTA in its research
program in the La Piaquina region on the south coast of Guatemala. In cjrdef to
familiarize myself with some of the pro'olems of the region, I made a quick
~visit to that region and to two other regions~in Guatemala wJhere ICTA is also
working. This report will compare farming systems in these three regions,
utilizing the data from one case study in each of the three regions plus the
testimonyof the techniciansgworking in these regions and my impressions
after visiting all three. The report will begin with a description of the
oldest settled area of the three, The Quezaltenango region, then shift
attention to the Oriente and finally focus on La Mfaquina. This arrangement
will facilitate the comparisons needed in order to understand the present
situation in La Ma~quina. Generally speaking, as we move from the Quezaltenango
region through the Oriente to La Miaquina, we will see a decrease in land values,
an increase in farm size, a decrease in population density, a decrease in the
variety of crops grown, a decrease in the use of modern technology, including
credit, and a decrease in productivity.
QUEZA~LTENANGO REGION P CASE STUDY
After touring the immediate area with Salvador CruZ, We decided to contact
Jeff Raker, a Peace Corps volunteer working with ICTA in the Olintepeque area
and visit one of his cooperating farms. This farm is owned by Don Eorberto,
age 59. He lives there with his wife, M~aria, age 45 and one son, Juan, age
28, wJho is married and has three children. Two other sons, aged 35 and 30,
are working as masons in Quezaltenango and have left the farm. As is
quite common in this region, both Don Norberto and Juan work at another trade
besides farming. They own andoperate a shop in Olintepeque.
The farm consists of fiive-diffrernt~-tots, -one- of 24 .'cuerdas' _two of 14
'cuerdas' each one and 2 of 5 'cuerdas', for a total of 62 'cuerdas', which is
just under four manzanas or about 2.7 hectares under cultivation. One of these
lots is a good 5 kilometersaway from the others and must be reached by bus.
The other lots are centered near the house and court yard, which is laid out
in a square. The main part of the house occupies one side of the square and
a storeroom for corn and a hamlmockx for one person is on the corner near the
house. Going around the square from the storeroom, we find a pen with one
large boar, another area with about 70 chickens, then stalls for a cow, and a
sheep and a storage room for husks and other feed materials. None of the
animals are ever let out to forage for themselves, but: are all fed in the
The main cash crop in this area is wheat: and it is the one which is
subsidized by BANDESA. Corn is the main subsistence crop for both the family
and the animals, but they raise a number of different types of beans, peas, and
squash, all interplanted with corn. 'dheat is invariably raised alone. On this
farn they also raise a variety of vegetables. for their table, including beets,
cabbage, radishes, and they were beginning some commercial apple production.
They raised two different kinds of corn,- one. which has a small purple
ear aboutr 4 to 5 inches in length and which is prefe~rred for tortillas and
San Marceno, a tall yellow corn, which hats a very thick purple stalk, at least
8 to 9 feet tall with no signs of ears. They cloimu that. this very thick
stalk as well as a pronounced hilling of the corn is necessary to protect it
from wind damage which occurs here in August, the same as in the La Maquina
The agricultural year in this region runs as follows:
December and January. Cut the corn stalks and save those for the
animals along with all of the husks. After clearing off the useable waste,
prepare land for planting.
February. It is generally too cold so there is no farm work to do.
March. Everything, except wheat, is planted at once. Normally they
plant five grains of corn, one of beans, one of peas, all in the same hill
and one of habas between the hills.
April. Replant if necessary on a spot basis.
May_. Weed and hill up the corn for support.
June and July. Hill and weed the corn again and plant the wheat.
August. Apply herbicides to the wheat and weed the corn, if necessary.
September and October. Period of low activity on the farm.
November. Harvest wheat, corn and other crops pretty much all at once.
Other vegetables harvested as they are ready.
So everything stays in the fields, except wheat and the little vegetable
plots that they harvest when they are ready.
They hire a tractor at US$20.80 per mbnzana to prepare the land and then
everything is done by hand after that. They also raise some potatoes, which
need a lot of fertilizer and chemical control in this region, but farmers do
pay the price for the fertilizers and herbicides that they need.
Juan estimates that they get two to three quintales of wheat per cuerda,
about four quintales of corn per cuerda whether it is interplanted or not;
and if they interplant beans, habas, and peas with the corn,they will get
about 10 pounds of each of these per cuerda. The cuerda in this region is'
16 t'o a manzana. Since they are just beginning apple production and have
recently learned the art of grafting, the production so far is fairly insig-
Dut of the production, they will normally sell only about 10 quintales
of maize at about 5 to 6 Quetzales per quintal in the market. The remaining
15 quintales will be used for home consumption by themselves and their
animals, as well as for seed. They have recently added a large number of
layers to their chicken flock, so that 45 of the 70 chickens they now have
are not yet laying. At present, they sell only two to three dozen eggs per
week, but within a few weeks, they hope to have their production up to 20 dozen
eggs per week. They plan to kill the boar for meat for the family sometime
during the next month and will sell the sheep alive in the market. Similarly,
when the cow gives birth to a calf during the next month or two, they expect
to sell the calf.
In this area, the animals are sold 'por oj'o' in the market rather than
weighed. Very few people sell their crops to middlemen in the area, sinse
they prefer to take them to the nearby market towns themselves or take them
to the city. INUDECA will buy the basic grains, but they have to deliver them
to them and they could see no particular advantage to this.
This family has been working with credit' agencies such BANiDESA and its
predecessor organization in agricultural credit for about 20 years and has
always been a good credit risk, so they are considered amongst the better
customers. According to Juan, the interest rate is now 8 per cent per year
and loans are available only for wheat. Loan conditions are that they will
get all the money they need for fertilizer, seed and labor. Last year, they
bought 13 quintales of fertilizer,16-20-0 and three of Urea for their 38
cuerdas of wheat. They sold the wheat in the open market in Guatemala City
and got about US$8.17 per quintal for the 100 quintales that they sold.
They saved 9 quintales for seed and-home use. They do take some wheat to
the mill and have it ground for flour for their own use, although corn is
All of the land of this farm belongs to the father and they rent no land
at all. The two brothers who live apart have virtually broken relations with
their father as a result of their decision to leave the farm. Juan feels very
much dominated by his father in every way and has to take orders from him
in all respects. Even his initiatives in vegetables and fruits required the
permission of his father before he was allowed to do anything on the land.
Both men do some of the field work, as well as taking care of the shop,
but during the months when there is a great deal to be done, they hire 5
full-time mozos to work for them at 0.80 cents a day with a meal. Normally,
mozos work about 8 hours per day, but if the work is divided on a contract
basis and the normal payment is 1 Quetza~lper cuerda. Wheat is the only
crop with a fixed price, so others are sold-on the open market. -~Thira last---
year they only sold 3 quintales of apples at 10 Quetzales per quintal, but
they expect to haves a much higher production in the next year. BANDESAL gives
its loans on a 12-month basis, and wheat is sold immediately after harvest
since the price is stable. Corn is sold any time from January to Miarch
depending on market conditions. In this colder climate they have no problem'
.One major crop risk in this area is corn disease and.th~ey use chemical
control on this. Another danger is the high wind of August, which can be
strong enough to lodge the corn.
Owing to the scarcity of fertilizer in the market this past year, BANDESA
effectively subsidized fertilizer. These people bought the fertilizer from
BANJDESA at US$9.20 per quintal when they said it was selling for USS17.00 to
US$18.00 on the open market. Even under these conditions they claimed that
they did not sell any fertilizer, but rather used all they could get their
hands on. The supervised credit by BAN'DESA does not: give them advice on
what to do, burt validates wind damage or disease damage in order to grant
extensions on loans. If it -is necessary to get an extension, they could get:
a year's extension and still be eligible for n~rw credit:. Herbicide this year
costs US$25.00 a gallon, but they do use it on~their.w~heat.. Other production
costs include purchasing 'granillo' (huskH residures),which are used for the
pigs and chickens. He couldn't remember how many bags they bought, but they
paid US$4.70 per hundred weight for this.
Land prices in this areare extremely high being US$125 to US$150 per
cuerda, or about US$2,000 per manzana. Even at these prices, very little is
available for sale and almost none is available for rent.
OTHERS FARMS IN; THE: QUE~ZALTENAGO AREAF~
We visited several other farms around the Quezaltenango area.and fou:nd
quite a bit of variety in w~hat was being raised as well as the farmingsystem
i-n general. One of thle farms visited belongs to a man who has three hectares
dedicated to little bits of practically everything. He has large apple and
pear trees scattered around his property, raises roses, as well as a large
variety of fruits and vegetables, such as strawberries, peas, carrots, and
cauliflower. Mlost of these were interplanted with other flowers aind fruit:
trees. The net result was thatnot only were corn and potatoes grown in
the same field but armongst them a few fruit trees, rose bushes and so forth.
In this area, people fertilize quite heavily since they know their soils
are depleted and will not yield much without fertilizer. It is also -common
in this region to have some handicraft, or other income supplement besides
their agricultural production.
We also visited some large commercial farms in the area, which are also
either in wheat or in vegetables, largely for El Salvador market. The new
varieties of wheat are being adapted into the area and doing well.
We spent some time in Almolonga, which has perhaps the most exaggerated
minifundia farming in the New World. It is located just ovIer the hill froi
Quezaltemagso and enjoys an excellent climate with no freezing weather.
Apparently, there is plenty of water and the land is intensively farmed,
mainly by relay cropping rather than intercropping. Ouing to the slope and
high value of the land, fields tend to be very small and planted oriental
style in intensive beds of carrots, onions,` potatoes, cabbage and soi forth,
with one crop planted immediately after the other. Using short season
varieties, they are able to get up to five crops per year in this system. k'e
interviewed one farmer in a field that was less than one cuerda in size, which
his wife had inhzerited. This was a good fairly level lot near towin and he had
five other cuerdas on a steep slope, not far from the town. He claimed that
the good land in this area is not for sale or for rent, but if available, it
would rent for about US$120 per cuerda per year, or US$1,920 per ma~nzana. If
it: were on the market, land of this quality would sell for U'S$31' to US$1,000
per cuerda, or about US$12,800 to U~S16,000 per manzana. It must be wJorth
it because is not for sale and is all being farmed. In spite of these
extremely high land prices, wages remain the traditional 1.00 Quetzal per day.
The farmer interviewed works as a mozo because he does not have enough la~nd
of his own, and his oldest boy now age 10 is also working full-time as a moto.
He doesn't plan to educate his children since he says that day school is a
vaste of time and that the children are better off working until they are old
enough to be serious students. At that time, they can begin studying at night
school and picking up a little education.
Most of what is produced hiere is sold in 81 Salvador or Cu3tehmala with~
the culls going into the local ma~rket. Farmers throughout the highland! region
are extremely concerned about the price of fertilizers since they m~ust have it
to survive at all. Between Quezaltrenango and Lake Atitlc~n, we sawr a number of
terraces where they did not plant because they could not get any fertilizer.
Presumably, they went into other activities rather than try to farm without
Coops in the 01intepeque area have run into the traditional problems of
somebody running off with the money, or mismanaging the resources of the coop.
Don Norberto was with the coop and they over-invested in machinery and went
broke. On the other hand, there is a wheat coop in San Andres de Semetabaj
up above on the hill overlooking Lake Atitlda. This coop had failed once
before in 1969, was reorganized and financed by AID with a gradual decline in
participation over these past few years. The coop now ow~ns 11 tractors, 5
trucks,11 stationary harvesters and has 1,400 members, averaging about 2
manzanas each. This coop works to purchase inputs at wholesale prices and
sell them at 10 per cent profit to the mernbers of the coop. Each person pays
2 Quetzales to enter and becomes full member when he has 50 Quetzales invested
in the coop. The -coop not only handles inputs and machinery to process the
w~heat, but also truc!:s it to market. They provide machinery service to all
of the members who can use it, although some 60 to 70 per cent of the farmers
can't use any mechanization in their fields owing to the small size of the
land and the fact that the slopes are so steep. This coop is affiliated with
a national federation, which is negotiating directly with US fertilizer
companies to guarantee them the supplies that they need for the coming year.
In spite of the general shortage, they were able to get plenty of fertilizer
last year and even had some left over.
The coop manager feels that in a normal year farmers can probably get from
US$200 to US$300 profit per manzana per crop and raise two crops per year, but
costs of production are rising so rapidly recently that they now stand to lose
US$100 to ~US$300 per manzana unless the price goes_up. _The official price is
now US$8.40 for wheat and he feels that it should be somewhere between 10 and
12 per quintal in order to avoid loss. Like other farmers we saw in the
region, he argues that the choice here is either fertilize and use herbicides
or don't plant because the soil simply will not yield well enough to make it
worthwhile without these inputs.
Productivity seems to be quite good, 30 to 35 quintales per manzana being
an average yield. The first crop is planted in May and harvested in Septembesr
and~ the second crop is sown immediately in September and is harvested by early
December. The rest of the year nothing can be done with the land owing to the
lack of water and cold temperatures. Some farmers are thinking of putting in
fruit trees to help stop the erosion. They will be able to raise wheat under
the fruit trees for quite a number of years before the shade becomes too heavy.
ICTA officials see some advantage in working in the altiplano region where
there is a sense of organization amongst the people which allows them to work
with groups. Some places have coops and others can be reached through co~-fradias.
There are about 400 registered coops, of which about 90 are in reasonably he~althy?~
state at the present time.
EL ORIEN~TE A CASE STUDY
The case selected for a detailed visit was located'near Ovejero. Wre walked
about a kilometer from the village up into the foothills to talk to Don Marcos,
age 57. He is an ICTA collaborator, who has been using the seeds and fortil-
izers provided by ICTAL. Prior to this, he farmed without: fertilizer, using
local seed varieties. .He is a native of this village, but spent some 20 years
in the Peten in oil exploration and in Chicle before returning to his village
to tak-e up farming. His wife is only 40 years old and they have six children,
the oldest two are boys ages 17 and 15.respectively. He has three daughters
and another younger boy age 10. All of the sons work with him to farmn the
4 1/2 manzanas that they have on a steep sidehi~ll, and the one full manzana
they have in town around their house. His hillside plot is sufficiently steep
that he is able to cultivate only 3 1/2 manzanas there and he divides it into
one ma~nzana of pure corn and 2 1/2 or corn and beans interplanted. Thea inter-
planting is done by placing the corn in rows followJing the contour about 1 1/2
meters apart with four rows of beans in between. He also, has scattered, short,
lateral thin rows of a densely planted grass which help to keep the rain from
carrying the soil and crops dow;n the hill. He will plant sorghum as a second
crop for the year and cut the cane and haul it back to his animals in town.
He is using a CIAT variety of beans and they look excellent even though he
did not have enough fertilizer'to handle everything. Where the fertilization
w~as adequate, the beans covered the ground, competed very effectively w~ith
weeds and were heavily laden with pods. HIe also raises corn on his house lot
in town and keeps it planted right up to the door. H~e says this is the best
crop of beans that he has ever had in his life and gives full credit to TCTA
for its technical advice as well as for the loan of seed and fertilizer. He
uses a hybrid corn, which tends to degenerate over time.
Miarcos expects to get about 30 quintales of maize from the 1 1/2 manzanas of
land without fertilizer. Where he has beans and corn interplanted, he expects
to get about 8 to 10 quintales of maize per cManzana and 20 quintales of beans,
He will sell the ~crops to a trucker in town and hopes to get 5 Quetzales for
the corn and 15 for the beans.
Animals play a relatively small part in the total operation and he keeps
one mare to haul things back and forth from his field, and to do the harrowing
work on his hillside, since it is mluch toor steep for a tractor. Hfe keeps one
sow and serlsthe piglets when they are worth about 5 Quetczales each. He used
to keep about 40 chickens, but they all died of disease this year. He said he
did not know'what to do anyway, but he heard that he should have inoculated them
He considers his family as very poor, since they live on a diet of 'torti-
11as', beans, tamales, bean and corn and have meat about once a month. The only
credit he has gotten was the credit to buy his land. He paid INTA 37 Quetzales
for his hillside parcel on a 20-year mortgage. He has had it for five years
now and he his not quite finished paying it off, but he expects to this year.
He~ suffered a severe reverse two years ago when he was sick all year and had to
rent out his land. He claims that he could rent some land at about 20 Quetzales
per manzana per year, but that 2,000 Quetzales is the value of his land even
though it is steep, so this is less than the 1,000 Quetzales per manzana that
is reported to be general in this area, and mray be due to to the topography.
Marcos: feels that his land is good~ since he has no drainage problems or
plaga in his corn. With the help he is now getting from ICTA, he feels that he
has no real production problems. Each person in this area works his own patch
and there is virtually no collaborative labor. Most of them live in the village,
so that almost every inch of the land is farmed, except for the small amount
needed for trails.
Wages in this area for.mozos are the standard 1 Quetzal per day, and his
oldest: boy is able to get about 60 days work per year. Don M~arcos is a tracto-
rista during M-ay and June, and would like to buy a tractor if he could find a
source of credit. Hle has wealthy relatives in the area, but: says that he has
been badly treated by them in the past so that he has nothing to do with them.
He feels that he could pay for the tractor in just two years and that it would
last five years with proper care. Tractor rates have gone up from 5 Quetzales
per mfanzana to 8 Quetzales now as a result of field prices, but he feels that
it is still worth the price since the tractor does a much better job that the
oxen do. Other people reported a switch away from tractors to oxen owing to
the cost. WJhen' he is able to work as a tractor driver, he gets 0350 cents
per mranzana and can handle a maxim~um of about 18 manzanas per day if he can
find that much work.
Whereas he feels that his production problems are being solved as a result
of his collaboration with ICTA, he still suffers from several sources of
exploitation. He claims that truckers will buy a bean crop in advance from
those who need cash, paying 7.50 Quetzales per quintal, whereas he might get
15 to 20 Quetzales at harvest: time and that the trucker will later sell it
for 30 Quetzales. Similarly, if'farmers run out of beans and have to borrow
some, the rate is 6 cans of beans repaid at harvest time for each can of beans
borrowed at the beginning of the season. Money is not generally lent so that
if one has to borrow for fertilizer, they borrow a quintal of fertilizer and
repay it with two quintales of beans at harvest time, or a 30-40 dollar per
bag price. If maize is borrowed, there is a standard rate of paying back two
quintales of maize for each one borrowed. Since these loans normally are not
fori mior;e than--three -monthe dura~i on,- this would givee ~a minimum ef fect ive
interest rate of 400 per cent per year. His experience with shopkeepers in
town also convinces him that he is being exploited. He claims that they not:
only gouge on prices, but cheat on weight as well, so that sugar, which sells
for 0.08 cents a pound in the city, is 0.10 cents a pound in the village and
the pound only consists of 13 or 14 ounrces.~ As a result, he estimates that
effective prices in the village are probably 30 per cent or so higher than
they are in the city. He is very much aware that prices continue to go up,
but that wages seem to be frozen at 1 Quetzal per day.
He estimates that his family needs 24 quintales of corn for the 3ear and
the he would probably be able to sell about 10 quintales. Similarly, the
family needs four quintales of beans and he will sell about 36 quintales.
This would give him approximately 600 Quetzales in gross income from the sale
of these two crops.
CHARACTERISTICS OF THE ORIENTE ZONE
The Oriente zone is divided into a number of' valleys, each of which is a
little bit different from the one next door, This valley where the Las Monjas
experiment station and the village of Ovejero are located, has about 7,500
hectares under cultivation, of which only 250 are irrigated.
The main crops in the area are beans, maize, rice and sorghum, and ICTAl
has found it to be a good area in which to Work since the yield increases are
sufficiently dramatic with known technology .that farmers are eager to cooperate.
They have had good results with the CATLT beans and good fertilizer response.
In the past, whereas farmers used to get 400 kilos per hectare, they are now
getting 1,500 to 2,000 kilos per hectare so that the comnbination of seed and
fertilizer is working very well.
Land values in the area are intermediate between the figures cited for
01intepeque and La Maquina. If it were for sale, it would be about 1,000 Quet-
zales per ma~nzana; and if rented, it would be 150 per year for irrigated land
and 50 per year for unirrigated land. An alternate arrangement for the use of
lans Is share cropping with the owner, supplying the inputs and taking half of
The combination of increasaldemand for, and scarcity of, fertilizer has
driven the price up considerably. People would use 200 pounds per mtanzana at
planting time if it were available. The types normally available~ in the area
are 16-20-0 and 15-15-15 with a great scarcity of Urea. Some people are
exchanging fertilizer for 2 quintales of beans for one of fertilizer. This
nakes very expensive fertilizer since the price of beans is now 15 to 20
Quetzales per hundred. If bought for cash from BANDESA, they could get the
complete fertilizer at 8.50 and 12 Quetzales per 100 pounds for Urea, Accord-
ing to informants,' private merchants are selling the complete fertilizer for 17
and charging 22 for Urea.
The agricultural year begins in Piay with the preparation of the land either
by oxen or by tractor. The technicians claimed that there was a movement away
from tractor use toward increase use of oxen owing to the costs of tractor
services. B heedoft o alyJn,, according to when the rain begins,
they plant ~their corn and. beans, the normal association being olne row of corn
_for _four _rows o~cf he~ans, _By _the. end of .June _they _are ready .f or the ir first
weeding, which is done early enough to avoid crop damage. In Jukl, they will
do the second weeding and fertilize it if fertilizer is available. At the end
of August, they will harvest the beans and by the 1st. of Seggea~ber, they will
plant the second crop of beans right away,'leaving the corn standing. By the
end of SepDtember, they will double the corn and the stalks will be used as
climbing poles for the second crop of beans. In October, they begin the weeding
of the second crop of beans. Some use sorghum instead of beans for a second
crop, especially if they fear they do not have moisture for the beans. 'd~hen
they have a choice, they will plant beans on the slopes in M:ay and then try to
get a second crop of beans on the low areas, which have greater humidity. There
are apparently lots of different systems according to the individual farmer and
there are differences in terrain. November is the month for the second weeding
and in late November and December, they will harvest the second crop of beans
and the corn. If sorghum wras used as a second crop, it is harvested in De~cember
and January. January and February, they will get the lanrd cleaned up and turned
over, sometimes taking the corn and sorghumn stalks for t-he'animatls, and other
timE!s simply burning them. If they are in a flat, irrigated area, January and
February will be utilized to get in a third crop. People who do not- have
irrigated land frequently work as mozo f~or those who do, or migrate to some
other zone during the entire period from January to May.
On the irrigated land, they raise tomatoes, tobacco, onions, in addition
to the crops mentioned above. They avoid tomatoes during the July planting and
do it only under irrigation because of disease problems. M:ost of these crops
are sold to El Salvador and Nicaragua, as well as to the capital city. March~
is weeding and fumigationl timne for tomatoes and onions, and by the end of March
and early Aoril, they harvest the tomatoes and onions,.and in May~ the n2W
agricultural year begins.
The yields per manzana and price information below was supplied by the
technicians at the Las Mfonjas stations:
Maize 3 40-50 quintales per manzana for the first crop, which sells for
6.50. Normally there is no second crop.
Beans = 15 if it is interplanted and 25 if it is zoned alone on the first
crop and the second crop sees a drop to 12 quintales if it is interplanted and
15 if it is planted alone. They expect the price to be about 18 this year.
Sorghumn P It is only planted as a second crop and it will normally yield
14 quintales and sell at 5 Quetzales.
Tomatoes = Raised only as a second or third crop and will normally yield
300 quintales per manzana and sell for 1.60.
Onions =- Only as a second, or third crop and they normally get: an average
of 132,000 plants per manzana, w~hichi they will sell anywhere from 2 to 38
Quetzales per thousand depending on the arkpret. Apparently, there is an
enormous price fluctuation.
SRice =- It: is- only upland--rice in this area and it yields about .30 quiia-
tales per manzana, and will sell for 14 to 16 Quetzales before being processed.
Tobacco = It is never intercropped with other things and yields about 15
quintales on the first crop and 13 to 15 on the second crop and sells for 55
to 58 Quetzales per quintal.
.The parcels are about 3 1/2 hectares per farmer in this area, and most
farmers live in town and cultivate all of their lots. People from this area
have migrated to the La MaLquina in the past and according to somce informants,
the excess population is now heading to the Peten to get parcels. Off-fare
opportunities to work in handicraft and other activities are very limited in
the area although some hat-making does go on.
The principal agricultural problems noted by the technicians at the Las
Monjas station are the following:
1. Fertilizer. Both the shortage and the cost. Insecticides are used
for tomatoes and tobacco, but there is little use of them in corn.
2. Drainage is a big problem in many areas, and the uneven distribution
of rainfall constitutes another hazzard.
3. Diseases in maize and beans.
4. Ma~rketing.. M~iddlemnen buy in the field at low prices, either in
advance or at time of harvest. Mlost of the farmers are independent and not
in coops, so it is more difficult for them to achieve any bargaining power
in the marketing process.
5. They claimed that labor is scarce during the months of planting, in
Maby, Augus~t and! November, even though the standard of 1 Quetzal per day plus
meals has not changed. Several technicians argued that the tractor service
has become too expensive so they are shifting away from mechanization.
6. Shortage of improved seeds.
The technicians estimated that the families' needs took up 40 to 50 per
cent of their~ production, leaving the balance for sale.
LA ruAQUlINA A CASE STUDY
Don Hiumberto's farm was selected in spite of the very large number of
people on the lot because his use of the land seemed somewhat typical. He is
the mayor of his street, which includes 22 parcels. He is 48 years old, but
his common law wife looked to be in her late 60's if not early 70's. She
wears Indian dress, but none of her daughters-inllaw did, so the supposition
is that this is a family in transition. The wife had eleven children, seven
are still alive. Only one of the seven was fathered by Don Humbecrto. Two
maunzanas out of the 28 in the lot are given over to a compound near the road,
consisting of six houses and a number of kitchen huts and the well. A total
of 40 people live on the lot, all related one way or another to Humberto and
his wife. Only two of the grandchildren were males old enough to work, so
they were a total of eight males of working age in the six household, or one
out of five being active in the labor force.
Unlike the typical household in the La Maquina region, this household
raises only corn for both crops, rather than plant sesame as a second crop.
They cultivate 12 manzanas-of corn and the remaining 14 manzanas are in
pasture, handling 30 head of cattle, including the calves. None of the men
could tell how large the lot was in terms of meters, except that they knew
that it was 800 meters deep, but did not know how many meters along the road.
The ICTA office informed me that they were 250 meters x 500 meters.
The division of the property among the six heads of householdsils as
follows: Don Humberto has five mranzanas. His son has four, and also rents
two from someone else, for a total of six. One stepson has three, but rents
2 1/2 elsewhere. The other three heads of householdsrent land outside and
one has a tractor. The tractor operator and one stepson work probably 60
days outside during the year and all of the others work 8 to 10 days per year
for somebody else. The net result is that three of the s'ix household living
on the parcel have no land at all and must rent. They cultivate a total of
12 manzanas on the parcel, 11 1/2 outside for a total of 23 1/2 mansanas, or
almost exactly four manzanas per household. This is approxrimately 2.8
hectares per household. The parcel cost only 600 Quetzales to begin with and
the house was an additional 300, so a total of 900 Quetzales was .borroved on
a 10-year credit and Humnberto paid it off in the first six years.
In the past, they have raised sesame successfully an~d they have tried
beans, rice, bananas, and oranges with unfavorable results. They do~ ha~vL a
few mango trees, which seem to be doing all right, but the operation is
strictly corn and cattle in its main focus.
I could not get any straight information here on yields, and found that
the experts also disagreed as to what the average yield was. The first lay I
interviewed this family, they claimed that 12 to 15 quintales of corn per
mranzana~ was the average yield and then the next day raised it to 30 to 40.,
In any event, they plant corn twice a year, the first crop is planted in April
or M~ay depending on when the rains come. This crop is normnally harvested in
August, and by the end of August they are ready to put in the second crop,
which they harvest in Novembe~r. Th;ey claimt that there is only a 15-day period
in which they can plant owing to the rains. After November, they get the land
ready again, but it is rather a slack~ time.
The farm operations for the year are as follows:
January: Corn stalks standing in the field are cut and burned and they
get the fields harrowed during January or February.
February: They hire out to work for others at that time, particularly the
tractor owner and one of his brothers who works with him.
March: Cut weeds in pasture.
April: Try to get first crop of corn in if possible, And as soon as it
is up begin weeding.
E39 : Also a month for weeding, which is done with a machete.
-..Junal Th-e secondf weeding oqf thecornm crop.
Jul)(: Double the corn and harvest at` the end of July or early August.
August: As soon as the harvest is over, prepare land to plant second
crop. Sov second crop of corn in late August.
September: Shell the corn and sell it.
November: Harvest second corn crop.
December: Prepare fences, work on pastures, take care of animals, etc.
In addition to spending most of the year taking care of the corn, each
family has two or three hens and keeps two or three pigs around the household,
all of which eat corn also. The cattle operation seems to be important for
the sale of animals, the production of a li~tt~le milk for the household and as
part of the rotation system. The value of canure as fertilizer in the pasture
seems to be very important, since when corn yields on estiablished fields drop
over time, they rotate the land. They normally sell off the young bulls and
old co:;s at a rate of 5 or 6 per year, or about 2 per household for the three
men who own the herd. The older calves are kept tied up outside the fence, so the
families can take a little milk from the cows the first thing in the morning
before letting the calves feed. N'o milk is sold. They are very much awa~re
that: pasture land is 'm~s pujante' than the corn land; that is to say,.thtey
realize that continuous corn cultivation causes the land to los its fertility
over time and since they put no fertilizer into it, the land recovers When used
as pasture. RBecently, they have began sowing 'e-strel-la' grass and have some
very good looking pasture for next year. They are not: aware of the use' of
legumes in pasture as near as I could make out.
The major risk factors mentioned were wind damage, principally in late
July and August, and corn borer, against which they do use an insecticide.
The principal cause of concern is the low price of corn at the time of harvest
as opposed to much higher prices later when they have nothing to sell.
They sell all of their corn at harvest time for 2.50 to 3.00 Quetzales
per quintal, even when they know that it will go 6.00 later on. They sell as
soon as they can for fear that the corn will get damaged by worms or moisture
and become ruined later on. Unlike most farner~s in this area, they have nro
storage facilities for holding corn. Apparently, yields fluctuate a great
deal as to whether the land is in good shape and between first and second
crops. With new land, they might get as high a~s 50) quintales of grain per
manzana for the first crop and 25 for the second. His present land has been
under cultivation for about eight years and he expects to get 30 quintals for
the first crop and 15 for the second, this would yield a total of 45 quintales
per manzans per year and if it could be sold at 3.00, it would give an income
of 135 quintales per manzana. Those who are renting land pay 30 Quetzales
per mainzana per year, so the rental rate would probably be somewhere around
20 per cent of the crop in a typical year. They felt that this was quite an
exploitation since the ~land. did not cost very much to begin with. They use
-no-ferii~iters-or-hterbitieffof-any-serand-thspotd ge as to
whether there is any pay off in fertilizers in this region. Apparently,
there is some evidence that the standard mixed fertilizers do not produce
much of a response, but: there is some evidence that UJrea does. It was
estimated by several of the men that each household in the parcel consumes
20 to 30 quintales of maize and sells from 50 to 100. This would give them
a cash income per household of around 150 to 300 Quetzales per year from corn
sales, and three of the families would average another 200 from the sale of
This family has no facilities to keep corn even though they have access
to credit:. BANDESA has offered them credit, but they ha~ve refused it, in
spite of having had two successful credit experiences in the purchase of the
parcel and in purchase of tractors. They simply shrug their shoulders when
I demonstrated that the differences in prices would more than pay for the cost
of the corn silos in the first year.
They sell their corn and animals to truckers who come to the lotsa rather
than try to market them themselves in town, or to see1 them to INDECA., Their
feeling about IN:DECA was that they would still only clear 2.30 to 3.00 because
of the discounts for moisture, worms andt so forth, that, are miade byt INDECA.
The p'urchased inputs would include pasture g~rass, since the corn varieties
that they are using are saved from year to year, and a little bit of chemicals
for protection against corn borer. N:o feed supplements are given to any of
the animals and practically nothing is spent for tools sinceeverything is done
with the 'chumor and 'maechte', except for the initial tractor work.
There is somne feeling amongst ICTA personnel that: there are too mazny
tractors in the La Maquina re;;ion, so that: they tend to be under-utilized.
This particular tractor was certainly under-utilized since it worked only
about 60 days a year, and he claimed that he could not get more work than
that. All of this work was done ~during the January to aIrch period since
most farmers simpTly interplant sesame with their corn as a second crop without
any further tractor preparation.
Given the size of the' lots and the fact th~at no complex interplanting is
carried out, ~it would seemed logical to make a more complete use of the~ tractor.
In order to get some idea of their thinkting on the substitution of tractor labor
for their ow~n, I waent through at alrgum~ent with Humb~erto, in which I pointed out
that if he gets 30 quintiles per manzana and has five manzanas, he should have
150 sacks of corn. The distance f~rom1 the road to the center of the corn patch
is approx~imcately 400) meters, so he would have to carry each sack weighting 125
pounds 400 meters out, then walk back, empty for 400 meters and pick up another.
That is, 800 meters of walking x 150 sacks, or 120,000 meters or 120 kilometers
just: to carry the corn outr to the road in addition to thc. worktc involved inI
picking it. Meanwhilee, the tractor stands idle. Most people work ontly in
the morning during this time of thie year, so if we calculate that he walks an
average of 3 kilometers per hour for 4 hours per day, it would take him 10
days just carrying his corn out. I asked him wh~iy he did no~t use the tractor
with a cart or sled to haul it out: rather than to carry it: all out: by hand.
This is perfectly possible, since there is a fairly wide roadwary that rirn~s
right up the middle of the corn patch. He replaid that gasoline was too
expensive. Di~e~se:l ful is 0.60 cents per gallon in this area, antd labor is
valued at 1.50 Quetzales per day, therefore, he is willing to spend at least
15 Quetzales of time and energy just walking. his corn out in order to avoid
spending the necessary money for a gallon or two of gasoline. If thdeed th~e
area is periodically short of labor, he should be able to utilize some of the
time saved by working for other people. I suggested that they might form a
harvesting team with their tractor and earn a great deal more than they were
presently earning, No interest was shown in the proposition.
The son who owns the tractor traded in the old one last D~ecember on a new
Ford 4000. He got 5,000 for his old one and the new cost 8,000 cash, but 9,500
Quetzales with interest. He had to put down 3,500 on the new one, so he was able
to keep 1,500 in cash for operating expenses. He claims that he will pay 2,200
per year until the tractor is paid off. He- seems quite vague as to howt mu~ch
he was paying and what the interest rate was. All of the men seem to be
unreliable in terms of their estimates of figures. The tractor-owner claimed
that he could, on the average, handlle 6 mranzanas of diskcing per day and ncould
charge 12.00 Quetzales per manzana, so theoretically, he could earn 712.00
Quetzales a day gross, and working 60 days a year would yieL'd a :gross income
of 4,320 Quetzales, which would cover his payment, operating expenses and
provide some cash profit. Thre vagueness of. their knowledge of: t~he ma.~rrket wags
mnade evident by a fairly long discussion as to whether the int~ere-st rate- thatz
people pay to BAN;DXSA is 6 to 8 pe-r cent per month or per year. Some insgisted
that it was per month and others per year. In any event, they use no credit
of any sort, except: an major itemns such as the tractor. That is, they borrowc
nothing from government agencies and that there are no stores either at: Centro
Urbiano No. 1 or the local neighborhood stores which sell anything on credift.
Everything must be paid for in cash. They buy most of their clothes and
household items in Hfazatenango and buy their food locally or in Cuyotenango.
Their diet is mostly corn eaten in tortillas. They do not.eat it fresh
not use it in soups or in other forms. They purchase beans at 0.20 cents a
pound, rice at 0.26 cents a pound and 0.40 cents for meat with bone and 0.77
cents for meat without bone. Coffee, sugar, salt and lime for the tortillas
make up th~e rest of their diet. They claim they cannot raise vegetables
very well in the land, and that meat is a twice a month occasion.
The men seem to be very vague on the function of the various government
agencies. Thejr tended to see INTA, the land reform agency and ICIA, as one
in the same. Similarly, ~BANDESA, INDECA, and DIGESA were all viewed as sit-ply
different names for the same organization that was concerned with marketing
and which might buy some corn, but they never~ sold to it.
Transportation costs are puite high in the area in relation to wages,
since they pay 0.15 cents for a one-uay-trip~ to Urban Center No. 1, 0.40 cents
to Cuyotenango, and 0.15 cents for one way to Maizatenango. One of the conse-
quences of these costs is that children will not: go beyond fourth grade which
they can walk to, since only the wealthier peasants can afford to send their
children toCenter No. 1, given the .0.30 cent: a day bus fare. Other services,
such as medical help are in Mlazatenango, which is a good hour's drive awjay
in a non-stop vehicle. On a bus, it is more likely to be a journey of two to
The only outside. sources of income that they are able to capitalize on
is t ~h-e~i~ir ow~dlaoron~-iF-1!S soen lEWTre:h-a-Marquinat-zo ne d otss-not- -have
any handicraft or other non-agricultural thdustry, and they claim that there
is nothing to hunt or fish, although they do find a few fish in a nearby stream.
When I asked them about the future of their children, they just shrug and
said that they will have to fend for themselves and do the best they can. They
won't be able to educate then beyond 'the fourth grade level and they expect
that some of them will move to the Peten-to begin cultivating there.
PROBLEMS OF THE LA MAQUINA REGION
ICTA officials said that La Maquina is one of the more problematic regions
of the country, and some of the problems noted were as follows:
1) There is a heterogenous population that has migrated into the area,
which does not yet have any sense of organization as a community. This is
more difficult to achieve in an area of large lot size, since the people live
dispersed on their lots rather than concentrated in town. Commlunication
problems are more severe here than they are in the Orients or the Highlands.
2) There is a scarcity of manual labor, given the large size of the lots
and the hand labor technology presently employed,
3) There is apparently -a struggle going on between the cattlemen and
the cultivators with somne of the more powerful organizations lined up on
the side of the cattlemen.
4) There is low utilization of modern inputs. Fertilizers have been
little used and the mixtures that have been tried haven't given a good
response. There is a good response t'o nitrogen and the top yields are nowJ
running 3 to 3 1/2 tons per acre although some ICTA officials believe the
average yield is probably around 1.
5) A number of the farm owners in the region actually live in town or
elsewhere and eithat come ~for planting and harvesting, leaving their pilots
abandoned in the meantime, or hire administrators or renters to look after
6) There is disagreement as to whether there is too~ much machinervand
to what degree it should be utilized. Sne argue that~given the labor
shortage and the abundance of machinery, it: is under-utilized, whereas others
argue that the more they utilize machinery, the-miore they produce compaction
of the soil.
SPECULATIONS ON THIE FUTTURE: OF ZONES SUCH AS La MA~QU~iNA
In making a series of quick site visits to different zones of a country
such as the ones reported on here, the visitor cannot help to be struck by
the differences in agriculture, which occur within an hour or two of each
other by road. There is a very strong relationship between the cost of land
and t~he ___uL5lse of purchased ints hats to say,- the more valuable the land,
the more inclined the farmers are to payr very -h~;igh prices for fertilizers,
herbicides, improved seed, etc. This~ relationship also involves high corre-
lations with the use of credit and productivity. The greater their use of
purchased inputs, the greater their use of. credit, and the higher their
productiv-ity per unit of land.
What will happen in- the near future in- La MaquinaZ Will land values go.
up sharply, and will productivity also risde? The case study indicates a
preference for renting land off the -lot rather than more intensive use of
the land within the parcel. -There were reports of migration of excess
population out of La Maquina to -the Peten. Given the possibility of coloni-
zation, the pressure to increase productivity in La Maquina is not as severe
as it is in either the High~lands or the Oriente.
.One of the major~ problemnsl facing ICTA and other organizations interested.
in improving p~roductivityifn agrfcult~ure, derives from the lack of reliable
data. As indicated above, e1stimateses by officials as to production in La
M~aquin~a vary by 100 per cent.' We simply have' no reliable data on cost of
production at the present time. A survey is equrnttlyiunder way to attempt to
correct the situation; but even with poor data, such as that; presented on the
case study above, we can note a number of apparent irrartionalfities which
Among the irrartionaliities noted, perhaps the mos't striking is the
absence of storage facilities on the farm in La Haquilna, MEftal sits cost
20-23 Quetzales and will store.40 quintales of~cord.- Even with a price
rise of only 0.50 cents per quintal, these storage facilities could be paid
for in one season. The market fact is that the price goes-up by 2 or 3
Quetzales, presenting sizeable profit opportunities to the farbler. Sih~ico he
is awaire of this price rise that occurs every yecar between harvest time and
a few months after harvest, wrhy doesn't he borrow- the money to acquire the
silos or use some of his cash income for this purpose? The ignorance and
fear of loans, which are clearly subsidized at 8 per cent: per year, also
require investigation. Are 'farmers required to mortgage their entire
property in order to get a small loan, and therefore are unwilling to take
the chance? We also noted the extravagant: use of labor' in hauling corn out
at harvest: time on their backs which the tractor stands idle, If this is a
labor short area, why do they under-utilize -available machinery? The. price
of gasoline does not seem to be an adequate explanation. Similarly, there
is no checking done by the farmer to see if it would pay to haul their corn
to the nearest INDECA pickc-up station, or haul animals to market instead of
selling themn at the farm to the trucker. Why do they plant only corn rather
than the corn and bean association, which has been so successful in thie
Oriente--also a hot: zone? Is it for lack of appropriate bean varieties, or
do beans not produce adequately under conditions of zero fertilization? Ai
good economic analysis of the animal operations in relation to crop operations
will be required in order to determine if this is another area of economic
irrationality on the part of the small farmer. Does it really pay to keep
animals under poor conditions while renting crop land? Would it be better to
fertilize and crop part of their land more intensively, rotate t'he land between
crop use and pasture on a more regular basis, take advantage of thre months of
the year when no crops are being grown to green manure with a legume?
ICTA of fic ials feel1 that there are a numibe r b~of no atecnccl nboe
ments that can be recommended at the present time in the La IMaquina.rtgion. For
one thing, they could begin weeding their corn a great deal earlier, since many
farmers start weeding after, the damaage is .already' been done. ICKs~ also has
improved seed corn, of the high protein vari'etie~s available which will yield
well in this area. Control of disease'could be greatly improved with known
granulated insecticides, rather than spray. These are more economical to ton
since they require no equipment, and are safer to the farmers. Another
recommendation of ICTA is to put on Urea at planting time rather than use the
mixed fertilizers at other times. Rice can be raised in the lower wetter
areas and high yielding varieties, appropriate to the zone, are~presently
available. Similarly, there is some interest on the part of ICTA in promoting
soya~in this area, even though there is no market for it at: the present timea.
There are cotton mills in the area which could press the seed for oil during
times of the year when they are not presently working.
The services of BANDESA are little.utilized in this znon, -and the reason
given by some farmers is that they feel that the government cheats thewu out
a good price that they initially offered them. That is to saty,- the :prcedulre
is to announce a price which assumes that the product: is in. perfc~takt condition,
and then to makee discounts for moisture, bugs, and so forth'. ft~~ j'~ttakrels~ ime
to make the moisture determinations, payment is not Given to the farvEccy for ~a
month' or so after delivery of his corn. Mlost: farmers in th regi~on:~have never
tested the hypothesis that BAN~DESA pays better than the trucker, rather th~ey
simply sell to th~e trucker who pays cash when he picks uip the corn, CANDESA s
present procedurer is perfectly appropriate..Lf the main intent is sim~ply to
offer a floor under prices, withi no real desire to actively purchase the
corn. On the other hand, if they do wish to purchase the corn, they could
simply reverse their present procedures and probably attract the favorable
attention of farmers in the region. That is to say, if the government were
to announce a standard description of the minimum acceptable corn and the
price that they were willing to pay for it, they could pay that price on
delivery of the corn, and offer a bonus for low moisture, disease-free corn,
which would then be paid after the determination has been made.
ICTA scientists and scientists at Turrialba expressed concern with the
problem of introducing new crops into the areas where they work, and getting
these accepted by the small farmers. Thiss is particularly difficult with
something like -soy beans, which people in the region are not accustomed to
eating, and for which there is no market at: the present time.. It seems to
me that we need to explore the missing link between the two sectors of
agriculture in the tropics which have been labeled the "'dual"systemJ of
agriculture. On the one hand, we have the large,commercial plantations;,
producing largely for export. On the other hand, there are the small farmers
producing mainly for their own subsistence and food crops for thle domestic
market. Many small farmers work either part or full time for the plantations
and look after their owin plots when they can, in their spare time, or by
utilizing other family labor. It seems to me that there are a number of
advantages to be accrued from beginning experimentation with new crops on
the commercial plantations.
The export crops referred to are such thiings such as sugar cane, coffee
and bananas. Man of these operations represent the best: technology in the
tropics. Where possible, operations tendf to b encha-~nized, they have good
plant material, chemical control of pests, utilize fertilizer and watrcr
control,' and have the best managerial, technical and narketing personnel
Efficient as they are, there may be considerable under-utilization of
the land and energy sources available by mono cropping, when thiey could be
multiple cropping. For example, there is soen interest and experimentation
going on in various countries in interplanting beans or corn or other things
with sugar cane to take advantage of the first three months or so before thle
cane gets tall enough to provide a shade canape for the soil between the rows.
Preliminary data from Peru indicates that it is possible to get 2 1/2 tons
of corn per hectare with no decline in sugar yields. Moreover, since the
same borer infests both the sugar cane and corn, the chemical control for
one serves for both. The potential benefits in terms of yields are thus
clear as far as the plantation is concerned, and they will get a maximum
yield for the water, fertilizeer and other inputs that they are presently
utilizing. In many cases, the only out-of-pocket cost of an additional crop
would be the seed cost. There are further possibilities of combining annuals
with perennials in such a way that animal feeding operations could 'oe combined
with the new cropping system for further economic utilization of the production,
The potential advantages to the small farmer or laborer working on the
plantation using this system are also clear. He would have a chance to try
out new commodities and new technology at zero risk to himself. Utilizing a
short-season crop between rowus may cut his weeding time and in some cases,
such as legumes, contribute to soil fertility. Utilizing this system, the
new technology would reach a large nurrbfr of agricultural laborers or small
farmers very quickly since they are concentrated on the large plantations.
Only a few large plantations would need to try intercropping soybeans in
order to provide a crop large enough to be worth processing by the mills.
At thle present time, Guatemazla has a law on the books requiring all
farmers of whatever size, to plant at least 10 per cent of their cultivated
area to food grains. By~ intercropping food grains with traditional plantation
crops, there is no reason why they could not use larger percentage of their
land without much sacrifice in terms of the yield of their principal crop.
The difficulties with the above suggested strategy are greater in the
political realm th-an in thie technological realm. In the first place, the
acceptability of intercropping something with their principal crop would be
objected to by plantation owners on all sorts of grounds. In thle second place,
it: is difficult to get people who are comfortable producing one con::nodity to
take on a series of other activities which they are not familiar with. Mo=re
importantly, pressure to utilize this sort of technology would be correctly
viewed as an intermediates form of agrarian teform--short of out-right ex-pro-
priation and division, and yet moving away from a traditional hands-off
policy. The technology of intercropping would not be as difficult as making
the necessary institutional arrangements to assure a fair distribution~ of
costs and benefits between owners and labor under the proposed system.
Clearly, such~ a new system would enable owners of large plantations in
Guatemala to comply with the present law requiring them to utilize at least
10 per cent of their land for production d the basic grains. They will be
able to cont intueproducing-~as much of--thei~r basic commod-icy as before, simply
adding some production of basic grain as an intercrop.
The advantages to the government would derive not only from increased
grain production, the introduction of newr crops and new technology to scall
farmers through their role as laborers on large plantations, but: also from
the point of view~ of tax administration. The large farmers are the ones who
are most taxable at the present time and increased production from this sector
should produce increased revenues for the government.
Further discussion of these possibilities will be undertaken during our
next visit to Guatemala.*