In El Salvador, a quarter of the population are farmers. They produce 70% of agriculture-based food consumed in the country. The average wage of a rural worker in El Salvador is $118 a month, which contributes toward the 37% of Salvadorans who live in poverty.
In the rural area where we work the population is 27,000. Subsistence farming is the number one employer. The farms in the area produce three crops, and three crops only: corn, beans, and sugar cane. Farmers in the area are confident that these "staple crops" will sell in the market and sustain their families. Sadly, despite such confidence, close to 20% of children under 5 suffer from chronic malnutrition in El Salvador, with the percentages in the rural regions (where we work) nearing 40%.
Related to the lack of crop diversity and poverty is the rise of health concerns, namely diabetes and obesity. Lack of access to fruits and vegetables (coupled with a lack of education) causes a reliance on ‘ready-made’ and ‘processed foods’ imported from the United States. In 2015, nearly 1 million Salvadorans were diagnosed with diabetes, 60% of adults were obese or overweight, and a growing percentage of teens (39%) and children (23%) suffered from the same issues. Even younger, over half of children under one years old living in the rural regions suffer from anemia due to iron deficiency. The basic starches and sugar available to the average Salvadoran farmers’ diet are failing to meet their nutritional needs—creating a national public health crisis.
Last month, while our team was initiating a music program at our youth center, they took a break to share some watermelon with local community leaders who had come to see the program in action. When the youth informed the leaders that the watermelon was grown on our land, they were shocked! They refused to believe it was true. Only after seeing the watermelons growing in the garden did they believe that the soil in their area could produce something other than corn and beans!
Our cooperative in El Salvador, Antonio Mejia, was born to a family of rural farmers. He knew the struggle of feeding his brothers and sisters what came from the ground, and not much more, because there was no more. Through our cooperation with him and the land we made available to him to farm, he has been experimenting with agricultural projects alternative to the area. Through our encouragement and his desire to help his neighbors, he enthusiastically farmed with a variety of new crops, and was encouraged by the harvest.
We know that what is now a few watermelons and other choice fruits and vegetables, will soon become a thriving garden, just as we have seen in our other regions. To help ensure this takes place, we are sending a team of agricultural workers to facilitate a gardening seminar. They will teach on techniques like double-digging, companion planting, and irrigation methods. In addition to Antonio, many of the youth we work with, who farm for their families, will be in attendance. The techniques shared will be demonstrated on our land, and put to use on their own, helping them to experience a diversity of crops for themselves.
In our experience, many health concerns that plague the developing world can be curbed by proper nutrition and preventative care. Providing education on nutrition is helpful, but is only half the battle. The other half is the empowerment to produce healthy food for themselves, and this is what we are happy to do!
Please pray for our team and look for updates on agriculture in El Salvador throughout the summer!