Thinking out of the box in El Salvador


Caritas doesn’t just offer people a helping hand in times of need, but it also offers a listening ear and words of good advice. A bit of advice can make all the difference, especially if it makes people see things a different way and, in the case of some small farmers in El Salvador, lead them towards a bigger and better harvest.

Alex Edgardo Contreras grows tomatoes, peppers, chillies and other vegetables in the town of San Juan El Espino, in the departament of  Ahuachapán, in the west of El Salvador.  Alex is now also starting to grow rice, which is more suited to the land, but which had been forgotten about as an income-generating crop.

“I remember rice being grown in this area when I was a boy. It’s quite marshy and I could only cross it in winter. At that time, the landlords who owned it only sowed rice, but then the price crashed and they stopped planting,“ Alex says. “The landlords and the government lost interest and said the land was barren. So we small farmers planted other crops but we never did very well in return for the amount of work we put in.”

It was the director of Caritas in Santa Ana Diocese, Manuel Morán, who thought about the successful rice planting of years gone by and who suggested to Alex and other small farmers that they should start growing small areas of rice again. Sowing crops like sugar cane on marshy land just wasn’t working. Nor was raising cattle. Many farmers had ended up in debt with the bank with the way things were going.

“Until Caritas promoted the idea of going back to rice we never really considered it,” continues Alex. “But this year we did it and it was a great experience. We tried it out and we’ve seen a bountiful crop. Now we want to create reservoirs at strategic points in the land so that when water’s scarce in summer we have some for irrigation.  We also get less pests on our crops now we’ve gone back to rice. It all works better now we are in harmony with our environment.”

Alex’s family, along with those of the other small farmers who have joined him in planting rice, now has more food on the table. His profit margin has doubled since he changed his crop, giving him money for school fees and medical bills.  A few words of wisdom from Caritas and some encouragement have gone a long way.

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