On only 3.5 hectares (8 acres) of fertile land near San José de Barlovento in the state of Miranda, a two-hour drive from Caracas, this holistic farm integrates fruit trees, vegetables, medicinal plants, bee-keeping, fish ponds, egg-laying chickens, worm production and a commercial guava nursery. For five years Cuban agronomists dedicated numerous hours each week to this flourishing project. The Center gets many visitors each day, including local farmers, university agriculture students and school classes. The Banco de Venezuela acknowledged this progressive project by awarding $23,000 to build a community store that will open next month. Both the national and local governments have recognized Centro Madre as an excellent model for small scale sustainable agriculture and food security.
The project began in 2000 when the director, Didi Ananda Sadhana, a yogic nun from the Netherlands, started doing relief work in the area following the devastating floods in December 1999 that killed an estimated 50,000 people in landslides in the state of Vargas. There were no deaths in Barlovento, but the mud homes of many rural villages were badly damaged. After leading the AMURT team that distributed drinking water, mattresses and organized medical missions, she then decided to start a permanent service project that eventually became known as Centro Madre.
A large amount of food is being produced each year on this small property. Five hundred guava trees produce 20-30 tons of guavas each year. The variety, which is from Cuba, is especially resistant to flooding, which has happened three times in the last 14 years. In their covered nursery, they grow 6,000 seedlings at a time, with automatic watering system–80,000 seedlings have been sold to other farmers in Miranda and other states. A total of more than 60 varieties of crops are grown there.
Community outreach programs
Most of the people of Barlovento District are Afro-Venezuelans. Descendants of enslaved people, they have suffered poverty, discrimination and exclusion. Empowering women, adolescents and children is the goal of Centro Madre's dynamic educational projects. Volunteers from the community have visited families in the nearby towns to lend children's books and share parenting techniques. Neo-humanist storytelling and gardening programs were held to enhance local school classes. Centro Madre supports teenage mothers and women that are raising children with special needs. Venezuelan professionals and graduate students have assisted in linking the cooperative social service projects of Centro Madre with various government ministries. Twice each year children's programs of creative expression are organized in the five local communities.
The project employs local people from Barlovento, and receives volunteers from Venezuela and international “wwoofers” (“World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms” is a loose network of organizations that facilitates the placement of volunteers). Free yoga and meditation instruction is offered, and the vegetarian food that is served is delicious, most of which is grown on the land. This tiny global community works to help create a more ecologically sustainable and loving future.
Creating Networks of Local Farmers
In 2006 the late President Hugo Chávez announced an agricultural program called REPLA: Red de Productores Libres y Asociados or Networks of Free Associate Producers. The objective was to unite small and medium scale farmers into social movements to support the Bolivarian Revolution. They were mentioned again in the Socialist Economic Plan for 2013-2019.
Inspired by this, Dada Atmapranananda, a yogic monk from the Philippines who has been working hard in Centro Madre since its beginning, decided to organize local farmers in Barlovento. So far he has formed REPLAs in seven towns and villages, each one with 10 to 15 producers, to discuss common problems they are facing and make proposals how to solve them. For example the need for water for irrigation has inspired the groups to jointly dig wells and toapply for government assistance to constructa desalination plant. By together selling their produce at affordable prices in the weekly market, they have been able to bypass the intermediaries. Harvesting and sharing seeds is another valuable project of the networks.
Didi Ananda Sadhana explains the purpose of Centro Madre: “After three floods, two armed robberies and countless other crises, we are still here. After each setback, we have grown stronger than before. Barlovento has tremendous potential in both its natural resources and its people. Our main goal is to rescue the self-esteem of the people, to empower them personally, socially and economically.”
Dada Maheshvarananda is a yogic monk, activist and author of After Capitalism: Economic Democracy in Action. Since 2007 he is the director of the Prout Research Institute of Venezuela. Photos are by Marcus R. Murray. For more information about this article, see www.centromadre.org, email [email protected], tel. 0234.511.8549 or 0416.400.3628.