In Cacaopera, Morazán, people have historically worked in agriculture by growing corn, beans, and sorghum, raising chickens, pigs, and cattle, and using plants and trees native to the area to meet their needs. During the Salvadoran Civil War, the population was displaced, either within the country or to Honduras. When they returned, “conventional” agriculture strategies were introduced. These strategies use costly industrial fertilizers, herbicides, and insecticides and promote non-native seeds. Because of this and other issues, like limited access to education, scarcity of employment, and climate change, young people do not have many opportunities and often seek work in urban centers or without documents in the United States. There is a loss of agricultural traditions in the region and with them, a loss of appreciation for campesino culture and life.
Considering this reality, the five interconnected issues that must be addressed are: food sovereignty, care for the environment, education, employment, and immigration. Campesino School was born as a creative response aimed at training young people in the region of Cacaopera, Morazán to practice sustainable agriculture as a source of both work and food for their families. We also incorporate other topics important to their contexts, such as art, sports, and music, in pursuit of an integrated formation. We seek to open a space and share technical and didactic resources that support young people in discovering the value of their cultural and occupational heritage, creating local employment opportunities, and care for the agricultural traditions and ecology of the region.
In 2014, we executed a pilot run of Campesino School in the Agro-Ecological Center in the community of Los Naranjos. Between May and August, in four sessions of three weeks each, eight young people from Morazán and one from Los Naranjos participated in the project. In the mornings, they learned about the theory and practice of sustainable agriculture, and in the afternoons they had classes about history, current reality, music, and the planning of their own agricultural initiatives in their homes. We went on field trips to see other sustainable agriculture experiences in the country, and held workshops with technicians and specialists. Each student earned a small stipend for his or her contributions to the Agro-Ecological Center to invest in implementing the techniques they learned at home.
In 2015, after an evaluation process of the previous year and of the current realities of the communities in Morazán, we have decided to move the experience of the School out to Morazán. In the second half of the year, we prepared conditions on a parcel of land close to the Padre Octavio Ortiz chapel in Agua Blanca, Cacaopera to be able to carry out some cultivation and training efforts with organized groups in the area. We worked to assure the availability of water on the land, supported the planting of a cooperative parcel of corn, and prepared an experimental vegetable bed. The intention of these efforts was to prepare the land to begin another cycle of the School and to familiarize the organized groups of the region with the idea that the land could be a kind of demonstration parcel and center for the practice of sustainable agriculture.
In the following five years, from 2016 to 2020, we hope to develop the land and the School to be sustainable and stable alternatives in the region for young people who want to learn and for organized sustainable agriculture groups who want to share their experiences. Our final goal is that the School be able to function every year with 10 to 15 participants, sustained mostly by the commercialization of specialty products cultivated on the land and coordinated primarily by local promoters. We also hope to accompany the construction of a network of young producers in order to encourage the students to practice what they have learned, continue sharing experiences, and teach others in their communities.