On March 29, 2017, Popoyán inaugurated the Centro de Excelencia Microbiano (CENEM), one of the most modern production facilities of microorganisms in Latin America. With the potential to produce a variety of biological solutions at a large scale, Popoyán is ready to meet outstanding demand of smallholder producers in Guatemala’s Western Highlands.
Since Popoyán’s MIPFuturo activity began in June 2015, the project has expanded` from five initial crops of peas, onion, potato, tomato, and peppers to thirteen smallholder crops and has added carrots, coffee, cardamom, French Beans, fava beans, Brussel sprouts, garlic, and broccoli. To date, Popoyan has trained more than 4,000 small growers, implementend more than 300 Technology Transfer Plots in the Western Highlands, and trained more than 350 community leaders. The lead farmers are a key part of generating a sustainable extension and commercialization strategy. We depend on lead farmers to expose and train their neighbors on biological solutions, often for the first time, as well as making the products available for sale in rural areas. Popoyán is currently working with a local finance institution that will provide leaders with a line of credit that allows them to create their own rural agribusiness with attractive margins built in to the business model.
Initial field-level reactions to using biological solutions has been positive with farmers realizing they can earn more income as well as contribute to their personal and environmental health. Of course, it has not been easy to convince farmers immediately to use biological control solutions and, often times, farmers will validate the technology on a small plot of land over one season to test the economic return and effectiveness of the new products before completely changing their production habits. Our lead farmers and some customers have been participating in a cost-benefit analysis that shows, depending on the crop, economic returns of three to ten times more than their initial investment and when compared to traditional growing practices. In addition to enhanced product quality, farmers see expanded harvests in one crop cycle. For example, one tomato farmer reports six harvests in one season using biological controls versus three harvests with traditional methods. Income gains alone are not the only benefit. Farmers report that plants look healthier, vegetables are juicier, and they no longer have headaches from applying chemicals. The information from the Technology Transfer Plots and the cost-benefit analysis serves as the basis for our marketing and sales strategy. Popoyán provides a business model focused on environmental, economic and social sustainability. Sales are beginning to increase and now with CENEM’s capacity, we expect great business growth.
Field-level technical assistance and quality production are priorities for Popoyán. In addition to the lead farmers and demonstration plots, Popoyán has field-based technicians that provide technical assistance to the growers to achieve high performance results. This technical assistance combined with the technology package we offer are controlling pests and diseases to provide smallholder farmers with opportunities to regain control of their land and make more money! Some of the biggest impacts we’ve had to date with our technology package are in controlling rust in coffee; fusarium in tomatoes; nematodes in potatoes, onions and garlic; trips in cardamom and peas; and,tetranichus urticae in peppers. Growers are understanding that implementing the Popoyán biological package in their crops is a smart investment that brings excellent returns financially and in productivity.
Looking towards the future, Popoyán hopes that CENEM will help Guatemala be a center for developing new biotechnologies. CENEM can be a reference for Latin America and other countries with new products developed for other crops, and custom-made solutions trialed and accelerated for crops, regions, and extreme conditions such as droghts, high rains, and climate change. There is no doubt that with Popoyán’s biological package combined with the sustainable extension model of adopting technology, it can be one of the most powerful tools to develop sustainable agriculture in Latin America.