Presbyterian Committee on the Self-Development of People visits Trio Farmers Cooperative
By Rick Jones | Presbyterian News Service
TOLEDO, Belize – The clouds opened up on Wednesday, dropping heavy rain and forcing members of the Presbyterian Committee on the Self-Development of People (SDOP) to huddle under a thatch roof to meet with members of the Trio Farmers Cooperative. Oscar Zuñiga and his wife, Maria Lara, live and work on the farm in southeast Belize. The Trio Farmers in Development pre-Cooperative is recipient of grant funding from SDOP.
In the years since the cooperative received support from the ministry, they’ve seen significant growth in crops of tomatoes, cucumbers, cabbage and peppers as well as some spices. SDOP spent the week visiting villages in remote sections of the country to see how work has progressed over the past six years.
As the rain poured during the farm visit, SDOP National Committee members and staff heard about the success, future goals and hurdles the farmers in Trio Village are facing.
“We use the profits from our fields to sustain the families and our projects. Our hope in the coming year is to experiment with new crops like green beans and red onions,” said Zuñiga said. “We also produce medicinal plants for problems like high cholesterol, hypertension and stomach ailments. This has had a positive impact on the health of the community.”
Zuñiga says families in the village used to travel for hours to get their food and medicinal needs. Now they come to the farm, or the farmers bring items to them.
Despite the progress, Zuñiga says the challenges of the weather have made crop production difficult at times.
“We don’t have enough tools as a group to do some of the work that needs to be done,” he said. “The land does not have a good draining system so when the rain is heavy, the water pools on the ground, creating fungus and bacteria. We need machinery to develop drainage ditches.”
Trio Farmers also receive guidance from Belize’s Ministry of Agriculture, which also recognized Maria Lara as Farmer of the Year. In addition to farming, she helps manage the cooperative.
“For the government to recognize Maria with such a high honor is truly significant,” said Lisa Leverette, chair of SDOP’s International Committee. “I think it is also important to note that Belize understands the power of economic cooperation and that helps bring new products and services to regions like this.”
The Rev. Alonzo Johnson, coordinator for SDOP, praised the farmers for their work.
“I’m thankful to be able to see the work that has been done and the resourcefulness of the community. To see the ingenuity that has gone beyond the tools, the end products and see this community come to life is truly inspiring,” he said. “We’re excited to be engaged in this work and to witness the bounty of this partnership.”
SDOP concludes its weeklong visit to the Central American nation on Friday. The ministry has provided approximately $260,000 to help community groups in Belize over the past six years. The goal has been to help organizations become self-sufficient, providing families and communities with new sources of income and economic base.
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