Many of the native people who live in the Lake Atitlán basin are farmers; however, the chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and fungicides that they use are a major cause of contamination for the lake. Promoting organic farming is therefore of paramount importance to conserve the lake and improve the water quality.
To prevent nutrient overloading and the entry of toxins to the lake, we have to motivate farmers to return to natural methods of agriculture. We must ensure they get the support they need to go organic, reap the benefits, and spread the word. This will require large-scale education, community mobilization, and organic vegetable market creation backed up with organic composting and soil remediation programs that are tailored to farmers’ needs.
Around the lake there is a nascent movement to return to natural farming. More people are waking up to the fact that their soil has been destroyed by chemical farming, and recognizing its impact on their health and livelihoods. There are now organic coffee growers’ associations and permaculture farms in a number of towns around the lake.
To rehabilitate the damaged soils, bioremediation techniques using beneficial microorganisms are extremely effective and could take the place of the toxic chemical fertilizers. Repopulating the beneficial microorganisms in the soil is the fastest and most effective way to remediate damaged soils and transition from unsustainable chemical farming to sustainable organic farming practices. Whereas chemicals cause further contamination when they are washed into the lake, beneficial microorganisms would help to restore it.
As well as helping to save the lake, a large-scale shift to organic coffee farming would benefit the local economy. This area produces some of the finest coffee in the world; however, due to excessive use of chemicals, it is sold mainly on the standard world coffee market. Organic coffee sells for approximately 25% more and organic, “farm-to-cup”, fair trade coffee sells for about 35-40% more.
Read about LAEIG’s proposed organic coffee farming project, a collaboration with APROCAMCA. This project has been approved by the local Rotary Club and is being circulated among Rotary Clubs in the U.S. to obtain financing.