Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Aloe Vera Farmers Collaborate to Reduce Waste

In addition to Southeast Asia, Aloe Vera
production is exclusive to Central America
and the Southwestern U.S.
Did you know there are more than 40 ways aloe vera plants can improve your health? Not only is aloe an incredible agent for soothing summer sunburns, but it can also act as a superfood for those brave enough to consume it. These benefits make growing aloe vera an extremely profitable livelihood for farmers that choose to pursue it Central America.

Despite the unique economic value of aloe vera plants, smallholder farmers in Guatemala still face a major barrier to profitability. At La Floresta Aloe Farm in the Western Highlands of the country, the resources required to cultivate a crop of plantlets for export are often double what they should be. More than 50% of plants they grow are rejected due to mechanical damage during harvest, stunted growth, and improper herbicide spraying techniques. Poor plant nutrition has also resulted in extremely low growth rates. During 2014, there were only about eight plantlets per exportable aloe Vera plant, far below the expected 35 plantlets (that's 77% underproduction!) To address this issue, Farmer-to-Farmer connected La Floresta with integrated pest management and plant nutrition specialists Dan Culbert and Shawn Steed. Both volunteers brought prior experience working with aloe vera, as well as improving management practices for other crops and ornamental plants.

During the two week assignment Jorge Dieguez 
accompanied and explained all the nutritional and 
pest problems that La Floresta was dealing with. 
The team took time to meet with the host organization and F2F field staff via Skype prior to their departure for Guatemala. After outlining a game plan, they wasted no time getting down to business when they arrived on site. By improving plant nutrition and harvesting techniques, farmers aimed to reduce plant rejection rates to no more than 5% and salvage an additional 45% of their crop. Dan and Shawn drew on their wealth of combined experience to recommend fertilizer rotations, specialized selection of mother plants, and improved integrated pest management (IPM) practices.* Between analyzing compost for composition of nutrients and experimenting with vinegar as an herbicide, farmers at La Floresta were left with a comprehensive toolkit of ways to improve production and export more plantlets.

Highly specialized projects like this one help us work towards Farmer-to-Farmer’s goal of improving livelihoods and promoting sustainable development throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. Because of Dan and Shawn’s assistance, smallholder farmers will increase their incomes, waste fewer agricultural resources, and sooth more sunburns using aloe vera grown in Guatemala!

Volunteers Dan Culbert (left) and Shawn Steed (center)
assisting a local ornamental producer in Cobán Alta Verapaz.
Dan and Shawn were also extremely excited about the opportunity to transfer their technical knowledge and make connections with agriculturalists in Central America. Browse our blog to find out more about how we recruit technical volunteers and how their passion propels them to create lasting change in the communities they serve. 

*Integrated pest management is a broad-based approach that integrates practices for economic control of pests. 

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