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Feb 3, 2020

Bio-fortified Bean Distribution Marks a New Chapter in Self-Help's Fight Against Malnutrition

Jorge Campos inspects the five sacks of beans.
Jorge Campos inspects the five sacks of beans.

By Jorge Campos Solis, Country Director, Self-Help Nicaragua and Jerry Perkins, member of the board of directors, Self-Help International.

Los Chiles, Nicaragua– Self-Help International Nicaragua began a new chapter in its agricultural development program in November 2019 when, for the first time, 450 pounds of beans that have been bio-fortified with extra iron and zinc were distributed to 30 farmers in the Los Chiles region in southeastern Nicaragua. Harvest of the beans is expected to begin in March.

Another 50 pounds of the bio-fortified beans, which are named “Rendidor” in Spanish, have been planted on two Self-Help demonstration and experimental plots.

The Rendidor bio-fortified beans represent the first new crop introduced by Self-Help Nicaragua since 1999, when Self-Help began working in Nicaragua with the planting of Quality Protein Maize (QPM), a high-protein corn variety that was developed at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) in Mexico.

QPM was brought to Nicaragua by Self-Help soon after Hurricane Mitch decimated much of Central America’s agricultural infrastructure between Oct. 22 and Nov. 9, 1998, when it became the second-deadliest Atlantic hurricane on record.


The Benefits of Bio-fortified

This year, Self-Help will distribute bio-fortified rice to its cooperating farmers to strengthen its mission of addressing hunger and malnutrition among the most vulnerable people living in both urban and rural areas. Especially affected by the scarcity in the quantity and quality of food are women, children, and the elderly who do not receive the micro-nutrients they need to lead healthy and productive lives.

QPM was introduced by Self-Help because it has a higher level of protein than conventional corn varieties that have traditionally been grown in Nicaragua. Numerous studies have shown that the higher protein level of QPM improves the physical and mental development of children and young people, which makes them more productive in adulthood.

It has 90% of the protein found in skim milk, which makes it an ideal way for people, especially children, to get a higher intake of protein when they consume tortillas and other corn-based food products made from QPM. QPM also yields more per acre and people say they like its taste.

The new bio-fortified bean seeds that have been distributed by Self-Help will expand the organization’s mission to provide farmers and consumers with an improved diet. Rendidor beans contain 60% more iron (86 parts per million, or ppm) and 50% more zinc (43 ppm) compared to the traditional bean varieties (frijoles criollos) grown in Nicaragua. The improved nutritional content of the bio-fortified beans has been confirmed in nutritional studies, according to the Nicaraguan Institute of Agricultural Technology (INTA).


The Where, Why, and How of it All

Nicaraguan families typically consume a diet of rice, beans, and corn (in the form of tortillas and other corn-based foods like tamales and nacatamales). In Nicaragua, a popular saying is “Full stomach, happy heart.” But there is also a hidden problem of malnutrition in people who are overweight because of their excessive consumption of carbohydrates, fats, and table salt that stomachs, but that doesn’t mean they are properly nourished.

Because Self-Help is adding bio-fortified rice and beans to the QPM corn on Nicaraguans’ plates, people who have not be able to have an adequately nutritious diet will now have food that is rich in protein, fiber, and essential micro-nutrients.

The bio-fortified beans have been developed at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT is the acronym for its name in Spanish) in Colombia, a non-profit organization that conducts agricultural research as one of CGIAR’s 15 center members. CGIAR is the world’s largest partnership of agricultural research-for-development organizations.

Also involved in the project is HarvestPlus, which is part of the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health (A4NH). HarvestPlus is a Washington, DC-based organization that seeks to improve nutrition and public health by developing and promoting bio-fortified food crops. HarvestPlus also supports INTA, which sold the 500 pounds of Rendidor bean seed to Self-Help.

On Nov. 12, 2019, Self-Help distributed the Rendidor bio-fortified beans to the farmer-members of the Cooperativa Agrícola Multisectorial Productores Unidos de Los Chiles “San Marcos and San Lucas.” 

Co-op members are community leaders and have had great experiences in bean production. In addition, they also have had more than 18 years experience working with the Los Chiles Bean Seed Bank run by the Catholic Church.

The Rendidor bean variety has a red color, which is similar to the native bean varieties that Nicaraguan farmers are accustomed to growing and eating and have been bred to flourish in the humid tropical climate found in southeastern Nicaragua. To help the beans resist fungal diseases, the architecture of the plants grown from Rendidor seeds is open to allow the entry of light and ventilation among the foliage. The plant’s architecture also permits the control of weeds as well as pests and diseases.

Another important feature is the thick pod that contains the beans, which makes the pod impermeable to heavy rains so that the beans inside the pod aren’t damaged by fungi, nor do they germinate inside the pod. This helps maintain high yields and bean quality.


Getting Down to the Farming

Farmers still need to practice excellent agronomic management by treating the seeds; planting them in a timely manner; applying fertilization at each physiological stage; control weeds, pests, and diseases; and apply proper and careful harvest techniques. Self-Help provides agricultural advice to its cooperating farmers, which ensures that the new bean variety will respond with its maximum yield potential.

It is expected that the 15 pounds of Rendidor beans given to each cooperating farmer will produce an average total yield of 700 pounds. Farmers who received the Rendidor seeds agreed to return 30 pounds of seeds to Self-Help, so the bio-fortified bean seeds can be distributed to more farmers in 2020.

If the 700 pounds of beans are, in fact, harvested, each family will be to keep 300 pounds of beans, which is enough to feed a family of six for a year.

In addition, farmers will have 200 pounds of beans for the next planting cycle in November, which will leave 170 pounds of beans for marketing.

Isidro, president of the Los Chiles Cooperative, said of the bio-fortified beans: “It is a good opportunity to sow a nutritious food for our families. The yields will vary depending on the care and management that each farmer gives his crop. In my case, my family consumes 200 pounds of beans a year. There are four of us living in our home and sometimes my other children visit us on the weekend. I also will save some seed for planting in 2020. I want to try this bean to see if we like it. If the soup that is made from the Rendidor beans is good it will stay in my house and we will consume it. Everything will depend if we all like it.”

Rendidor beans.
Rendidor beans.
Jorge Campos hands out sacks to women farmers.
Jorge Campos hands out sacks to women farmers.


Jan 27, 2020

Milagro is a Woman Farmer Adopting Innovation and New Methods

Milagro on her farm.
Milagro on her farm.

38-year-old Milagro lives in Quinta Lidia, Nicaragua and is a member of Self-Help International’s Women’s Empowerment Program. She works as a farmer, growing bananas and yucas and raising hens. She loves being in nature and loves animals.

Prior to devoting herself to agriculture, she depended entirely on her husband Bladimir who worked as a Civil Engineer. However, Bladimir’s company laid him off due to a reduction of staff. To generate income for her family, Milagro decided to work her father-in-law’s land alongside Bladimir.
One day, Milagro’s neighbor invited her to participate in a Women’s Empowerment training. She timidly agreed to attend, and although she was nervous, she was eager to learn how to start a successful business by learning skills like bookkeeping. She quickly became excited by the training and eagerly shared that her business consisted of selling of hens and roosters.

When she heard about Self-Help’s Agriculture Program and farmers’ increased yields of quality protein maize (QPM), she returned home motivated to share what she’d learned at the training with her husband. She wanted to begin cultivating INTA-Nutrader QPM using Self-Help’s double-row planting method.

Milagro’s husband was very happy to see the change in her after this training, but had doubts about the value of this type of maize. He visited the Self-Help office to speak with Nicaragua Country Director, Jorge Campos, about his doubts. He couldn’t believe one could sow rows of corn so closely together because he’d never planted in that way.

Jorge explained the process to him and provided technical assistance, encouraging the couple to plant half a manzana (~0.9 acres) as an experiment. Milagro received a $300 USD loan to purchase supplies for the experiment and hoped to get a yield of 60 to 70 quintales (~6,000-7,000 lbs). She was tasked with selecting seed from her yields to guarantee planting for the next cycle. She visited her plot each day with great joy and was so happy when she saw that the maize didn’t have any pests.

Milagro puts the knowledge acquired from Self-Help’s training into action. She keeps accounting records of all the expenses they’ve incurred since they planted their experimental plot. Milagro is the first woman to work with Self-Help in growing corn using the double-row method. She hopes to encourage more women to get involved.

Part of Milagro’s harvest will be sold as commercial corn, another part will be used to feed her hens, and the rest will be marketed for sale as seed corn. At one training, Milagro met Adelaida, the owner of a small restaurant in the community of Laurel Galán. Adelaida agreed to purchase Milagro’s corn. Milagro also planted an experimental plot of beans to have beans for consumption and to gain experience in bean production. She also produces oranges, tamarind, lemons, and sour oranges, for which she hopes to eventually find buyers.

Jan 10, 2020

How Tijani Increased Yields Through Adopting Improved Farming Methods

At the farm.
At the farm.

Self-Help International operates in the mostly rural Ashanti region of Ghana where a high proportion of households consist of farmers who are dependent on agriculture as a primary source of food and livelihood. Productivity in the rural areas is very low due to a number of factors including: unpredictable rainfall patterns; farmers opting for less expensive inputs instead of investing in higher quality supplies; and poor technological resources.

Amidst all these hardships faced by farmers as they strive for prosperity, a farmer named Tijani has already started making headway to turn things around for the better by adopting improved farming technologies and agronomic practices.

Tijani is a 49-year-old farmer who lives with his family in  the village of Fankamawe, and he started working with Self-Help International in 2018. As part of the intake process, Self-Help did a needs assessment with Tijani to identify his challenges and knowledge gaps before Self-Help conducted trainings to address those gaps. Among the identified gaps were: record keeping; lack of access to quality inputs; little education on crop disease and pest management; not practicing conservation agriculture; and little knowledge of improved farming technologies and agronomic practices.

Self-Help worked with Tijani through a series of trainings involving classroom work, field visits, and hands-on training related to the gaps he identified with Self-Help. Initially, Tijani was hesitant to adopt some of the new practices, especially those relating to improved farming methods and inputs such as: using a recommended seed rate of 9 kg/acre (20lb/acre); using higher quality maize seed varieties; treating seed before sowing; planting the seed in rows with a recommended spacing of 80 cm x 40 cm (31 in x 16 in); applying fertilizer; managing crop diseases and pests; and timely harvesting. 

Tijani finally agreed to adopt these practices when he witnessed the results of the harvest recorded by the training center. He was linked to the Planting for Food and Jobs package, an initiative by the government of Ghana to supply inputs to farmers at subsidized prices. Self-Help assisted Tijani with marking his row lines and guided him through the planting of his seed and all of the other farming activities through constant visits to his farm and his home.

Upon harvesting his maize, Tijani recorded a yield of 22 bags at 120 kg per bag (264 lbs) on his four acre land, which was an improvement on his previous yield of 12 bags. Tijani donated some of his maize to support Self-Help’s school feeding program in his community.

The price of maize depreciated to 150 Ghanaian Cedi per bag (around $30 USD) at the time Tijani harvested his maize. This worried Tijani because, when he looked at the money he had invested and the price of maize at that time, he would have only made a little bit of a profit. Self-Help introduced Tijani to the use of Purdue Improved Crop Storage (PICS) sacs, hermetically sealed crop storage bags that allow for the longer and safer storage of grains so that farmers can store their maize and sell it when the price appreciates. Tijani managed to purchase 15 PICS sacs through Self-Help to store some of his maize until he could sell it when the price increased again. He is now happy and has placed additional orders for PICS sacs for his minor season maize, which he has yet to harvest.

Tijani shook the hand of Self-Help’s Agriculture and Entrepreneurship Program Officer, Emmanuel, and said with a smile on his face, “Thanks to Self-Help International for all the support over the years and may God bless and strengthen you to continue this good work.”

Emmanuel at the training center.
Emmanuel at the training center.
PICS sacs.
PICS sacs.
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