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Part 2: Tilling the soil

Guatemala, April 4, 2008

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Training newly landed farmers and helping them sell to lucrative markets is the second step in Mercy Corps' approach to rural economic development.

Through mediation, Nuevo Amanacer's 27 families reached an agreement to buy a portion of the land, and to pay for it in installments over five years. Making those payments requires them to make their newly titled lands profitable. Those profits will also help them improve the quality of healthcare, schools and home construction in their village — all things to which they aspire.

Nuevo Amanacer is one of several communities receiving support to grow pineapple, honey, bananas and other produce to sell to retailers and processors — new markets for farmers who before grew crops almost exclusively for their own subsistence.

In just two seasons, with five hectares under cultivation, the farmers of Nuevo Amanacer grew and sold 200,000 pounds of pineapple. Annual earnings shot up from just a few hundred dollars before the program to about $1,500 after two seasons. With this new and sustainable income, the fledgling entrepreneurs are well on their way to paying off their land.

To expand on this success, in 2007 Mercy Corps formed the Inclusive Market Alliance for Rural Entrepreneurs, designed to help farmers in Nuevo Amanacer and elsewhere benefit from the rapid growth of supermarkets in Latin America. Growing for the market, Mercy Corps recognizes, is a critical second step in lifting rural families out of poverty.