Dona Panchita—successful farmer


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Content: Doña Francisca Cabral has been farming in San José de los Arroyos, Paraguay, for 55 years. She grows a variety of fruits, vegetables, and grains. She also raises goats and fish.


This is the story of Doña Francisca Cabral, known affectionately to her friends as Doña Panchita, of San José de los Arroyos in Paraguay. For 55 years she has dedicated her life to her farm.

Doña Panchita didn’t grow up on a farm. Her life as a farmer started at age 20 when, newly married, her husband became very sick and could no longer work. The doctor said that a move to the country could help her husband’s health. At this time, Doña Panchita asked her uncle for advice. He said that if the family was going to the country, then she should buy a small farm so she could grow some food and save money. The ideal plot of land, he said, would have some open fields, flowing water, such as a stream, and a woodlot. She searched for three months and finally found a farm that satisfied her.

This was the beginning of a new life for Doña Panchita, who grew up in the city. Really it was a completely different world. She remembers the first years of farming when success did not come easily and many days were a struggle. She remembers one experience at corn planting time.

“It was in the middle of June and I wanted to plant an early variety of corn. I began to dig some small holes to plant the corn. From his chair on the porch of our house, my husband said: `Don’t stamp so hard on the ground. It’s not dynamite that you’re planting!’

“Well then, I just used my hands to cover up the corn with earth so that it would grow easily. The corn plants sprouted nicely, but immediately afterwards came the birds, called in our country `guirao’ and tore them all up. I was very sad, very sad. The next day, my son and I got up at four in the morning when it was just getting light and was still freezing. We planted our corn once more and once more it was lost because at that time, in 1941-42, there were many `guirao.’ You had to make scarecrows and even scare the birds off yourself. I was very discouraged. I told my husband: `Manuel, I am not going to become a farmer. It’s barbaric! How can we allow ourselves to be beaten by a bunch of birds!’ But I immediately reconsidered when I saw how sad that made my husband. He had such a weak heart.

“I said: `Give me a letter of introduction to take to the Ministry of Agriculture so that I can get some training. We can’t go on living like this.’ He gave me the letter and I went to the Ministry. An agricultural engineer told me to dig a hole for the corn 9-10 cm deep; throw some earth into it, and then the seeds; cover it well, and then stamp down on it hard with both feet. From that day on, I have used this method and I haven’t had any more problems with those birds. That was my first lesson in planting.”


Doña Panchita grows pasture crops, peanuts, vegetables, and fruits. She recently started to grow sugar cane for extra income. If you visit her farm, you see fruit trees everywhere. She has plums, citrus, bananas, grapes, peaches, and guariyaque, a local fruit which is delicious eaten fresh. She wanted to produce just about everything she needs on the farm. She has done very well. These days, she only has to go to town to buy soap, kerosene, and medicine. Everything else is produced on the farm.


Doña Panchita likes to talk about her livestock. She has chickens, ducks, pigs, and goats. Perhaps her favourite animal is the goat. She says there are many advantages to goats. First, she says, the goats are like the garbage can of the farm. Most of the waste from the farm can be used as feed for the goats. Goats can eat plants that many other animals, such as cows, can’t eat.

Goats mature and reproduce quickly. And, says Doña Panchita, you always have meat. For example, if an unexpected guest arrives at the house and you’re not prepared, you can always offer goat meat.

The fact that goats will eat just about anything can be a problem. If they are let loose to wander, they will eat crops, bushes, tree bark—whatever they can find. To solve this problem, Doña Panchita keeps her goats in a small, simple, wooden goat house. From time to time, she takes them out to pasture for a couple of hours, and then takes them back to the goat house.

Doña Panchita finds that goats are easy to raise and she says they are the perfect animals for a farmer with limited space and resources.

Raising fish

A few years ago, a friend went to a conference about fish raising in Costa Rica. When he returned home, he convinced Doña Panchita that she should try fish farming. He said that she had perfect conditions for raising fish on her land because she had running water. He even brought her three pairs of fish, three males and three females. She put them in a small pond that was 60 centimetres by 120 centimetres (2 feet by 4 feet). The fish reproduced rapidly and after only three months, she was able to harvest many fish for her family to eat.

She is raising a type of fish called tilapia. There are many advantages of tilapia. For example:

1. They are easy to breed and they reproduce quickly.

2. The ponds where they live don’t need to be very big so not much space is needed.

3. The inputs are waste products from her farm such as manure and kitchen wastes.

4. They are resistant to disease.

5. They provide a good source of protein for her family.

Doña Panchita explains how the fish feed. She puts cow and pig manure in the pond. The manure is fertilizer for algae. So the algae grow and the fish eat the algae. She also feeds the fish cassava leaves, leftover oranges, grapefruit, potato leaves, other greens, and kitchen waste.

She is happy with six small ponds which provide her with enough fish to meet her family’s needs. The fish multiply rapidly. Sometimes they even produce too well because the female starts to lay many eggs at a very young age. If Doña Panchita is not careful, the pool can become overpopulated and the fish will not grow properly. To avoid having too many fish in her ponds, Doña Panchita separates the males and females and keeps them in different ponds. If she does find that there are too many fish in one pond, she feeds the extra fish, live, to her pigs and chickens. She says she just throws them to the chickens the way she throws them corn.

Information sources

Interview with Doña Panchita sent by Licda. Mafalda Adlán de Vargas, Co-ordinator of the Federación de Cooperativas de Producción Ltda. (FECOPROD) in Asunción, Paraguay.