July 2015
For What It's Worth

Fun in Chocola’

Group photo at the beginning of one of the farm tours.  

Square-foot small animal production in Guatemala takes advantage of the limited availability of space for agriculture.

I have volunteered internationally since 2006, worked in Haiti, El Salvador and Myanmar. In 2015, I received my first opportunity to work in Guatemala; located south of Mexico, west of Honduras and north of El Salvador. The majority of my time was spent in Chocola’, located within the Suchitepequez district.

I was there April 26-May 10 to work with rabbit producers in rural areas on advancing the quality of meat rabbit production with the goal of increasing household nutrition. Revenue generating opportunities for women and their families in Chocola’ is very limited. Also, nutritional deficiencies within rural family diets are alarming. Too often the women need to remain at home with the young children and have little or no opportunity to become self-sufficient with quality food production, and the men are often in other areas with their jobs – if there is a husband involved.

  This young lady has about 20 rabbits and is very pleased with the project.

My assignment was to promote capacity building in quality of meat rabbit production for women, encourage the consumption of rabbit meat as a way for households to increase access to nutrition, and introduce the concept of marketing of rabbit meat for food security and incomes. This initiative was made possible through collaboration with Institution for Nutrition in Central America and Panama, Seeds for the Future (Simmelas, Spanish for seeds) and support from Partners of the Americas Farmer to Farmer Program (USAID-funded programming).

You would think vegetable and animal production would be a common practice in this area, but, just like in the United States, it is almost a lost skill. Many of the households inside of Chocola’ have very little space for vegetable production, let alone rabbit and poultry production. So Simmelas and INCAP have worked with over 100 families on becoming self-sustainable producers while increasing household nutritional availability. They have utilized the concept of "square-foot gardening," a term often used within urban areas of the United States. I decided, given limited availability of space for these households and their interest in small animal production (rabbits and chickens), it would be ideal to apply this same concept and call it "square-foot animal production" and combine the two into "square-foot agriculture."

During my time in Chocola’ and surrounding areas, I was part of seven workshops, five meetings, two interactive sessions and 17 local farm tours. The farm tours meant physically walking from household to household and visiting each small operation.

My approach to outreach activities was to use a supporting role by suggesting opportunities for improvement. The objective of this assignment was to strengthen the capacities of technical field staff and participating families by addressing practical strategies for production and consumption of rabbit meat. Most of the households visited had been raising rabbits less than a year, and had anywhere from two to 40 rabbits. The initial strategy is to start each household with two bred female rabbits and Simmelas would work with the women to increase production. Based upon verbal interaction, the satisfaction among those who have been raising rabbits for more than six months was very positive including the appreciation for increased nutrition.

I feel that the affirmation, education, interaction and farm tours shared during my visit provided the morale boost some of the farmers needed and will move existing farmers in a positive direction. They will be expected to encourage potential producers to consider meat rabbit production while promoting quality of production. The information I left behind will provide technical support. While all my international experiences have been fun and a learning experience, this ranks up towards the top. The photos included in this article capture some of the fun I had in Chocola’.

Robert Spencer is an Urban Regional Extension Specialist with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System.