Since 2014, the school “Escuela Agroecológica San Juan de Regina Marecos” (Organic agriculture school), which is located around 130 kilometres north of the Paraguayan capital Asunción, has been a project partner of Lemonaid & ChariTea Foundation. After years of negotiations, around 500 small-scale farmers and their families have settled in San Juan de Mena on a piece of land of their own. Since then they have been successfully operating organic agriculture and are setting an example against the growing agricultural exports and monocultures in the country. In 2019, we started a new project promotion with the school, which is mainly attended by youngesters of the community. The fundamentals of organic farming and business administration are important components of the education. You can find our filmed impression of the project here.
Agriculture in Paraguay
The small South American and landlocked country faces many economic and social challenges. Due to the unequal distribution of fertile land, which is used at least 66% for export agriculture, families and communities in rural areas in particular face challenges such as food shortages and insecure incomes. The Paraguayan non-governmental organization “Centro de Capacitación y Desarrollo Agrícola” (CCDA – Training Center for Rural Development), in cooperation with the ProParaguay Initiative (PPI) from Germany, have developed a counter-project to the problems of dependence and migration to the capital. Together they founden an ecological agricultural school in 1995 in cooperation with the local population of San Juan de Mena.
The school was created out of the desire of the local population to find alternatives to conventional agro-export. Many small-scale farmers were expropriated in the course of the agro-boom and put under increasing pressure. To counteract this, the promotion of smallholder structures in Paraguay is a particularly important task. For this reason, students acquire important knowledge and tools in addition to the principles of organic agriculture in order to be able to provide for their livelihood in a self-organised way and to preserve the biodiversity of their region.
Organic agriculture and equal rights in action
The ecological agricultural school San Juan serves the community for both, as training centre and as place of preservation of its culture and lived equality. It contributes to the fact that the traditions of the small-scale farmers continue to be lived by the students and to strengthen the social and cultural life of the small community. In addition to basic organic agricultural training, the school has to strong focus for the students to gain practical experience.
On a typical school day, the students spend the afternoons in the classroom and learn the theoretical basics of organic farming, seed cultivation as well as animal husbandry and care. This menas they learn which varieties grow well together, such as coffee and banana trees, they plan sowing or how they can apply and develop a biological fertilizer themselves. In the afternoon, the current 75 students have the opportunity to put their knowledge into practice in the school’s gardens and fields. They plant their own beds, which they also cultivate and care for as well as the school’s animals. This way, the students consolidate their knowledge and produce the majority of the food that is served in the school’s own canteen themselves. To accompany the process from the seed to the finished vegetable on the plate sharpens the holistic view and – this is particularly important – they self-confidently regain their food sovereignty. Since their foundation, 198 students have recieved their high school degree.
Solidarity for a common future
The school has gained experience over the years which shows success: some graduates are now employed as teachers at the school, another graduate has become the head of a local cooperative. With the help of the PPI, a processing plant for organic sugar has also been set up. The products from the fields and gardens first benefit the school and the pupils. Through the sale of the overproduction, which is constantly increasing, the school is financially strengthened and thus contributes to its continued existence.
Due to the political situation in the country, the progressive school is always faced with challenges. The salaries of the teachers are paid only irregularly by the state and demand a high degree of persistence from the teachers in particular. They master this situation courageously and confidently every time anew. Even if this means that sometimes teachers leave school to take up jobs in the city with a fixed salary.
The Lemonaid & ChariTea Foundation has been supporting the school since 2014, especially in the building the infrastructure and initially also in paying the salaries of the teachers. In order not to relieve the state of its responsibility, these salary losses are not covered within the new funding. The attempt is now to support the position of the teachers towards the state so that they are held responsible for the payment of their salaries. Today, in 2019, the school is largely independent of the CCDA and PPI. The current funding goes towards the purchase of teaching materials, further food for the school canteen, agricultural tools and infrastructure costs.
The organic agricultural school makes an important contribution to maintaining the livelihoods of small farmers in rural Paraguay. The students are enabled to improve their own economic and social situation and those of their families.