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Speakers Discuss Sustainable Development and Agriculture in Latin America

By Joanie D. Timmins, Contributing Writer

Discussing organic pesticides, community housing projects, and human rights, representatives from NGOs working in South America and a Harvard professor spoke about the importance of sustainable agricultural practices within small native communities in South America at the Harvard Graduate School of Education Saturday afternoon.

Michael Lorenzo, a student at the Harvard Extension School and the organizer of the event, said that during his time with the Harvard study abroad program in Peru, he noticed that “in Latin America, the biggest buzz word seems to be sustainable, sustainable, sustainable.”  After returning to Harvard, Lorenzo said he organized Saturday’s event in hopes of  “putting into action ideas to make an effective change.”

Charlotte Dougherty, a board member of the NGO Sustainable Harvest International, spoke about her organization’s efforts to alleviate poverty and end deforestation in South America by educating the population about sustainable farming.

Dougherty shared her experiences working with families and farmers in Honduras where she taught them sustainable agriculture techniques. She said when she returned to the village several years later, she was “astounded by their progress, which has made me so passionate about this topic and this organization.”

A representative from FunHabit, an NGO that builds housing projects in rural Ecuador, also spoke about the work of NGOs in promoting the cultivation of indigenous crops grown with organic pesticides.

Finally, Theodore MacDonald, a lecturer in human rights, sustainability, and agriculture development, discussed the importance of sustainable and culturally respectful agriculture.

“Capacity to make progress really exists,” said Macdonald, adding that there needs to be more communication between governments, NGOs, and farmers. Citing recent protests in Peru, MacDonald said that in the future South American farmers need to organize for their interests while still cooperating with the government.

Audience member Jessica Z. Bermudez, a student at the Harvard Extension School, said she enjoyed the event, saying that for her it is “interesting to see the different things organizations are going in different countries to help families, and to see how farmers change their minds about things like pesticides.”

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