Would you join the migrant caravan?

You’ve heard of “migrant caravans” from Central America trying to enter the U.S. Though Appleseed isn’t working to address the migrant situation, we did learn a bit about it looking at the source.

Photo taken in October 2018, just after a focus group we held with farmers in Jocotán, Guatemala, near the border of Honduras.

Photo taken in October 2018, just after a focus group we held with farmers in Jocotán, Guatemala, near the border of Honduras.

Why we were there: This project’s goal is to help our partner NGO, Catholic Relief Services, get farmers to adopt smart agricultural practices that would improve their degrading soil and protect scarce water resources. This would improving their crop yields, incomes, and their ability to feed families. To do that, we needed to understand their situation and motivations. So my associate, Baptiste (right), and I (left) spent Sept/Oct talking with farmers facing extreme poverty and drought -- exactly the folks thinking about fleeing their homeland.

What we learned: These farmers plant corn and beans for a living. In this region, known as the “Dry Corridor,” they have seen no harvest in 3 out of the past 4 years due to lack of rain. The only other work available is coffee harvesting for 3 months of the year, but they are only paid $3/day for those 12 weeks; not enough to live on for a full year. Therefore, people are starving… Many people here have strong ties to their land and way of life. Yet things are so bad that many ponder, on a daily basis, if they should risk their lives and leave their families indefinitely to cross into the U.S. to find work. Nobody wants to do this, but desperate times call for desperate measures.

I can’t speak for everyone in the region, but most of the farmers we met were just like the ones in the photo above: good honorable men, looking to do what any father or husband hopes to do -- work to support his family. The ironic part hit me when I came home to Watsonville, California, an agricultural region where Ruth and I live in the U.S. In the many strawberry and cauliflower fields around us, there are signs that desperately read “HELP NEEDED FOR HARVEST!”

What we can do: Appleseed may not be able to make the sky give more rain, or provide the work people seek… but if, using our behavioral marketing approach in early 2019, we can help our local partners in the region get tens of thousands of farmers to adopt smart agricultural practices, such as using mulch and not burning their fields, then people will have a much better chance of ensuring good harvests in the years to come. This is how we plan to provide relief for our neighbors to the south.