Agricultural Hero: María Rebeca | One Earth
Agricultural Hero: María Rebeca

Once shy and reserved, Maria Rebeca is now passionate about sharing her knowledge with others, holding workshops attended by many members of the local community.

©FAO/José Itzep

Agricultural Hero: María Rebeca

Each week One Earth is proud to feature an environmental activist and hero from around the globe who is working to create a world where humanity and nature can coexist in harmony.

María Rebeca Perez de Nebaj grew up as a shy girl in the Ixil Indigenous community located in the Quiché department of Guatemala. In recent years, this region has been prone to armed conflict and violence, which has usurped opportunities for Indigenous people, especially women. Having two children at a young age, and needing to support her parents financially, María Rebeca had to quickly learn to be self-supporting to sustain her family’s needs. Although she started working on a small farm initially, at 19 she purchased a sewing machine and became proficient in making huipiles, which are traditional garments worn by the Indigenous women in Guatemala. This income was vital to her family’s survival.

As general prices rose and María Rebeca’s sewing started to not bring enough money to keep her family well-fed, barely covering three meals a day, she became concerned that her children’s diets were lacking in nutrition. She then heard that the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) was leading an Ixil Joint Rural Development Program in her area, and she got involved and took the opportunity to learn an agricultural trade. The FAO program’s objective is to improve livelihoods, nutrition, and to end hunger in Indigenous communities. María Rebeca learned how to produce food in her own home garden. First, she learned how to build small greenhouses and grow tomatoes. Taking her education further, she then took part in poultry farming beginning with just one rooster and one hen who laid three eggs a week. She then went on to attend all the training courses offered by FAO and Guatemala’s Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, and Food.

Maria Rebeca now grows enough food to give her family three meals a day – and before COVID-19, supply a local school too. Image credit: ©FAO/José Itzep

Initially, it was just María Rebeca’s family that received the benefits of her work. She noticed vast improvements in her children’s health as she was now able to guarantee three meals a day for all of her family. When she increased her coop to almost 1,000 hens, she was able to start a business, which thrived under her care, and is renowned for its good quality. Now, she is a local expert on egg and tomato production. The whole community has started to benefit as Maria Rebeca became a supplier to the school food program, providing local schools with 600 eggs per week and also selling them directly to her community and in local markets.

Not only was María Rebeca able to help her family and community, but also herself. This work has replaced her shyness with self-confidence and given her self-esteem in a way she never knew before. At first, people didn’t take her seriously because she is young and lacked experience, but now she is a leader in her community and her capacity to teach and share her skills is an inspiration. She is now a trusted and respected community member who has eradicated the stigma that many people in her town felt towards women. Grateful for this opportunity, María Rebeca hopes to continue to expand these practices. 

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