Navajo Trade Ideas With Mexican Agriculturalists

Nov 15th, 2010 | By | Category: 22-2: Crossing Borders, Winter 2010, Community & Partnerships, Health & Wellness, Tribal College News

YOU DO WHAT WITH CACTUS? Dr. Benjamin Figueroa (white hat), project leader from the Colegio de Postgraduados, talks about the cacti with (from left) Dr. Germaine Daye (Navajo Technical College), Anita Hayes (Navajo Tse Daa K’aan Chapter) and Brian Neztsosie (Diné College). An unidentified producer (blue shirt) is in the background. Photo courtesy of Luke Ney

Farm and ranch experts from Navajo Technical College (NTC, Crownpoint, NM) and Diné College (Tsaile, AZ) recently traveled to Mexico to collaborate with agriculturalists there. The July 6-9 collaboration focused upon recognizing each person’s knowledge – and building upon that knowledge rather than imposing foreign solutions.

“They have the same barriers and the same type of environmental challenges,” says Anthony Howard, the Navajo Technical College agriculture extension agent. The farmers they visited in central Mexico have an integrated crop system of beans, corn, and prickly pear cactus; and they feed the combination to their sheep. They also eat the cactus fruit, and use cactus as a border to keep rabbits out of their crops. While sheep on the Navajo Reservation are primarily used for wool and food, the Mexican farmers raise sheep for milk, Howard says.

Howard adds that his Mexican colleagues wanted to know about more value-added products and were interested to hear about Navajo wool cooperatives, new fine wool sheep breeds, and wool braiding.

In addition to the two tribal colleges, the effort involves the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agricultural Service (USDA/FAS), in collaboration with Mexico’s Secretariat of Agriculture, Livestock, Rural Development, Fisheries and Food (SAGARPA) and its Colegio de Postgraduados (COLPOS, a graduate school of agriculture). It receives support from the U.S. Agency for International Development in Mexico (USAID/Mexico). Northern New Mexico College (a Hispanic Serving Institution in Española that also serves six Pueblo communities in the area) was also part of the technical exchange.

The workshop focused on training needs, designing a capacity-building program, and collaborating on sheep husbandry as well as rangeland management, land tenure, and women entrepreneurs, according to International Agricultural Development Specialist Luke Ney of USDA/FAS.

Participants hope the collaboration will continue through distance learning, student exchanges, and continued trips between the two countries. Howard hopes to broadcast classes via satellite from NTC to Mexico. He expects two Mexican women will attend NTC’s nationally recognized veterinarian technician program and also learn about his office’s outreach efforts.

For his part, Howard has learned a lot from these experiences: “Don’t take life for granted. These people are starting from nothing with no help from government,” he says. “All they have is a deep desire and commitment; their passion is so strong. And look at what they have produced.”

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