In the UK we are experiencing an increasing number of people who have started to grow their own fruit and vegetables. These people have cast off the shackles of the supermarket grocery aisle in favour of the peace of mind and sense of satisfaction that cultivating their own crops can give them.

Similarly, this is the case in much of rural El Salvador. However, for many it is a process born out of necessity rather than a conscious effort to produce their own idyllic vegetable patch. In 1994 the ‘Free-Trade Agreement’ was signed by the Salvadoran government, which eventually led to the face of the nation’s agricultural industry being changed forever. Foreign multi-national corporations bulldozed their way in to the small, green nation of El Salvador, still licking its wounds from a ghastly civil war. With no thoughts in mind of the struggling Salvadoran people or their economy they ravaged the lands and reaped the profits. Much of the agricultural industry that fuelled El Salvador’s economy was now controlled by men in suits sat in grandiose leather chairs in sprawling meeting rooms who had no consideration for the Salvadoran people through their rose-tinted lenses. 

Now, nearly 22 years later 90 per cent of El Salvador’s water has been polluted by heavy industry. The previously fertile volcanic soil, perfect for agricultural production has been left in many areas completely infertile and barren thus leading to the growing issue of desertification in the Salvadoran countryside. 

Here in Santa Catarina Masahuat we have been welcomed in to so many homes by so many fascinating families. We have all seen first-hand the family’s harvest piled sack upon sack next to the television, vast sheets laid out with enough beans to feed a small army. All of this has been harvested by the families so they may eat for another year. This subsistence farming is very common in this area and much of El Salvador alike. Not only is it cheap but it provides the basic diet that these families have been living on for generations. However, it is far from easy. The environment is changing; dry seasons are longer and hotter and rainy seasons bring less rain as each year passes. There is very little El Salvador can do about this devastating environmental change. They haven’t been the cause of much of the pollution that has caused the world’s climate to malfunction before our very eyes. They are paying the price for the greed of the western world. 

In the UK we take for granted how easy it is for us to maintain a balanced diet. Our vegetables are grown on a mass scale in our fertile fields or we import it from foreign lands. Many Salvadorans can’t afford this same luxury, however it may not be long until they are forced to relinquish their scythes and grab a shopping trolley. The environment is changing and unfortunately, so too could be the traditional Salvadoran’s way of life.

Written by ICS volunteer Harry Rix