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Growing food sovereignty in El Salvador

In western El Salvador, women are learning ancestral practices to farm food sustainably and create an economy that benefits all.

Women plant seedlings

Participants with the Agroecological School in San Julián in western El Salvador. Photo: Omar Ponce / AFSC

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In the rural community of San Julián, a group of women hike along a hillside. They carry hoes, trays of seedlings, and sacks of natural fertilizer. The town is part of Sonsonate in western El Salvador, which is home to most of the country’s Indigenous communities.   

Over several hours, the women work the fertile volcanic soil with their tools and bare hands. They use the same techniques their ancestors did to plant the seeds. With constant care over the next few months, they will soon harvest an abundance of food to nourish their families and communities.  

The women are all participants in a program known as the Agroecological School. The program was founded by local partner ANADES (New Dawn Association of El Salvador) in 2017 and is now supported by AFSC. The Agroecological School brings together women from 14 communities in San Julián and the nearby town of Cuisnauat. 

Agroecological School participants have harvested tons of vegetables in recent years, including green beans. Photo: Gilma Escalante/ANADES

Participants reflect on and analyze the systems that oppress them—capitalism, colonialism, and patriarchy—and how they can create economic autonomy for themselves, their families, and communities. They also learn and share with each other sustainable agricultural practices that preserve their ancestral values and protect Mother Earth. That includes conserving Native and Creole seeds, identifying transgenic seeds and the damages they can cause, and managing pests and crop disease through organic methods.   

The work that these women are doing are vital for communities in western El Salvador. For years, these communities have been disproportionately harmed as transnational corporations have exploited land and resources through commercial agriculture operations and the use of toxic chemicals.  

Corporations have also exacerbated El Salvador’s water crisis. Climate change has fueled severe droughts in recent years. Companies constructing urban megaprojects have privatized precious water sources, cutting off community access. The lack of water has forced many women and their families to leave their towns to survive.  

As part of the Agricultural School, women use what they learn to start individual and communal agricultural projects in their communities. Participants have produced tons of healthy, organic vegetables—including green beans, green pepper, corn, and tomatoes—to feed their families and neighbors, sell at local markets, and generate incomes.

 

Sofia, a participant with the Agroecological School. Photo: Omar Ponce/AFSC

Sofia (above), age 15, is one of the youngest and newest participants in the program. She is excited to see how their collective efforts will benefit her community in the long term. “I dream of having a healthy plot, taking care of our Mother Earth, taking care of our health, and also involving more young people in agroecology and being an example for them,” she says.  

Supporters like you help make programs like the Agricultural School possible. Today dozens of women in western El Salvador are cultivating resilience and food sovereignty for their families and communities. They are also building a more just economy that benefits all community members—and puts the care of the Earth at its center.  

Thank you for supporting our efforts! 

About the Author

Omar Ponce is a program officer with AFSC in El Salvador. He has a degree in health education from the University of El Salvador. From the age of 14, he has participated in organized youth groups and in political advocacy spaces at the municipal level as a youth representative. In addition, he has led youth groups at the local and municipal level.

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