Monday, April 2, 2012

Agriculture Transforms Lives

“Chicos, Qué es esto?”
“¿Cómo se dice en inglés?”
Their little brown faces beamed. They believe English is the language that will make them wealthy and successful. This intelligence could enable them to communicate with the world and provide for their families. Their lives are bleak and their futures are dim without any education, especially in agriculture. Some don’t have parents. Some have parents, but they only make 2Q’s a day, equivalent to twenty cents. We have the world placed at our feet; we are freely given education. Knowledge is power. We have this power and most of us had no idea how much we abuse it.
With grandparents as ranchers, a horticulturist for a mom, a dad who works in agricultural economics, I naturally grew up showing steers, extremely involved in 4-H, and creating many floral arrangements for various events and weddings. However, I was independent and my peers at school did not agree that agriculture was an essential to life like my family, so I attempted to ignore anything agricultural related for a long time. It was not until went to Guatemala and witnessed how agriculture can transform communities for the better.
My mind focuses again on the present; the children laughing at how the new word sounds. I tell them to go and teach their families when they return home from school. Their shining eyes sparkle as they take in my advice. I look around. Their school building is fragile and falling apart. A stack of old student desks are rotting in a pile of the courtyard corner. The classrooms have no air conditioning and no electrical lighting. Two classrooms adjacent to each other share the same teacher. They paid to go here. The clock strikes five o’clock and school is over. The students rush to the antique wooden doors that keep them off the rocky street outside.  I stand in the courtyard, watching them leave. I look up at the sky; it is a foggy gray over the distant mountains. My eyes rain unfathomable tears of sadness. This is all they know. I look at the Earth below their feet; it is green and alive. Maybe they will know now what seasons they can grow certain crop? Maybe they will remember the plants we discussed? Maybe they will want to use the makeshift water filters the school taught them how to make? Maybe they will actually share the knowledge learned at school with their families? There is hope.
The past two summers, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to travel with the Borlaug Institute at Texas A&M University to administer agriculture education through the junior master gardener program to children and communities in Guatemala. I discovered how Norman Borlaug, namesake and inspiration for the Institute, was honored the Nobel Peace Prize just by studying how to more effectively grow wheat, an essential element to peoples’ daily diets. Wheat! His studies in agriculture saved the lives of millions! Unfortunately, there are still millions living in poverty. The Guatemalan people suffer from many treatable health problems that most American’s are easily treated for, such as diarrhea and influenza. Their streets are filled with trash and like many developing countries foreign visitors can get sick from eating their produce or drinking the water. Sadly, Guatemala is a beautiful place that could have massive potential profits in agriculture and tourism.
If sanitation was reformed and if their foods were produced in more hygienic areas, people from other countries would be more inclined to visit the country and enjoy the country’s scenery and foods. Knowledge in agriculture would teach them to be more efficient and beneficial economic trends, agricultural knowledge, and practices to increase their daily profits and minimize countries’ heath and sanitation problems. Also, the land is extremely fertile and could grow crops very well. In fact, Guatemala is known for their excellent coffee. Families could use knowledge to help crops grow more efficiently and save their lands from overuse and pollution. Even floral design can be used by the women in communities; they can make arrangements to sell in the markets from the flowers they grow near their homes. Developing countries should have the opportunity for easy access to education and economic development that would enable them to have a more stable future. Unlike the traditional American dream of glory and riches, I don’t want to just study something just to make money. I want to help people make a difference in their world. I want to research and teach people how to improve the health of not only their own lives, but the generations to come through agriculture, just like Dr. Borlaug did.

I look once more at their little faces, radiant beams of light in their country, hope. Orange. They can grasp the color in their little palms and it spreads from their faces, to their minds, to their actions. They are bright flames of enlightenment in a dark world of ignorance. Knowledge is power, but more importantly a tool. That is why agriculture is important to me; it can save lives.

Blog Writer: Taylor Whittlesey

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