By Vanessa I. Garnica
Marjorie Ortiz, a third generation plantain and corn producer and local leader, is encouraged by a program that has started in her community of Cariari this month.
The program called Aula Abierta (Open Classroom in English) Agricultural Entrepreneurship, is an initiative that EARTH University began in 2007 to provide training to local farmers in sustainable agriculture, entrepreneurship, and human development thereby enabling them to make effective decisions that optimize their production systems and improve the efficiency, production, sustainability and marketing protocols on their farms.
As part of the program, EARTH also assigns students to support the participating farmers one day per week to provide support on implementing improvements to their farm.
“Aula Abierta is important because it will help us develop as producers,” said Ms. Ortiz, who is also the president of ASOMATRI, a local association of female producers from three different rural settlements across the Pococi canton. “The intercultural exchange that takes place when students from EARTH come and visit, and the technical support that the University will bring to us every week is priceless.”
This year’s Aula Abierta began last Tuesday in a room filled with 24 eager participants, who were mostly women. Each of these producers currently owns a small three-hectare property, assigned to their families approximately four years ago by IDA, the Institute of Agrarian Development in Costa Rica.
Ms. Ortiz, along with her husband and young daughter, has been cultivating corn and plantain for as long as she can remember, but she is the first in her family to own the land she cultivates.
“We hope to advance as a community,” Ortiz said. “We want to develop as producers, learn how to be entrepreneurs, and interact with the other communities near us. That is the main goal for us.”
Aula Abierta, which has assisted approximately 220 local producers in nearby communities throughout its five years of existence, also seeks to encourage links between the different communities, strengthen women’s associations, and help farmers become independent entrepreneurs explained Fabián Campos, who works in EARTH’s Community Development Program.
“We were really impressed with the effort these producers demonstrated even before the program began,” Mr. Campos said.
Another goal of Aula Abierta is to reduce the carbon footprint of these communities by installing bio-digesters on their farms, promoting proper waste management, and teaching farmers how to convert waste into fertilizer and energy, while encouraging them to follow reforestation guidelines and other environmentally-friendly agricultural practices.
Ms. Ortiz says she, along with other local producers, is excited to learn and implement the modules that will be presented throughout the 42-week-long course.
“Today’s activity was beautiful,” Ortiz said. “The women in these communities never have a chance to spend time together, and to see them supporting each other today for us is something really emotional.”