El Salvador_family working on small agroecological farm

The country with the least territory in Central America is also facing the reality of the monoculture model for export. In the last decade, the area of sugarcane monocultures had an increase of 50%, occupying about 80,000 hectares* of the 930,000 cultivated in that country.

Environmentalists and campesino movements are denouncing the impact generated by this model: hoarding of water resources, health problems in workers and nearby populations due to the use of agrotoxic products, child exploitation, deforestation, displacement of food crops for the local population, among others.

Walter Gómez, an environmental promoter specialised in agroecology with CESTA-Friends of the Earth El Salvador says, in an interview with Real World Radio, how the sugarcane monoculture model has affected the country’s food sovereignty: “We have more than 400,000 people producing basic grains (corn, beans, sorghum, rice) and vegetables, who have been threatened in recent decades by the expansion of monoculture sugarcane plantations.

This crop, he continues, “demands large amounts of water, as well as agrotoxics that are fumigated by small planes, affecting many communities in a terrible way.”

The impacts of agrotoxic products in the country are severe. According to the Ministry of Health of El Salvador, between 2007 and 2012, almost 10,000 acute poisonings from contact and exposure to agrotoxics were registered in a national level. The Ministry itself has tied the use of pesticides to cases of chronic kidney disease, which causes the death of between 500 and 800 people a year. Training, networks and lobbying

Walter says one of the focus of work for promoting agroecological practices is the area of Bajo Lempa, where the cane monoculture has advanced: “we have groups of farmers there developing agroecological practices, that is, working on the recycling of nutrients, productive diversification, agroecological management of some pests or diseases. With them, we look for stability of the whole agroecosystem.”

The rescue of native seeds is another important line of work: “There are already eight seed sanctuaries in different communities, which are conservation centres where people take, exchange and preserve seeds.”

An important task for a country which is vulnerable to the effects of climate change, like El Salvador, is adapting seeds: “Last year there was a drought, and the corn and part of the bean harvest were lost.

Also, the climatic change contributed to an outbreak of a pest called yellow aphid, which ruined all the sorghum. So this year, precautionary measures were taken, always within the framework of agroecology, making some mineral broths to avoid pest damage.”

Walter stresses the importance of political work. “Agroecology is political,” he states, while he says that this year they have organised marches and lobbied the Parliament to define the end of the use of agrotoxics in the country.

Listen to the 2016 interview below:

With the arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, CESTA supported families from San Vicente to pursue agroecology, in turn ensuring access to healthy food and promoting local production. With the Movement of Peoples Affected by Climate Change and Corporations (MOVIAC), they are pushing for a law that promotes agroecology in El Salvador. Learn more in this video.

*Note that at the end of 2021, five years after this interview was conducted, the extent of sugar cane monoculture in the country was 110,000 hectares.