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
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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Producers on Ometepe Island
Producers on Ometepe Island

By promoting Quality Protein Maize (QPM), Self-Help International’s agricultural program in Nicaragua strives to reduce hunger and malnutrition among rural Nicaraguan communities and improve the incomes of small farmers who produce corn for commercialization. QPM is a non-genetically modified corn that produces higher yields than traditional creole corn grown in Nicaragua and has double the amount of digestible protein as traditional corn.

Many subsistence farm families cannot afford to purchase protein-rich foods such as meat, eggs, or dairy products. QPM allows families to grow an affordable source of protein, which is critical to childhood brain development. Growing QPM also enables struggling farm families to feed themselves and to sell surplus corn for supplemental income. 

Self-Help plants what is called “basic” seed at its Quinta Lidia headquarters and its Ochomogo agricultural plot. The planted basic seed yields “registered” seed, which is formally approved (as registered) by the Nicaraguan government. Self-Help then sells the registered seed to a core group of 10-15 farmers in the San Carlos and Ochomogo areas so they can produce Certified Seed. Self-Help loans money to these farmers for fertilizer and pesticides; the cost of the treatment; certification; and storage of the seed performed by the government.  The farmers pay back these loans and provide all labor and land for seed production.  They own the certified seed they produce and receive the funds from selling it. Self-Help oversees the process of cleaning, treating, testing, certifying and storing the certified seed.

Once the certified seed is ready for market, it is then sold to the public as “seed corn” in Self-Help labeled bags. Private crop input businesses (agroservicios) order the certified seed from Self-Help’s seed producing partners who - with Self-Help administrative support - transport it and sell it to individual farmers who produce commercial QPM corn. Commercial QPM corn still has elevated protein levels and produces substantially more volume of corn per land unit than traditional varieties. The commercial farmers consume the QPM corn at home and sell the excess in local open markets.

Since 2018, Self-Help has worked to expand the regions served by QPM corn. This expansion has featured Ometepe Island, a large volcanic island situated in the middle of Lake Nicaragua. This island is inhabited by approximately 30,000 Nicaraguans, who can benefit from increased protein and yields from QPM corn. Since 2018, Self-Help has supported the sale of this certified seed corn on Ometepe Island at the Agroservicios de Rivas and Isla de Ometepe and by way of partner cooperative BIOMETEPE. 

In February 2021, Self-Help Nicaragua Country Director Jorge Campos, provided training to four potential seed producers and five technicians at the BIOMETEPE Cooperative on Ometepe Island. These farmers have extensive experience in the commercial production of QPM corn, and the technicians are very adept at providing technical support and follow-up. 

Jorge trained the group on methods of seed selection, as well as on the technical aspects and agronomic management of corn, fertilization, pollination and nutrition plans. Jorge reports that this group has much experience in agroecology and the use of organic products, as agriculture on Ometepe Island must be especially environmentally friendly due to it being a protected and fragile ecology. The trainees later planted demonstration plots; and in June 2021, Jorge held a second training for the same group, who learned from and assessed the impressive work of their demonstration plots.

“Seeing their performance, we [at Self-Help] asked [the farmers] if they were willing to form a small group of Certified Seed Producers and the response was positive. That is why we are proposing a first training in the seed production and trade law, so that they have this knowledge and follow the certification process, the requirements for the production, processing, packaging and storage of seeds, and their commercialization,” said Jorge.

It is exciting that Self-Help is expanding to a new group of seed producers on Ometepe Island. In 2021, six producers in the San Carlos region intended on working with Self-Help production, though that number reduced to four. Now, Self-Help can confidently progress with a new group of seed producing leaders, all of whom have irrigation and planting areas free of contamination by pollen from other maize. Jorge acknowledges that there is a “drawback [in] transferring the seed to the plant in Managua; however, the Self-Help team will work with them to evaluate production and marketing costs.” 

Jorge coordinates closely with the Nicaraguan government to provide this training and will supply support from Self-Help with registered seed; financing for the production of certified seed; advice, training, technical monitoring and coordination with the technicians of the BIOMETEPE Cooperative in each of the phases and processes; administrative assistance for the certification and sale of certified seed; assistance and advice in the processes of Industrial Conditioning and Cold Room Storage; and training on the costs of productions, so that producers can make decisions about the market and commercialization.

We are excited to see how this new group of agricultural leaders helps support Ometepe Islanders in accessing improved crops and increased protein!

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Leaders coordinate production loans with Rodolfo
Leaders coordinate production loans with Rodolfo

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.

The following farmers are examples of three key leaders from the communities of San Agustín, Nueva Armenia, and Las Minas.  All three of them began collaborating with Self-Help to produce certified seed corn.  As of 2021, they have taken responsibility for helping their neighbors obtain financing to buy needed inputs and market their products.

Isidro is the president of the Los Chiles Cooperative, which has 46 members.  He is also responsible for the biofortified bean seed bank in his community. Through Isidro’s efforts, the members of the Cooperative plus four other farmers in his community received loans from Self-Help.  They depend on the leadership, decision-making, and hard work that Isidro demonstrates every day.  In 2019, he was presented with the SHI Merry Fredrick Leadership Award for his efforts.

Ariel is from the community of Nueva Armenia.  Besides facilitating loans for his group of 22 farmers, he shares with them the agricultural knowledge he has learned from Self-Help.  Although the farmers each receive individual loans, Ariel knows them all personally and is responsible for both the disbursement and the recovery of the funds.  You can read more about Ariel’s role in improving agriculture in his community in the April GlobalGiving report

Basilio is the leader with the largest number of producers under his responsibility. He has taken charge of a group of 39 farmers from Las Minas.  He helps them obtain financing from Self-Help and passes on the knowledge and strategies and he has learned through the Self-Help agriculture program.

In April 2020 every one of the farmers receiving a loan repaid it on time, despite disruptions to the Nicaraguan economy from the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

For the most recent planting season, beginning in September-October 2020, 65 farmers received loans totaling 429,480 Córdobas, or about $12,600 US.  Loans are to be repaid within a period of 7 months, after the crops are harvested.  April 2021 was the deadline for cancellation of the loans.  Of the 65 cooperating producers, only 3 of them had not repaid yet as of April 2021, resulting in a 96% repayment rate (with anticipated 100% later in 2021).

Each producer who works with these three leaders has confidence that everything will turn out well, that they will achieve better yields with their crops, and, after repaying their loans, he will have extra money to expand his corn plantings and improve his family’s living situation.

Self-Help has confidence in these three leaders because they know the people in their communities and their needs, and have earned their trust.  They have become vital intermediaries in fulfilling Self-Help’s mission. 

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Ariel with the QPM harvest (photo by Alex Herrera)
Ariel with the QPM harvest (photo by Alex Herrera)

Ariel is without a doubt one of the most recognized seed corn producers in the community of Las Minas, Nicaragua.

Originally from the town of El Rama, Ariel arrived in Las Minas in 1994 when he married his wife, who was from there originally.  Needing to support his family and not finding work locally, he emigrated to the neighboring country of Costa Rica from 2002 to 2006, where he worked as a field hand.

Ariel returned to Nicaragua in 2007 after realizing that the work he was doing only generated profits for others.  He began to work his own land, returning to Costa Rica periodically to earn money by harvesting coffee. 

When Ariel first returned to Nicaragua, farming was totally different.  Corn was planted by throwing the seed over the ground and then covering it with the stubble from the previous crop.  With this planting system, he harvested yields of only 30 to 40 bushels per acre.  

In 2011, Ariel learned that the priest in his community had organized a group of farmers to work with Self-Help International.  They were planting corn plots and evaluating different varieties to observe which ones behaved best in that area. The group also began to receive training in the double-row planting system. Soon, Ariel was one of several farmers chosen to produce high-protein (QPM) seed corn.  

Thanks to the training that Self-Help provided, Ariel is now able to harvest nearly 100 bushels of corn per acre. Plus, the certified seed he now grows can be sold for a higher price.  He has a goal of producing 500 bushels of certified seed corn each year to be distributed throughout the region by agricultural input dealers, so that other small producers of the region can also benefit.  In addition, he will grow 12 acres of commercial corn because it can be sold sooner than the seed corn.  His motto now is, “Plant less but harvest more.”

With extra profits from his seed corn production, Ariel has been able to purchase tools that make his field work easier, such as a sprayer for applying agro-chemicals.  Self-Help also helped him obtain a gasoline-powered corn sheller, which is used both by him and by other farmers in the community.  He has made several improvements to his home, too.  For example, because he lives far from the electrical grid, he installed solar panels on his roof for lighting his house. 

Ariel and his wife have managed to help their children obtain better educations.  Currently, they have one child who is an engineer in sustainable rural agriculture, a teacher who is still studying, a barber, and a high school student who helps with the field work. All of this they attribute to their collaboration with Self-Help.

Ariel is a responsible farmer who is also a respected leader in his community.  He has formed a group of 22 other small producers who have taken advantage of the agricultural financing offered by Self-Help to help them purchase crop inputs.  His group has had a 100 percent repayment rate on their loans.  Thanks to his efforts, these producers have improved their quality of life and contributed to the well-being of their community.

Ariel with Rodolfo (photo by Alex Herrera)
Ariel with Rodolfo (photo by Alex Herrera)

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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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