Improve Nicaraguan Farmers Nutrition & Incomes

by Self-Help International
Improve Nicaraguan Farmers Nutrition & Incomes
Improve Nicaraguan Farmers Nutrition & Incomes
Improve Nicaraguan Farmers Nutrition & Incomes
Improve Nicaraguan Farmers Nutrition & Incomes
Improve Nicaraguan Farmers Nutrition & Incomes
Improve Nicaraguan Farmers Nutrition & Incomes
Improve Nicaraguan Farmers Nutrition & Incomes
Improve Nicaraguan Farmers Nutrition & Incomes
Improve Nicaraguan Farmers Nutrition & Incomes
Improve Nicaraguan Farmers Nutrition & Incomes
Improve Nicaraguan Farmers Nutrition & Incomes
Improve Nicaraguan Farmers Nutrition & Incomes
Improve Nicaraguan Farmers Nutrition & Incomes
Improve Nicaraguan Farmers Nutrition & Incomes
Improve Nicaraguan Farmers Nutrition & Incomes
Improve Nicaraguan Farmers Nutrition & Incomes
Mario Eugenio Hernandez
Mario Eugenio Hernandez

Mario is from the community of El Tamboral Sur, a municipality of San Miguelito, and is currently the leader of 17 farmers in that community.

Mario recently shared his experience with the Self-Help International staff. He said, “This is the first time I have seen the double row technique using the INTA Nutrader corn variety. The experimental plot that I established was well cared for and the variety seemed excellent to me. The plant is small and it adapts to different climatic conditions.”

As a farmer, Mario first prepared the land by removing all the weeds. He explained, “I did not apply any fertilizer. I just kept cleaning the corn to keep it free of weeds and the results obtained were unbelievable.”

Many other farmers in his community did not have much confidence in the double row planting system that was taught by the Self-Help technician. However, Mario soon saw a big difference between the new technique and traditional planting methods.”I noticed a change in the growing stage and the yields were better so we now can accept that the technique has very good results. This type of corn has a sweet flavor and is desired by the children. Tortillas have a very good taste and the family liked it so much that my wife and children did not want to eat the other variety of corn. I was upset because they were not going to let me save seeds to plant the next planting season,” he said.

 At the end of harvest, Mario estimated that one manzana of this type of corn with the double row technique yields 72 QQ which is double compared to just 30 QQs per manzana using the old method.

Mario encourages other farmers to implement the double row technique and to use the INTA – Nutrader corn because it helps improve yields, provides a higher percentage of proteins, and it is suitable for the area with limited land resources. He commented, “With this plot experiment, we have realized that this variety of corn produces cobs without the need to apply any fertilizer which is helpful because fertilizer is difficult to obtain due to the distance of the agriservice and the expensive prices to buy agrochemical products. I want to thanks the Self-Help organization for provided us with the skill and knowledge through training to continue to improve the yields in the rural sector in Nicaragua.”

He also invites other farmers to continue using this planting technique since the results are very good as long as farmers follow the precise management necessary during the different stages of the plant. Mario added, “This type of corn incorporates vitamins and minerals into our diet, necessary for the growth and development of growing children, through the basic grains that the organization donates to different families in the agricultural sector. I will continue working hand in hand with the organization to continue improving our planting techniques and acquiring more knowledge and technologies that help us improving our production.”

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Key leaders collaborate with SHI.
Key leaders collaborate with SHI.

The mission of Self-Help International is to, “Alleviate hunger by helping people to help themselves.”  In Nicaragua, Self-Help has adopted a three-pronged approach to assist farmers in improving the quality and quantity of food they produce.

The crucial elements are: (1) access to improved seeds, such as high protein (QPM) corn and biofortified beans; (2) improved knowledge of agricultural practices, communicated through workshops, demonstration plots, and social media postings; and (3) short-term loans using funds received from Self-Help donors.  Access to credit allows farmers to not only acquire improved seeds but also purchase the fertilizer, pesticides, and seed protection inputs they need to take full advantage of the genetic potential of the seed they purchase.

At the beginning, Self-Help provided credit to a group of farmers who agreed to produce certified QPM seed corn, which was then channeled into the commercial agricultural input market.  In 2019, the credit program was extended to a larger group of 68 farmers who, after completing the necessary training, planted the certified QPM seed and produced commercial corn.

After meeting their own families’ nutritional needs, farmers marketed their extra production to other families in the community.  This provided the farmers with cash income to spend on other priorities such as education for their children and home improvements.

Self-Help has developed this innovative model that identifies leading farmers in each community who in turn identify other farmers whom they consider to be good credit risks.  These leaders help arrange loans from Self-Help to purchase seed and other crop inputs.  They also take responsibility for seeing that the loans are repaid after the crops are harvested.  By utilizing local leaders, Self-Help leverages its professional expertise and capital to benefit many more families.

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Jose learned new farm techniques from SHI.
Jose learned new farm techniques from SHI.

José grew up in the Mexico community in San Carlos, Rio San Juan, Nicaragua. As an adult, José moved 20 kilometers away to the La Zopilota community, where he worked as a farm manager.  Three years ago, he returned to Mexico where he farms his father’s land, which he rents.

In 2020, José read about Self-Help International’s double-row planting technique and using quality protein maize (QPM) called INTA-Nutrader. He spoke with a SHI staff person who explained the farming techniques to him and purchased INTA-Nutrader corn. He followed the instructions and used the recommended fertilizers - Urea at 46% and Completo 15-15-15.

José recounts, “Once all the planting and fertilization activities were carried out using this variety of corn and the planting technique, I did not obtain the expected results, due to negative factors in the area including drought and pests (mice and zanates [a local bird]). As soon as the plants began emerging the pests caused serious damage and ruined much of the harvest. Then, there was a heavy rainstorm where I thought I would not harvest anything. But, these problems showed that the variety of maize was resistant to both drought and heavy rains. At harvest time, I went to the field and saw that there was lots of healthy corn, some corn that had peeled ends, and a few cobs in poor condition. Despite all the negative conditions, I obtained a yield of 20 quintales (2,000 pounds) shelled corn, which we used for both family consumption and to feed our farm animals. From this, I concluded that this maize has great characteristics that it works for us farmers in these rainy areas. It has a medium-sized cob and a solid grain of good weight. And, when the corn is consumed in the form of a tortilla, it has a different flavor. I have also observed that when I feed this corn to my farm animals they gain weight quickly, in a matter of months, and the flavor of the meat when consumed tastes better than when they have been fed with another type of corn or concentrate. From the moment of first consuming this corn, it’s the only one I’m willing to feed my family. I liked the planting technique practiced and I believe that this helps many people who do not have their own land to establish our plots of corn crops to make better use of the land.

In 2021, I was part of a group of farmers who received training in the double row planting technique. The training was precise, concise and formal, and we learned how to do the planting, the times to apply fertilizer, and how and when to care for the maize to obtain even better results from it. I believe that the organization is doing a good job with farmers from different communities by teaching about this variety of corn and the planting techniques, and by providing in-kind financing (seed and inputs) to farmers to provide the best assistance.

I was selected to obtain financing, and decided to plant 1 manzana of corn, which was a risk because the first time the pests only left me one half a manzana of corn. But, I knew the corn was high yielding and very resistant, so I again rented land and planted. But, I made the mistake of sowing in the dry season and the seed did not germinate. Two weeks passed without any rain, and then the heavy rains came. I checked the seed and it was germinating, but most of the seed died by drowning. Of the 80 rows I had planted in the manzana only 45 survived. But, of those 45 rows the ears were good sized and had excellent characteristics and from these I have obtained 40 quintales (4,000 pounds) of yield. In total, if there had been no problems at all I could have expected 80 quintales (8,000 pounds) from my manzana.

I urge other farmers to carry out this technique, which is of great use for those of us who have low economic resources. This allows us to continue improving our production and for us to develop as farmers and pass new knowledge down to our offspring and have a better future for Nicaraguan families. I also recommend consuming varieties of corn rich in protein and minerals and encourage farmers to stop planting corn that is harmful to our health. I also urge farmers to put into practice all the knowledge acquired [from these trainings]. Let’s get ahead and leave traditional farming methods.

I am grateful to the organization for being one of the few in the area that works hand-in-hand with farmers and provides us with new technologies to improve agriculture in our area. I wish the best for you and thank you for the support provided. We will continue working using the methods we’ve been taught [from SHI] and will share our new knowledge with neighbors to continue improving agriculture.”

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Roger working with his team to cultivate.
Roger working with his team to cultivate.

Roger is originally from Achuapa, León in western Nicaragua, but hecurrently lives in the La Concha community located between the communities of Mexico and Mata de Caña in San Carlos. He’s lived there for 23 years with his family of six. His wife owns a small shop and his children help him work the fields when they aren’t studying. They are a working family and everyone contributes to the family income.

Roger lived for a time in Costa Rica where he learned how to work the fields. He later decided to return to Nicaragua and bought a small piece of land in the community where he currently lives. He began to work his land, sowing corn and beans. He used the earnings from these crops to purchase small livestock, mainly pigs. He supported his wife who also worked and contributed to their family’s income and improvement.

Self-Help International’s Agriculture Program visited Roger, and Roger was intrigued by Rodolfo’s, Self-Help’s Agriculture Program Officer, explanation of Self-Help cultivation techniques to obtain higher maize yields while minimizing farming expenses. Rodolfo explained that program involvement required forming a group of local farmers to share knowledge of a new farming technique by planting a demonstration plot with a new variety of high quality protein maize (QPM) called INTA Nutrader. 

At first, Roger was hesitant to join this farming group because there were many pest problems (mice) and he wasn’t sure they would succeed. When explaining his hesitation to Rodolfo, Rodolfo responded and said that he would learn as much from the farmers as the farmers would learn from him and Self-Help. So, Roger accepted Rodolfo’s proposal and brought seven local farmers to the training at which they established a demonstration plot. 

They sowed four pounds of QPM seed donated for the demonstration plot by Self-Help, establishing an area of 441 square meters. They learned that the seed they sowed had to be treated with chemicals to protect it from pests, which was something these farmers hadn’t previously done. They were also instructed to leave at least two clean meters around the plot to lower the incidence of affectation by mice and to let the maize soak with either a chemical called Counter or with black wood, a common tree in the area. The farmers followed these instructions and had success. 

The farmers cared for this demonstration plot, but the fertilizers recommended by Self-Help didn’t exist at the market due to numerous external controls affecting agricultural inputs across Nicaragua. Instead, the farmers cared for this plot using traditional methods and obtained a harvest of 350 pounds of dry corn. This yield convinced the farmers that the planting technique and INTA-Nutrader QPM variety was very good. They were pleased to see that this maize variety yielded such good results in overworked soil with minimal chemical inputs (only given one application of herbicide and two of urea application). To them, this result was more than excellent, since their normal yields would have been between 2500 to 3000 pounds per manzana, which would have been the equivalent of 5600 pounds on this parcel of land, increasing production by more than 100%. The group found this experience to be very important, and will sow the seed they harvested in the last season. 

Roger explains that he used to sow in a traditional way with five corn cobs where the gross production was 12,000 pounds. Now, he will establish two manzanas in the second season and his production will be similar, but his production costs will be less.        

“Currently I am a partner of the Agriculture Program, and I thank Self-Help International for the support provided during the experiment and the opportunity to purchase the inputs for the last harvest cycle,” Roger said.

Cultivating.
Cultivating.
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Pedro in his fields.
Pedro in his fields.

Pedro is a farmer from Nueva Guinea in the South Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region of Nicaragua. Since 2009, he has lived with his family in the community of El Espejo N ° 1 in Rio San Juan. Before moving to El Espejo, Pedro spent two years in Costa Rica working in the fields.

Pedro is responsible, hard-working, and honest. He is an example to the other members of the farming groups he leads, especially because he farms with an open-minded attitude. Pedro farms by using knowledge that was passed down to him by his grandparents, and he blends that knowledge with the training he’s acquired over the years from different governmental and non-governmental organizations, including Self-Help International.

Pedro first got involved with Self-Help International in 2017 when he learned about Self-Help’s Clean Water Program, and he is a volunteer on his local Water and Sanitation Committee (CAPS). In 2019, Pedro learned about Self Help’s Agriculture Program from Self-Help’s Clean Water Program Officer, Orlando Montiel Salas. During a clean water training session, Pedro saw a Self-Help demonstration plot and walked over to it to check it out. 

Pedro wasn’t sure what he would find in the demonstration plot, and he was surprised to see so many corn stalks planted close together. He didn’t think the plants would  yield much corn because they were planted so closely together. After the clean water training session wrapped up, Pedro went back to look at the demonstration plot and measure the distance between the corn plants.

“The next day, I proceeded to sow my field in the same way with the same distances between plants that Self-Help had in its plot,” Pedro said. “I selected seed from my harvest - just native seed that had been mixed with many varieties of corn in the field.”

Pedro’s seeds yielded a larger, taller plant variety than the one at Self-Help’s demonstration plot, and his corn didn’t produce much. He used that yield for his animals and continued to use the double-row technique he had seen in the Self-Help demonstration plot.

Later in 2019, there was another clean water program workshop, and Pedro once again saw Self-Help’s demonstration plot. He asked for someone to explain the double-row planting method, and the Clean Water Program Officer told him to contact Self-Help’s Nicaragua Director, Jorge Campos.

 

Pedro is Able to Be More Effective with Double-Row Planting

Once Pedro was able to connect with the Agricultural Program Officer, Rodolfo Navas, Rodolfo said that Self-Help could do a training in Pedro’s community about the double-row planting method using the Quality Protein Maize (QPM) seed variety, INTA-Nutrader. In this training, Self-Help could also establish a demonstration plot. 

Pedro and other community farmers attended the training and listened to Self-Help’s recommendations.

“I realized that my previous attempts to do the double-row planting method didn’t work because I didn’t use a type of maize that could tolerate being planted so close together - the maize I used was too big,” Pedro said. “INTA-Nutrader is smaller and can tolerate being planted close together.”

The group of farmers proceeded to plant a 625-square-meter (one tarea) area with four pounds of maize on Pedro’s farm. That year in 2019, Self-Help donated four pounds of maize to every group member.

“These seeds served as an experiment for us because I had already established my 1.5 manzana 30 before planting these seeds,” Pedro said.

“The maize crop that I had established before working with Self-Help yielded 45 quintales of corn and the small plot that we sowed with the double-row technique yielded five and a half quintales of corn,” Pedro said.

“I would have harvested more, but in 2019 there were many pests in both the soil and leaves,” Pedro explained. “We were able to combat some of these pests with the help and suggestions of Self-Help’s Program Officer, who introduced us to new products that we had no idea were for sale in our local agro shops.”

“With the results I obtained in my 625-square-meter (one tarea) plot, I calculated that in one manzana I would obtain between 80 and 88 quintales of corn using the double-row planting technique and the INTA-Nutrader seed variety,” Pedro said - nearly double what he had yielded in the plot he had established without the INTA-Nutrader seed variety. 

All group members received four pounds of corn from the organization and all planted the 625-square-meter plot, but most of the group did not see results since they did not attend to the field on time and pests affected all the plants. Of the group of 14, only four including Pedro were able to see results in the yields obtained. One farmer ate some of his yield and said the rest of the plot was stolen from him, but he estimated he could have harvested four quintales. The other two farmers obtained three and a half quintales in their parcels which had also been impacted by pests.

 

Helping to Teach Other Farmers about Double-Row Planting

“In 2021, I am continuing to provide an example to farmers in my community by carrying out this planting technique,” Pedro said.

“In establishing one manzana of maize on my farm, I divide it in the following way: one half a manzana with the double-row method using INTA-Nutrader and one half manzana planted using traditional methods,” Pedro said. “I do this to show my friends and other farmers who pass through my field to get to the nearest town. This has helped me to increase yields, make better use of my land, and spend less to produce. “I’m able to provide work for others at harvest time, and I advise them to sow in this way so they can all benefit.”

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Self-Help International

Location: Waverly, IA - USA
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Twitter: @SelfHelpIntl
Project Leader:
Katie Seifert
Waverly, IA United States
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