Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Farmers and Other Laborers: Part I

Tomas Sojuel was kneeling, praying in his bean field again yesterday. Rain is what he prays for. The fields are dry, the beans and corn have begun to yellow. Probably his corn will not flower. This is the forth time this season I've seen him at prayer. He kneels facing the East watching the morning sun rise above volcanoes Toliman and Atitlan. God, so far, has failed to respond to his fervent petitions: nor did he do so last year. But, Tomas is a deeply religious man and there is no doubt that he will continue his prayers despite the apparent delay.

Labor in Santiago Atitlan is rarely easy or light. It is almost always demanding. Years of unrelenting hard work show in the bodies and faces of most older men. There is hard-lived character, but also a heart-rending kindness and sadness in every man. Laughter, too. How they can laugh so readily and so often is a puzzle, but they do.

Some say that the campesinos (farmers) will disappear after a few decades though this seems unlikely. While there continue to be young sons and grandsons who accompany older men into the fields the economics of small farms (which continue to diminish in size as each small-holding is further divided at the owner's death) is a disincentive to continuing the centuries of traditional family farming. There are now lakeside "farms" which are three-by-thirty meters in length, hardly sufficient to provide for an average-size family of six.

A large majority of campesinoes and day-laborers in Guatemala live below the poverty line. Rural poor, as a percent of the total population, was said to be 46 percent in 1980: it hasn't changed much since then. About 44 percent of farmers, at that time, were earning more than 60 percent of their income from off-farm labor. The off-farm employment is usually temporary and seasonal and takes men away from their families; most is at low wages.

~~~~~~~ more forthcoming

1 comment: