"Rafael [De La Torre] had one hectare (about 2.5 acres) of land but he was not using it," said Renzo Macas, agricultural technician in Ecuador. "The success here is that the whole family could work their crops, which was essential, as they didn't have very much money for food. Rafael has done very well in this program. He gets seed from his own crops now so he doesn't have to buy it anymore. It's now been one year since he graduated from our program, and the family continues with the same, small-scale agriculture model we taught them. Just last week, he harvested 60 bags of potatoes, with each bag weighing 100 pounds. He sold 30 bags and kept the rest for food, seed potatoes, and food storage."
The De La Torre family has 10 children and joined the Church in 1981. Their oldest son served a mission in Chile. Brother De La Torre is first counselor in the bishopric of his ward.
Home-Grown Food Overcomes Disaster
Milton Yamberla and his family of four live just a few miles from the De La Torre family. Brother Yamberla is bishop of the Pucar Ward in the Imbabura Stake. The Yamberlas were referred to the program by their stake president for assistance. Today, the Yamberla family is successfully raising six crops, plus chickens, guinea pigs, and rabbits on less than three acres of land.
"The Yamberlas were one of the first 11 families in the ... program," said Richard Brimhall. "In less than two years, they produced 10,000 pounds of dry crops such as wheat, corn, and beans, and nearly 3,000 pounds of high-quality protein from small animals. They reached self-sufficiency in just 18 months. They became so successful they were able to buy a used car—unheard of in this area—and use it for family transportation and to earn income to transport others.
As a result of the success of the first 11 families, the priesthood leaders requested an expansion to 60 more families—30 from each of the two stakes in the Otavalo region.
"Nutritional self-sufficiency can be achieved with as few as three successful crop cycles," said Allen Christensen, director of program. "But families require some help to get started. Without training and assistance, it's nearly impossible to get to the first rung on the developmental ladder. It's simply out of reach. Once their feet are planted firmly on the first rung, economic progress is rapid."
"[It] bridges the gap with training, improved seed, fertilizer, and improved methods of crop production and rotation," said Brother Christensen. "Families are given a start of small animals for protein production. Once they've had three successful crop cycles, they can grow sufficient food for themselves. Surplus commodities can be sold at the marketplace, which provides funds for the purchase of fertilizer and other farming necessities, and they can begin their food storage program. Most important, their overall health is improved."
Entire Family Involved
Five miles away is the humble home of Diaz Yamberla. As a single mother, Sister Yamberla relies heavily on her children for their food production. Each year, they plant corn, potatoes, and a large vegetable garden. Following the model, the crops provide for most of the family's food needs. Sister Yamberla gets some support from her two married sisters who live nearby but, for the most part, is self-sufficient. As with other families in the program, the Yamberlas can't afford sheep or cattle, so they raise small animals such as rabbits, guinea pigs, and chickens for protein.
"One of the things we see in emerging nations is that they have been farming the same way for a long time," said Brother Christensen. "The green revolution of the last century has passed them by. We take simple ideas—such as plant density and fertilization—and show them how to improve their yields. There are no extension agents to do that for them. Their success is based on rain. Since rain patterns are sufficient only 50 percent of the time, it takes them three to five years to become nutritionally self-sufficient and generate the ability to sell their excess in the marketplace."
For 32 years, the initiative was known as the Benson Institute as a research department at Brigham Young University. In January 2008, the Institute was moved to LDS Charities. "Nearly 4,000 families in Guatemala, Bolivia, Mexico, Ecuador, Ghana, Morocco, and on reservations in the United States have been involved in the Benson Institute program," said Luis Espinoza of the program. "We're now investigating the feasibility of expanding to other countries."
"President Ezra Taft Benson charged us to take this program to the poorest of the poor," continued Brother Brimhall. "So we tell families the first thing they need to do is provide for their own needs." Instead of planting one crop, families are instructed to plant a diversity of crops from which they can provide everything their family needs. One component of that, however, is a cash crop. On one hectare of land a family can produce enough to feed seven people and have an excess to sell in the market.
"Everywhere else in the world, farmers sell everything to the market and then buy back what is needed by the family," said Brother Brimhall. "The program is revolutionary in this sense. It also gives members the ability to send their children to school and on missions. It's that good . . . especially if they can crop twice a year like they can in Ecuador."