The land around Quetzaltenango is very fertile indeed. Two villages in particular: Zunil and Almolonga have a thriving agriculture industry.
Almolonga is k’iche (the local language) for ‘place where water springs’. There are many rivers and streams tapped for irrigation – ugly plastic pipes strung across ravines and snaking down hillsides are a feature of the area. The soil looks good too. It could be something to do with the proximity of a fair few volcanoes. On the way up to the hot springs – heated by volcanic activity – at Fuentes Georginas, we got the chance to check out the land.
On Friday morning the area around the two villages was pumping with activity. A lot of the land is on very steep slopes, and therefore has to be cultivated entirely by hand. Many, many people were labouring in the fields – harvesting, washing and scrubbing vegetables, packing them up to be picked up by the truck load to be taken all over Central America. In the distance we saw the smoky evidence of slash and burn techniques – something that has passed through the generations from the time of the Maya. Unfortunately now, many traditional techniques such as slash and burn to renew the land, crop rotation including fallow years, etc have been substituted by the use of chemicals.
Nevertheless, the sight of all this produce in the fields and in the markets later – gleaming in piles, inside baskets that local women often transport on their heads – was wonderful. The vegetables were big: beets, spinach, radishes, carrots, broccoli.
Land rights and ownership is a highly volatile issue in Guatemala – a country where 2% of the population owned 50% of the land in 1950, and where the United Fruit Company of the USA managed to control 40% of the available farmland in the first half of the 20th Century. I don’t have any more recent stats as yet, but watch this space as land issues are something I’m hoping to talk about in my classes at the super political language school – PLQ.