In the western Guatemalan Highlands, Helvetas promotes entrepreneurship among smallholders. They are growing new crops that fetch good prices in town, especially in Guatemala City, thanks to their connections.
Visitors to the western Guatemalan Highlands are amazed at the many small fields of potatoes and traditional mixed cultivation of corn, beans and squash. Surplus crops beyond the farmers’ own food requirements are sold at local markets, but at low prices.
To be sure, there is a broad swath of prospective consumers in the cities, especially in the capital with its three million residents. But Guatemala City is too far away and the markets are too complex to be supplied by a single farming family. This situation impedes economic development in the peripheral highlands.
In an agricultural development project, Helvetas is promoting entrepreneurship among some 8,800 smallholders, who are forming networks to store their crops centrally and negotiate good prices with distributors. Or they hire carriers and have their produce transported to the cities themselves. Helvetas encourages and promotes such combinations for the trade in honey, potatoes, eggs, milk, mutton and pork as well as greenhouse-grown tomatoes and chili peppers. Many of these crops are traditionally cultivated by Guatemalan women.
The business community and state institutions in the three highland provinces of Huehuetenango, San Marcos and Totonicapán are interested in tapping new markets. Everyone concerned realizes that the only way to develop the regional economy is to connect it up to other parts of the country. So state agencies are integrating the farmers’ new initiatives into their development planning. The local business community offers services and advise, grants small loans and supports the efforts of these new agricultural entrepreneurs to improve, process and market their crops. Helvetas promotes contacts and dealings between the various actors in the regional economy. The result is a regional network which, ideally, will extend nationwide.