Santiago Marroquin Civil is 58 years old, and just took out his first loan with Genesis Empresarial in the last year. He told me that it wasn’t part of his culture to accept loans, or even any help for that matter. ‘Tengo lo que tengo. Y puedo lo que puedo,’ he said. In other words, he was used to making do with what he had. After all, after just six years working at his vivero – a nursery of plants, flowers and trees – he had been able to take the 400 small geranium plants he had started with and make them into 75,000 plants of many different varieties.
That sentiment did change though, when on a bright sunny day, as he described it, a visitor arrived at his vivero. It was Oscar, a capacitador from Genesis’s Servicios de Desarollo Empresarial (a trainer who works with Genesis providing technical and financial training to its clients — and incidentally, one of the Oscars I had met the day before at the Esquintla branch). Oscar is an agronomist and he offered to help Santiago with his business. He showed him how to make and use organic fertilizer and other techniques for planting and growing some of his plants. He also told him about the loans that Genesis offers in tangent with its training so that he could invest in his business even more, and watch it grow. Santiago watched his plants succeed and soon he agreed to consider a loan. ‘I just wanted to be successful,’ he said and swallowed his pride.
With Santiago’s first loan, he was able to rent some new land on the Pacific coast where his business partner, who is also his youngest son, bought some new seeds, hired some help, and planted a crop of Moringa trees. Moringa trees originate from India, but are known here as the árbol milagroso or the árbol de la vida (the ‘miracle tree’ or the ‘tree of life’). There are many uses for all of the parts of the Moringa tree – the leaves, flowers, pods of seeds, bark and even the roots – and they all have lots of nutritional value. (Santiago was very excited about sharing his knowledge of this powerful tree, reading me the long list of vitamins and minerals that each leaf contains).
This investment has already shown a rapid return. With a new profit realized from the Moringa trees on the coast even before his current loan was due, Santiago decided to plant his own poinsettia plants back at the vivero in San Juan Alotengango. He had bought fully grown plants in the past and had re-sold them at his vivero, but he had never cultivated them before starting from just their seeds.
After learning how to plant and care for the poinsettia from a friend, he invested his earnings from the Moringa in new poinsettia seeds and a new, large greenhouse. The greenhouse alone was an immense investment – as it meant clearing the land at the back of the current nursery, buying the materials to build it with and supplying the labor to put it all together. As in many places around the world, poinsettia are very popular plants during the Christmas season – and this was Santiago’s strategy. He would be able to spend the next few months cultivating the plants, have a plentiful demand, and then we would be able to earn his entire profit all at once at the end of the year.
As he talked about his plans for even more Moringa trees and a second greenhouse for even more poinsettia, you could see the pride shining through on Santiago’s face. But the good kind of pride, we confirmed — not the kind that had prevented him in his past from seeking assistance. He told me that if that was the case, then yes, he was very proud. He told me that having never attended any school as a child growing up (his mom had died when he was nine years old, he was raised by his father and started working at a young age), he was proud that he now attends primary school on the weekends. He is also proud to be able to offer jobs to the four or five men who work for him at the vivero. ‘I want to be able to employ even more people, so that they can be able to feed their families,’ he said.
When I left Santiago’s vivero, I saw that it was actually called the Vivero la Ceiba de Oro – a fitting name I thought, as it describes one of the largest trees in the region, and that this one is made of gold.