For the past few years, we have been consultants for the Borlaug Institute of International Agriculture. We've traveled twice a year to Chimaltenango, Guatemala, to teach for their AGTEC program. This program is designed to benefit Mayan communities in Guatemala by allowing for greater access to new commercial markets, agricultural techniques, and new high value agricultural products. All workshops are free of charge, and provide information that the farmers can take back to their farms and use on a day-to-day basis.
Having the opportunity to work with this agency brings us right to the heart of a very important mission: public access to science. As scientists and educators we understand that science is pointless without application and dissemination of ideas and information. Putting this into practice in Guatemala has been one of the highlights of our careers.
Our workshops are all about the insects (of course!), and all in Spanish! We teach farmers, extension agents, students, Peace Corps volunteers, and agricultural technicians about beneficial and pest insects they may find in their crops. In addition to insect biology and morphology, we also teach them quick, non-synthetic recipes for pesticides using ingredients like oil, soap, garlic, and chilies. All of the attendees are looking for ways to cut back on synthetic pesticide use and this section of the workshop is definitely a hit.
And what would an insect workshop be without the insects? The CENDEC center has a fabulous demonstration garden with a great diversity of arthropods that the participants encounter on a daily basis. However, most of the farmers regard all insects as pests. Being able to distinguish good from bad is helpful. We provide picture keys in English and Spanish for reference and go out to find as many different arthropods as we can. Once we've got a good collection, we bring the insects back inside for a session with the microscope. For many of the farmers, its the first time they've observed an insect so closely. One of our favorite moments happened when an elderly farmer looked through the scope for the first time and told us that the house fly had so many hairs on its face that it looked like an old man. "Like me," he said, laughing.
We're honored to have been a part of the AGTEC program, which is currently wrapping up this year. Even though this program is winding down in Guatemala, the Borlaug Institute continues to work in several Latin American countries. We're looking forward to working with them again in the future!
For more about the AGTEC program, check out the video we created for them in 2010: AGTEC Project Video
To learn more about the Norman Borlaug Institute of International Agriculture, visit their Web site.
Kristie Reddick and Jessica Honaker are The Bug Chicks. They each have Masters Degrees in Entomology and love to teach people about insects and spiders. They also run Solpugid Productions where they are involved in all sorts of entomological endeavors including the popular Bug Bytes podcast, produced in collaboration with the Texas A&M University Department of Entomology. For more from The Bug Chicks, check out their website at http://www.thebugchicks.com!