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
Omar.
Omar.

Across Nicaragua, farmers are greatly challenged by irregular crop sales prices. Many farmers depend on microfinance lending companies to finance their farming operations, but these companies charge very high interest rates. This means that in order to repay the loans, farmers are forced to sell their final products to predatory intermediaries. Since there is no pricing regulatory body for agricultural production, prices are dictated by the intermediaries, who buy up most small- and medium-sized farmers’ products for resale. These farmers often receive unfair prices for their products, and their families’ incomes are hurt in the process. 

Another challenge farmers face is a lack of improved planting systems and not relying  on their empirical farming knowledge inherited from their ancestors. Year after year, production declines due to poor agricultural techniques. This is why Self-Help International’s Agriculture Program provides training and tools (like the double-row planting technique) and technologies (high quality protein maize, or QPM, adapted to the zones and climates of Nicaragua). These allow rural families to fight hunger and improve production. Utilizing existing resources and avoiding soil contamination allow these farmers to advance their agricultural frontiers and have higher crop yields.

Omar is a farmer from Nueva Armenia, Nicaragua, about 45 kilometers from San Carlos in Rio San Juan. Omar has extensive experience in agriculture, which he started working in as a child when his father began teaching him how to produce maize, beans, tubers, and livestock. Sadly, his father - an acclaimed and hard-working farmer -  passed away two months ago. Now, Omar and two of his brothers are supporting their family using the skills their father taught them. Omar’s ten-person family lives together - Omar, his mother, his four brothers, and his four sisters. Five of his siblings are still studying in primary school, and they travel 3 km (approx. 1.9 mi) walking or on horseback to reach their school each day.

Omar is particularly adept at cultivating maize in traditional ways. He is a member of Self-Help’s Agriculture Program and has been trained with the planting system promoted by the organization. Additionally, he’s received production inputs for QPM, which is more nutritious than traditional maize.

However, when Omar entered the program, he, like many farmers, was skeptical of Self-Help’s double-row planting technique. He normally establishes up to 7,056 square meters of maize, and traditionally this one manzana (7,056 square meters) yields around 4,000 pounds of maize. But, he agreed to experiment with double-row planting. He established a 2,550 square meter plot. From this plot, he obtained a yield of 3,500 pounds.

By using the double row planting technique in a plot about a third of the size he normally plants, Omar yielded nearly what he would expect to yield using his previous methods. When Omar finished his experiment, he realized that the planting technique increases production and reduces production costs.

Surprised at the result obtained compared to his traditional planting system, Omar claims that if he had planted one full manzana, he would have yielded 9,333 pounds. This motivated him and also served as an example to other community members to apply this planting technique as well. Omar now recommends the technique to other farmers and encourages them to improve their quality of life by avoiding the problem of having to sell their products at a lower price.

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Establishing the demonstration plots.
Establishing the demonstration plots.

More than 70% of Nicaragua’s agricultural land is held by small and medium-sized farms whose farmers have made agricultural advances. However, these advances have led to deteriorated soil quality due to overexploitation, land misuse, and a lack of knowledge about best cultivation practices. Over time, the land yields less and less, and many farmers are unwilling to change their production systems and engage in different maize planting techniques. 

This is why Self-Help International’s agricultural extension team in Nicaragua works with farmers on cultivation improvement techniques to obtain better yields and guarantee protein-rich food (quality protein maize, or QPM) to rural farmers and their families.

Juan, a farmer originally from Nueva Guinea, has spent more than 20 years in the Ojo de Agua community in San Carlos, Rio San Juan. He lives with his three children and his grandson, and in addition to having worked in neighboring Costa Rica as a field laborer, Juan has extensive knowledge regarding the agricultural sector.

Juan and his family are dedicated to cultivating the land, and he is a member of the farming group which receives training from Self-Help International. In May 2019, he planted a 425 square meter demonstration plot using the double-row planting technique to plant the QPM seed variety called INTA-Nutrader. He compared this technique and variety with his traditional planting techniques and maize varieties, and he observed higher yields utilizing the new technique and QPM seed variety. 

During the second planting season of 2020, Self-Help provided inputs to Juan’s farming group, including INTA-Nutrader corn seed, fertilizer, and liquids for pest control and seed treatment. With this, they planted 70,560 square meters of maize, 30% using the innovative new planting technique and the other 70% using traditional planting techniques. The group then compared the results. 

Juan and his group realized that, with good sowing techniques, handling, and fertilizer application, they were able to achieve better crop performance using less land. They also realized that the techniques would make larger tracts of farmland easier to manage. 

Ultimately, Juan’s farming group observed an 88.57% increase in maize yields, so Juan also decided to experiment with two pigs. He fed them exclusively INTA-Nutrader protein maize, and his 132 pound pig increased by 68 pounds while the other 105 pound pig increased by 55 pounds. He sold the pigs around Christmas 2019 and got a good price for them. 

As a result of this, Juan is confident in continuing his family’s agricultural practices as recommended by Self-Help. He no longer needs to emigrate to neighboring Costa Rica in search of job opportunities since the results he yielded allow him to plant and produce more. With the profits from his corn sales, he purchased a solar panel for his family so that his home would have electricity. Additionally, they purchased more animals to increase their livestock herd.

Establishing the demonstration plots.
Establishing the demonstration plots.
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Coop leader, Isidro, holding bushels.
Coop leader, Isidro, holding bushels.

The biofortified bean varieties, INTA-Nutritivo and Rendidor, were evaluated in various regions and climates of Nicaragua by the Nicaraguan Institute of Agricultural Technology (INTA). These beans contain higher contents of iron (86 ppm) and zinc (43 ppm) than traditional bean varieties which only have 50 ppm of iron and 28 ppm of zinc. It is a seed variety that adapts to humid tropical climates, and its bushiness and short height make it ideal for Self-Help’s double-row planting technique. 

Because Self-Help promotes crops with high nutritional value, Self-Help decided to start promoting biofortified bean varieties with 30 farmers and their families. All of the farmers are members of the San Marcos and San Lucas de Los Chiles RL Cooperative because they have extensive experience in bean cultivation. Each family received 15 pounds of seeds for the establishment of plots that are 1,320 m2.

In March 2020, Agriculture Program Officer,  Rodolfo Ricardo Hernández Navas, met with a group of 10 farmers who came to the cooperative to return the 30 pounds of INTA-Nutritivo and Rendidor bean seed, and Rodolfo spoke with them about their experiences. They talked about the quality of the seed, which is excellent, although some farmers have not finished harvesting their beans completely because of the heavy rains.

A farmer named Santana from the La Rampla community harvested 100 pounds of beans. The harvest was lower than expected due to the high incidence of Meterworm (Trichoplusia ni) pests and heavy rains in the first days post-planting. Santana said he did not use any fertilizers or chemicals. He also said that if he had not used the new biofortified bean seed, he would not have harvested anything. 

Of Santana’s 100-pound harvest, he repaid Self-Help with 30 pounds of beans. The rest of his harvest will be used as seed for the next cycle in October 2020.

Another farmer named Serafín  from the community of Los Pavones N ° 2 planted 15 pounds of beans with the same double-row planting technique used on the Quality Protein Maize (QPM) crops; however, the distance between the rows was greater than Self-Help’s agriculture team typically recommends. He applied commercial chemical fertilizers and employed good agronomic practices. However, during cultivation there were attacks by pests such as the Meterworm (Trichoplusia ni) and excessive rain as winter ended. 

Serafin and his family harvested 450 pounds of beans.

“My yield would have been higher, but that worm plague attacked my crops,” Serafin said. “During the next harvest, I will be better prepared to combat the worms.”

“I am going to save 100 pounds for seed for the next harvest and 100 pounds for my family's consumption,” Serafin said.  “The rest of the 250 pounds I am going to sell in my community.”

Silverio, another farmer from the Melchora community No. 2, obtained a yield of 200 pounds. However, he did not use commercial chemical fertilizers, only organic fertilizer in foliar form (Phosphite-Frix PK). He did not do any weed or pest control. 

“I didn’t manage the beans well, but those beans are good. The land didn’t help, because it was full of weeds and bush. The bush was too big when I finally decided to apply a herbicide,” Silverio said. “Despite all of that, I still yielded 200 pounds. This bean is good because it is bulky and bushy. If it had been the normal Creole bean, I wouldn’t have harvested anything at all."

Silverio is planning to save about 50 pounds to sow in November. His family has already experimented with using the beans in soup. The taste of beans in cooking is critical to rural farming families accepting a new bean variety into their diets. They liked the beans, and the family decided that the remaining 120 pounds will be consumed at home instead of selling it like they normally do with surplus crops. 

Coop leader, Isidro, is from the San Agustín community. He harvested 300 pounds from his initial 10 pounds of seed (he gave the other 5 pounds of seed to his neighbor, who ultimately didn’t plant it because it was too late in the season). Due to the heavy rains, Isidro’s batch of beans failed because of flooding and rotted seed. Isidro applied a 20-pound mixture of fertilizer 15-15-15 + Ammonium Sulfate + Potassium Muriate 0-0-60, as well as organic fertilizer Phosphite-Frix PK, in the form Foliar. This product is an inducer and fixer of bean flowers and has fungicidal properties and provides good results. Isidro would have obtained a harvest similar to Serafín’s if there hadn’t been heavy rains.

“The quality of the beans and the soup is very good even though red bean varieties are normally disliked for their taste and how thick they make the soups,” Isidro said. “This nutritious variety surprised me because it is very good, soft, and it cooks quickly. My whole family liked it.” 

Isidro will sow 150 pounds in November and will save 100 pounds to consume with his family.

Bean crop.
Bean crop.
Farming family's bean crop.
Farming family's bean crop.

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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.

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Los Chiles Coop leader, Isidro, talking to farmers
Los Chiles Coop leader, Isidro, talking to farmers

The Self-Help International Nicaragua agriculture program needs a new motorcycle so that Rodolfo, the Agricultural Program Officer, can reach more rural communities! Check out the GlobalGiving micro-project here!

This report was written by Latin America Program Specialist, Katie Seifert, following her October 2019 trip to Nicaragua.

The Self-Help International Nicaragua staff have always “trained the trainer,” even if they haven’t called it that. Each program officer knows to identify community leaders across the country, and these leaders help attract their peers to Self-Help’s programs. Plus, leaders who know our programs help educate their own neighbors and community members on things like bettering water quality and sanitation, improving businesses, and innovating agricultural practices.

In 2010, Self-Help began working with farmers from the Los Chiles community who were learning maize seed reproduction by way of Self-Help’s agriculture program. Four years later, these seed producers founded the Los Chiles Cooperative, which would supply loans to small-holder farmers so that they could access inputs prior to planting season and repay the cooperative post-harvest. A key input the cooperative supplied was quality protein maize seed (QPM) - the very seed these farming leaders had learned to reproduce. But, the cooperative’s operation has remained small these past five years, making it harder to access sufficient funding through traditional avenues. As a result, Self-Help has supplied periodic agricultural loans to the cooperative, so that its members can access the supplies they need to farm Los Chiles’ QPM.

Nicaragua Country Director, Jorge Campos, and Program Operations Manager, Lucia Vega, have long dreamt of expanding Self-Help’s reach by way of agricultural loans. This year, with the dedicated work of new Agriculture Program Officer Rodolfo Hernandez, the Self-Help team managed to reach 59 new small-holder farmers by way of the training-the-trainer method. Rodolfo cultivated relationships with farming community leaders across four different communities: Nueva Armenia, Ojo de Agua, San Agustin, and Las Minas. These “expert” farmers, who are well respected in their communities, have good relationships with Self-Help and employ our improved farming techniques.

In the second maize planting season (October 2019), these community leaders joined Self-Help and the Los Chiles Cooperative in an expansion of our training-the-trainer practice. SHI provided loans to the cooperative and the community leaders in order to secure sufficient agriculture inputs for the 59 farmers. On average, SHI loaned approximately $238 USD worth of inputs to each of the farmers, who will plant using the methods taught to them by their community leaders. They are expected to repay in full after April 2020’s harvest. 

I had the privilege of being at the cooperative the day the agricultural inputs were distributed to the farmers. We arrived at Los Chiles early and already dozens of farmers were milling about, eagerly awaiting their supplies. Some had arrived on horseback, and a slew of horses were tied to trees outside the large building. Most came together on a bus, per the instructions of their community leader. The energy was palpable, and the operation was even more organized than I’d expected. Each farmer had a specific amount he or she would receive and signed for their loan once the repayment process had been explained to them. Names and communities were clearly labeled on each product, then loaded into the bus. 

We made sure to share a few words with the farmers under the shade of a mango tree just outside the building. I was so pleased to see the local leaders take the floor to talk to the other farmers. They explained the importance of the loans and repayments. They reminded everyone that inputs were being provided so that farmers would employ our improved farming techniques for higher yields and less fertilizers needed. Additionally, they shared how working with Self-Help had impacted their lives Their increased crop yields meant more food and income to share with their families. I loved hearing from these farming leaders because, as the staff pointed out to me, the farmers’ words mean more to their peers than our words as Self-Help staff ever can. It was inspiring, and I also realized that these loans meant that the QPM the cooperative produced would stay within the region. Self-Help can be assured that local farmers have access to a high-quality product that we know to be healthier for communities.

Today for GivingTuesday, GlobalGiving is offering a $500,000 incentive fund. The Incentive Fund will be distributed to participants proportionally based on final fundraising totals. This means that, at the end of GivingTuesday, the projects that bring in the most dollars will win the largest portion of the Incentive Fund and every project that activates donors will earn something. Gifts made between 12:00 AM and 11:59 PM on Dec. 3 will be eligible for the incentive fund! Read all the terms and conditions here.

Handing out the inputs
Handing out the inputs
Handing out the inputs
Handing out the inputs
Farmers collecting the inputs
Farmers collecting the inputs

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Self-Help International

Location: Waverly, IA - USA
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Katie Seifert
Waverly, IA United States
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