Supporting sustainable economic development
and direct trade in Guatemala

Backwards Farmers or Backwards Thinking?

stubborn_mule_00CA548E-046C-698F-D4B8489DB3FA6A3FI’ve been guilty of thinking that a farmer in the hills of Guatemala is backwards. I realize now that he and I simply have different world views, neither of which is right nor wrong.

The other day, we were measuring land that three As Green As It Gets coffee farmers are in the process of purchasing. The owner wanted to sell it in units of varas, or the distance from sternum to fingertip. I wanted to measure it in meters, a unit I felt was clearly superior to the vara. As I reflected upon this for a moment, I realized that I had paid the equivalent of 2 day’s wages for my ruler, marked in units that were based on an arbitrary number of wavelengths of light traveled an arbitrary number of gazillionths of a second, measured in a laboratory on expensive equipment by scientists I’ve never met using math and physics I’ll never be able to grasp. Meanwhile, the landowner has his ruler with him wherever he goes, it is based on a solid understanding he can grasp, and it didn’t cost him one centavo. I’m no longer sure which unit is superior.

I come from a world of advanced technology. My training tells me that advanced technology is superior, but again I wonder. I recently had to calibrate a number of coffee scales. There were spring scales, platform scales, and digital scales. The most accurate was a balance, wrought from scrap iron. It was inelegant, in that it had to be hung from a tree to work, but beautifully accurate. It had slides that enabled it to measure from 1/10 of a pound to 1000 lbs. It could measure a greater range of weights than any of the other scales.

My scale is electronic, battery operated, and in local economic terms, cost an obscene amount of money. But it is superior in that it can measure weights to the 1/1000th of a pound. Granted, I don’t often need 1/1000th of a pound of anything, but if I did, I could measure it.

I hope the farmers don’t think of me as backwards. Sure, any time I want to make a measurement of land I have to spend 2 hours walking back to the office to find my tape measure. And I can never measure coffee on my own scale because the batteries are dead. But I’m not backwards. I just have a different world view. I hope they understand.