Having grown up on a small organic farm in Greenleaf, Idaho, Curt Bowen, 26, knows a thing or two about sustainable agriculture – and he’s put that passion into practice with the launch of his business, Semilla Nueva.
Some 70% of rural farmers in Guatemala live in poverty, half of their children suffer from malnutrition and 79% of their soils are severely degraded. Curt realised smallholder farmers struggle to break even every year from their continually degrading soils, and desperately need inexpensive ways to improve their soil, feed their families better and make a better income from their land.
That’s where Semilla Nueva comes in. It provides smallholder farmers with the low-maintenance pigeonpea bean which can grow between rows of existing crops, giving them an extra source of income without sacrificing the space, time or effort they need to devote to their main harvest.
The perfect low-maintenance crop
Pigeonpea doesn’t require fertilisers, grows in the dry season without irrigation and is open‐pollinated so farmers can save their seed. Better still, it rebuilds degraded soils and creates organic fertiliser.
But most importantly, pigeonpea is also a high-protein food, ideal for malnourished families – and if it’s sold on the growing international market it could provide farmers with a valuable boost in their household income.
In 2012, 100 farmers grew new varieties of pigeonpea between rows of existing crops. Upon measuring the results, they verified that it gave them a free crop, free protein to their family and free nitrogen to their soil without affecting their existing crops’ yields.
Supporting thousands in Guatemala
In 2013, over 200 women joined Semilla Nueva’s food security groups, learning new pigeonpea recipes and encouraging their families to try it. This resulted in nearly 1,000 families planting pigeonpea.
Semilla Nueva’s impact on thousands of families in Guatemala have helped shape national policy changes in the country and led to partnerships with some of the most important and relevant sustainable agricultural organisations globally.
Curt graduated from Whitman College, Washington, in 2009 and moved to Guatemala. He founded Semilla Nueva in 2010.