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
Proud farmers in the El Juste community
Proud farmers in the El Juste community

Maize producers in the community of El Juste participated in a seminar about how to get higher yields of the INTA-Nutrader quality protein maize (QPM). The seminar was held at Self-Help International’s Fred W. Strohbehn Training Center in collaboration with the San Marcos y San Lucas and Los Chiles y COOPEMEL RL cooperatives of Melchorita, in the Río San Juan department, as part of the agricultural extension activities of Self-Help. 

Nicaraguan government official Ramón González arranged a meeting for 25 farmers in El Juste to participate in a Self-Help seminar highlighting the importance of QPM seed. Agricultural productivity is improved by focusing on food and nutritional security. Self-Help focuses on addressing the following agronomic issues: climate change, biofortified crops; efficient use of fertilization; weed and pest management; methods of selecting seed; recommendations for harvest and post-harvest; and grain storage. In addition to talking about the benefits of QPM seed and sharing information, Self-Help’s agriculture team offered a practical demonstration to carry out the double-row planting method. Two QPM seed producers from the Los Chiles farmers cooperative, Isidro and Ariel, worked with the Self-Help team to carry out the training.

The President of the El Juste Farmers Cooperative Says Farmers See the Benefits

President of the 20 member El Juste farmers cooperative, Juan, checked in with Self-Help’s agriculture team 65 days after planting his first demonstration plot of QPM.

“This is the first time we’re doing this study in El Juste with our cooperative. We’ve got the INTA-Nutrader QPM seed variety in our demonstration plot,” Juan said. “The El Juste farmers agreed to let Self-Help come teach us about this new seed and these new farming methods. Now, we see that the demonstration plot is showing us the benefits of the INTA-Nutrader QPM seed. 

“In our community, there was a dry month, and we didn't get rain. We believed we would be affected and that our maize crop would be short,” Juan said. “However, our crops are the right height.

“We were also worried we would not produce much, but now we see that we are duplicating the results. Farmers tell us they are doing magic due to this experience. We’ve now seen the results of our experiments. We learned a new technology for free, and this continues paying us back because we use this technology to work and to earn a day’s wage,” Juan said.

Juan told Self-Help staff that he’s planted four pounds of INTA-Nutrader maize (625 square yards), and the farmers cooperative is thinking they’ll harvest some 3,000 corn cobs which will sell at approximately 3 cordobas per unit for a total of 9,000 cordobas (~$270USD).  The farmers cooperative generated some 2,000 cordobas in costs, leaving them a net profit of 7,000 cordobas (~$210USD). 

“We now see that INTA-Nutrader QPM seed can be planted in double rows to increase our yields. We’ve seen the results,” Juan said. “Sincerely, this experience has also become a sort of educational resource in our region because the farmers pass by our farms and ask how we get such a high crop yield. It’s been a very, very good learning opportunity that has had a lot of benefits for our region.

“Farmers participated in the first demonstration plot that we planted during the practice day with Self-Help staff. Now, us farmers have results which are now in the stage of chilote (baby corn). One of the characteristics of this corn is that it gives chilote in 90% of the plants, so it’s got double purpose because it yields both kinds of chilote and elote (young dry corn),” Juan said. “Today we took 24 dozen at 10 cordobas, we’re speaking about 500 cordobas! Until it is in elote we are going to do this step in the evaluation. 

“It’s truly been a success. It’s the first time that we’ve done this training and the first time we’ve planted this QPM seed variety, and we are seeing the results,” Juan said. “We are thinking about reducing the cultivation area to be able to plant less, using this technology, and putting into practice what Self-Help has taught us. We are proud to share our experience with other farmers, and it’s satisfying for us to know that other farmers are also obtaining successful results in their work.”

“We’ve also learned about planting in double rows to increase our yields, and we’ve seen the results,” Juan said. “Sincerely, this experience has also become a sort of educational resource in our region because the farmers pass by our farms and ask how we get such a high crop yield. It’s been a very, very good learning opportunity that has had a lot of benefits for our region.”

Nicaragua Country Director, Jorge Campos, Provides Perspective

“It’s evident that the teachings of SHI are impacting the lives of farmers, as well as their practices of maize management,” said Jorge Campos, Nicaragua Country Director. “Helping farmers take advantage of the INTA-Nutrader QPM seed brings new experiences at the technical level and knowledge management to farmers. 

“Teaching about QPM seed also helps rural families with food security and helps them increase their incomes,” Jorge added. “We are bringing these farmers to the next level, and the best part is the way that agricultural extension and demonstration plots impacts families’ crop production and nourishment. The farmers’ new experiences turn them into farmers who are more resilient against the effects of  climate change (such as drier seasons) and guarantee rural families’ food and nutritional security.”

El Juste farmers doing double-row planting.
El Juste farmers doing double-row planting.
El Juste farmers doing double row planting
El Juste farmers doing double row planting

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Farmers with their new sheller.
Farmers with their new sheller.

Global Giving's July Bonus Day is at 9:00 AM ET on Thursday, July 18, 2019. Global Giving is offering $250,000 in matching funds on donations over $100 until 11:59 PM or until matching funds run out. Details and terms and conditions can be found in the link below! 

In keeping with our mission to "eradicate hunger and malnutrition in all its forms," we at Self-Help International are working hard to find new methods to increase corn yields for small farmers in Nicaragua, to ensure greater quality and quantity of food, and increase spendable income for their families. 

Certified Seed

A dedicated group of progressive farmers have collaborated with Self-Help International this year to produce about 50,000 pounds of certified high protein seed corn (QPM) of the variety INTA-Nutrader. They are members of three cooperatives, Coope-Ochomogo RL, Coopemel RL, and Coope-San Marcos and San Lucas RL.

The seed corn is being processed at the seed conditioning plant of INTA-CNIAB (Ministry of Agriculture) in Managua. Next it will be certified by the Institute of Agricultural Protection and Health of Nicaragua (IPSA) and the International Regional Organization for Agricultural Security (OIRSA)

Once the seed is certified as viable and pure it will be marketed through 22 agri-service input suppliers in various regions of Nicaragua. This will allow some two thousand small farmers to plant at least one manzana (1.7 acres) of high-protein corn in the upcoming season.

Seed-producing families are rewarded for their hard efforts with increased production and a higher selling price for their corn.  The women in the families have well-defined roles in the corn production process. They use the immature ears of corn for family consumption, and help collect the ears at the end of the harvest.  In the first seventy days of the season, when the early corn is still tender, the women use their culinary knowledge to prepare atoles, tamales, tortillas, etc. from the chilotes.  The higher protein content of the Nutrader seed helps improve the families’ nutritional status.

Demonstration Plots

Demonstrating improved production technologies is a priority for Self-Help. About 450 farmers will each receive a small portion of certified QPM seed corn to establish a demonstration plot of about four hundred square meters. On these small plots a series of experiments will be carried out, the object of which will be to demonstrate good agronomic management throughout the different growth stages of the corn.  This will help the farmers learn how to deal with the effects of climate, including drought, heat and erratic rainfall. 

Farmers who participate in training events held at the demonstration plots receive new technical knowledge to apply to their own crops.  The traditional ways of corn production and the double-row techniques will be put to the test, and yields will be compared. On some plots organic fertilizers will be used, while others will receive commercial fertilizer.

Shelling the Corn

Shelling corn by hand uses the labor of the whole family, including the women. This is a very time-consuming and fatiguing task.  This summer six farmers received new corn shellers with a gasoline engines, with a capacity to shell twenty-five bushels of corn per hour. Self-Help International agreed to providing training, technical assistance and the delivery of this equipment, with the cost to be repaid in two harvests. The farmers will not only use the machines to shell their own corn, they will offer a service to the community by allowing other farmers to use the shellers for a nominal charge. 

Storage of Crops

Another priority is the safe storage of grain. The adoption of storage facilities such as silos and air-tight barrels is key to the family's food security, because it allows them to keep their corn free of mold and insects.  This summer two more farmers bought silos (steel barrels) with a capacity of eighty bushels each for storage of corn. This allows the women in the family to use the grains for feeding chickens, pigs, and other small animals for home consumption and selling in the markets. In addition, storing grain allows the farmers to wait and sell it at a better price, increasing their income. 

The QPM program seeks to strengthen the ability of farmers to produce better crops and make their businesses more efficient. Self-Help International is proud to support farmers who are eager to improve themselves.  They have made the decision to make changes in their way of working the land and cultivating corn, by using improved technology. They lead by example with their ability to transmit their knowledge to other farmers in their communities.  This raises their self-esteem and gives them the courage to undertake new challenges.

Global Giving's July Bonus Day starts at 9:00 AM ET on Thursday, July 18, 2019. Global Giving is offering $250,000 in matching funds on donations over $100 until 11:59 PM or until matching funds run out. Details and terms and conditions can be found in the link below! Make a gift to your favorite project on Thursday morning and get it matched!

 

Farmers and QPM seed.
Farmers and QPM seed.
Co-op member, Ariel, in his maize field.
Co-op member, Ariel, in his maize field.

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La Palma farmers meeting with SHI staff.
La Palma farmers meeting with SHI staff.

All gifts matched 60% this week up to $50!  More details at the end of this story!

Located in the middle of Lake Cocibolca (or Lake Nicaragua), Nicaragua, is the island of Ometepe. Ometepe Island is 106 square miles (170 square km), has a population of approximately 29,000 inhabitants, and is known for its two volcanos, Concepción and Maderas. It is classified as a Biospheric Reserve by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

In 2018, Self-Help International worked with farmers who are a part of Ometepe Island’s local organization, Flora and Fauna International, which focuses on diverse organic agricultural initiatives. Self-Help staff trained and worked alongside 30 farmers from Moyogalpa and Altagracia, two of the most northernmost communities on Ometepe Island, on 28 maize demonstration plots utilizing INTA-Nutrader technology and double-row planting. INTA-Nutrader seed is the Quality Protein Maize (QPM) seed in Nicaragua. The results were surprising, and the farmers on Ometepe Island wanted to talk about their experiences growing INTA-Nutrader seed and implementing the new farming practices they learned.


“La Finca” Agribusiness

Carlos and his wife own an agribusiness named “La Finca,” and they’ve been able to sell a total of 53 bags of INTA-Nutrader certified seed to farmers in Altagracia, Ometepe thanks to the training that Self-Help staff provided.

“Many farmers liked the seed and came for more, planted it, and are pleased with the quality and price,” Carlos said. “Additionally, this is the first seed commercialization business on the island. I’m already planning ahead and have orders placed for next year. I hope Self-Help International takes my business in Altagracia into account when it’s distributing seed and marketing tools.”

The La Palma Farmers

The community of La Palma is 18 miles (30 km) from the city of Altagracias on Ometepe Island. Travel along the lake coast to La Palma is dangerous. The road has many volcanic rocks and there’s no cell service in the event of an accident. Despite its remoteness, a group of farmers from this community planted 400-square meter demonstration plots with INTA-Nutrader maize using the double-row technique and applying organic fertilizer.

Two findings emerged from the conversations with these farmers. First, the INTA-Nutrader variety of maize adapted well to the environment and climate. Second, the double-row planting method yielded more crop per surface unit than the farmers were accustomed to having. Each of the farmers yielded between 4 and 4.5 quintales (400-450 lb/181.4-204.5 kg) of maize in their packages, and one farmer even yielded more than 500 pounds of maize.

“I have good news: I shelled 4.5 quintales (450 lb/204.5 kg) of maize,” La Palma farmer, Eufemio, said. “I’m surprised by the yield of the double-row technique using only organic fertilizers and worm humus (manure produced by worms). Next year, I’m going to plant more and I’ll do even better.”

The farmers were surprised that they yielded between 16 and 25 quintales per manzana (1,622.4 lb/735.9 kg to 2,535 lb/1149.8 kg per 1.73 acres), meaning that the total average yield was between 64 quintales (6,400 lb/2,900 kg) and 80 quintales (8,000 lb/3,600 kg). The farmers seemed very pleased with the technical assistance of Self-Help International’s Agriculture Program.

“I am satisfied with this variety of maize seed. Even though I wasn’t able to cultivate it very well, I still yielded 4.5 quintales of maize (450 lb/204.5 kg),” Margarito, another La Palma farmer, said. “I want to show you all of the sacks of maize seed stacked up in my home right now so you can see it for yourself.”

“In the beginning I didn’t think this new seed and these new techniques would work; however, in the end, I’m satisfied with the 4.00 quintales (400 lb/180 kg) of maíze that I harvested,” José, another farmer, chimed in. “My whole family is surprised by this yield.”

“I also used the new methods Jorge taught us when I planted my seeds, but I really doubted the double-row technique and the new seed,” Honorio, an additional La Palma farmer, said. “When I saw the maize beginning to grow and it reached as high as my knees, I realized that his maize variety is unstoppable.”

“I think I had the same experience as my associates - we’re going to continue trying this variety because it also has more protein and the yields are fantastic when it’s paired with the double-row planting technique,” Honorio added. “I am about to plant and invite other farmers to plant with this variety and technique. Thank you Self-Help International staff for teaching us about this seed and this technique. This is new for us.”

Women business owners have also benefited from Self-Help’s work on Ometepe Island after Self-Help staff taught the women about new stone baking ovens that burn wood more efficiently and protect the women from inhaling as much oven smoke.

Martiza and Lilliam are two women business owners using improved ovens to make artisanal breads on the island. Self-Help facilitated the trainings and access to ovens through Flora and Fauna International. Maritza has been introducing her new oven to other women in her community so they can begin making artisan breads and learn how to use the new improved oven technology as well.

Both men and women on Ometepe Island are sharing in the joy of bountiful yields and better business. Self-Help International is looking forward to continuing the support of farmers and business owners on Ometepe Island to help them feed their communities, provide for their families, and manage their businesses.

From April 8-12, GlobalGiving will match donations of up to $50 to Self-Help's projects at 60%! That means that by making a donation of $30 today, GlobalGiving will give an additional $18 for you to sponsor a loan to a Nicaraguan farmer so that he can buy the seed he needs to grow two acres of QPM crop! Read complete terms and conditions here.

Jose showing his QPM crop.
Jose showing his QPM crop.
Martiza showing her new oven.
Martiza showing her new oven.
Margarito opening a bag of fertilizer.
Margarito opening a bag of fertilizer.
Bags of QPM seed.
Bags of QPM seed.
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Manuel with his plot of land.
Manuel with his plot of land.

The town of La Conquista belongs to the municipality of San Miguelito in the southeast department of Río San Juan, Nicaragua, and is only 13 kilometers from the main highway that connects to the capital city of Managua. It was founded in the early 1990s by families who were repatriated from Costa Rica by the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) when the war between the Contras and Sandinistas ended.  They were resettled in this territory.

It is a small rural community with 65 homes and about 40 families dedicated to livestock, agriculture, commerce and business. Some 15 families are dedicated to planting basic grains, such as rice, beans and corn.  Being a mountain community, it is divided into two sectors. Today, due to the lack of opportunities, many of these families have migrated back to Costa Rica in search of new horizons.

Manuel, who has known about Self-Help International for years, was the leader of the Water and Sanitation Committee (CAPS) in the community of Empalme de Cruz Verde, and has participated in many of the seminars taught at the Fred W. Strohbehn Training Center. He was transferred to the community of La Conquista to be the pastor of the evangelical church in the community.

He was concerned about the situation of the farmers there, and invited Self-Help’s Nicaragua staff to La Conquista to present a seminar on corn production, the Quality Protein Maize (QPM) variety, the technical management of corn, and the double row planting technique.  Manuel is part of the group of farmers who receive messages about the corn program through their cell phone using the WhatsApp application.

The seminar was attended by about 15 corn farmers in September 2018, and everything related to corn, including nutritional value, agronomic management, production costs, double row planting, harvesting, post-harvest management, etc., was addressed. The attendance and participation of the farmers was excellent.  Manuel told Self-Help staff that most farmers there do not use nitrogen fertilizers of any kind due to their low financial resources.

Manuel’s plot is well away from the houses of the community, but it is the best plot using the double row planting.  He practiced all of the techniques he learned in the trainings except applying fertilizer. Manuel plans to get a plot near the road and plant 0.25 manzanas with both techniques, single row and double row, with and without fertilizer. This plot will be used to demonstrate the effectiveness of the two planting and management systems.

Some of the farmers in the community spoke with Self-Help International Nicaragua staff, and shared which techniques they did and didn’t implement during the growing season.  They also shared a little bit about their setbacks and how they can improve next time to improve their yields.

CASE 1: When Self-Help staff interviewed a farmer named Narciso, he talked about what he did and didn’t implement from the trainings, and some of the lessons he learned for the next planting season.

"With this INTA-Nutrader improved corn variety, I can produce up to 45 quintals of corn per manzana (2 tons), while with the native or creole variety I barely harvested between 16 and 20 quintals per manzana (1 ton), without fertilizer,” Narciso said at the beginning of the planting process.  “Now I will monitor the whole process: getting the soil ready, protecting the seed (that is, applying a strong insecticide), directing the planting, etc. I'm going to improve the management system, and I think I can get twice the yield from the corn. I imagine if I applied fertilizer, it would triple. "

In Narciso’s case, he decided to plant the INTA-Nutrader seed and he explained to his workers how to carry out the sowing.  However, he was not present during the planting of the double-row corn, and in the end the distances were not correct. He also did not apply fertilizer.

He was discouraged.  However, Narciso learned a valuable lesson and said, "Next time, I will oversee and monitor the entire process from preparing the soil, and I will participate in and direct the planting, etc., which will improve the management system."  

He calculated that he can produce twice the yield of corn, that is, about 45 quintals per manzana (2 tons), without fertilizers. This would significantly double his traditional yield from the creole corn variety, by adopting the INTA-Nutrader variety (QPM) for its adaptability and performance in the region.

CASE 2: Another farmer, Esmero, talked about his experience using the INTA-Nutrader variety (QPM), and also discussed some his setbacks.

"The seed is of very good quality.  I saw it sprout and it has good vigor.  However, I was careless, and I had a lot of ants that caused me problems. I only had a few plants left,” Esmero said.  “The truth is that I paid for the planting, got discouraged and left it. But, even so, in three quarters of a manzana I am going to get about 20 quintals of corn (1 ton) for home consumption ."

Esmero participated in the seminar held in the community and planted INTA-Nutrader in a single row, and noted the strength and vigor of the seed.  According to him, the seed was of very good quality. However, the work of cleaning the field before the planting, or eliminating weeds, was done very badly.  When the corn was planted, the ants did a lot of damage and destroyed some of the plants.

For Esmero, the lesson learned was that, "Next year I will improve the soil preparation, planting, care and management, and above all delegate this responsibility well or watch and direct all the work myself.  I'm going to do it better."

CASE 3: Larry, another farmer from La Conquista, planted a manzana with the single row technique, without fertilizer.  Normally, in this community farmers harvest between 16 and 20 quintals of corn (1 ton) per manzana, however, this year Eliecer decided to plant the INTA-Nutrader variety in the same traditional way, at 2 kernels per hole, with 40 centimeters between plants and 80 centimeters of space between rows.

"I believe that I am going to harvest between 40 and 45 quintals of corn (2 tons).  That is more than twice as much corn, just by changing the corn variety and maintaining the planting system.  I like it, and I think that next year I will improve on it,” Larry said.

 

SUMMARY

"We bring the QPM seed corn to farm families where nutrition and food security are fundamental, and we promote better nutrition for children and the elderly.  In our seminars and workshops, we collaborate with farmers to share new knowledge, we improve and modify some agricultural practices, and we exchange experiences among farmers.  We have designed a planting scheme with a high seed population in the quest to double or triple the corn yields and income. With these three approaches, we reduce hunger and malnutrition, increase knowledge among farmers, increase their yields and incomes, and reduce the effects of climate change that Nicaraguan farmers are already experiencing," said Jorge L. Campos Solís, Nicaragua Country Director.

Larry with his corn.
Larry with his corn.
Manuel's corn.
Manuel's corn.

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Jorge training Nicaraguan farmers.
Jorge training Nicaraguan farmers.

Faced with the challenge of feeding the poorest families in southeastern Nicaragua, our organization, Self-Help International, is providing technical resources to farmers. Our mission is to teach Nicaraguan farmers how to improve their corn production. Our goal is to improve corn production and increase yields to more than 100 quintals per manzana (approximately 100 bushels per acre) compared to the national average of 21 quintals per manzana (1 manzana of land is about 0.75 acres). To aid in that goal, we promote the use of INTA-Nutrader seed corn, a variety of high quality protein maize (QPM) that contains more than 90% of the quality protein found in a glass of cow’s milk.

Each family that grows the INTA-Nutrader corn variety is hoping to better feed their family, and also ensure an adequate supply of food and subsistence for themselves. In rural mountain areas, these small farmers do not have credit, they do not receive government support, and they do not receive technical assistance; but, for more than ten years, they have been able to obtain certified seed from Self-Help.

We have challenged ourselves to teach farmers to utilize the INTA-Nutrader variety and to employ the double-row maize method to produce more than 100 quintals of commercial corn per manzana.  We are constantly teaching and holding discussions with farmers about the best practices they can use to improve their yields and grow more nutritious food.

Among the topics that we have discussed with corn producers are:

  1. The limiting factors of corn production as practiced by these farmers, including the “cost-benefit” analysis of key inputs, local marketing channels, benefits of storage and grain quality preservation.
  2. The “100% performance keys”: 30% correspond to the genetic pull of the INTA-Nutrader variety; 30% to the agronomic management that the farmer performs (observation and control of pests, diseases, nutrient deficiencies and other relevant aspects in the development of the corn plants during the first 45 days of crop development); another 30% to the nutrition plan, including chemical fertilizers (correct dosage, source, application time, and form of application);  and 10% to the climatic events that intervene throughout the growing season, such as droughts and floods, rains and storms, etc., so that the farmers can improve their production technology and increase their yields.
  3. The strong promotion of “double-row methodology” that involves experimenting with a new planting design, including populations of about 125 thousand seeds per hectare, or 96thousand seeds per manzana. The greater the number of plants, the greater the number of ears, and therefore the higher the yield.
  4. Addressing the physiological aspects of corn growth to obtain higher yields. We meet the needs of the corn plant in each one of the stages of development. The first 45 days are key. During the stage of development of the first 8 to 12 leaves, the yield is determined. The most important leaves for filling out the ears are the 2 lower leaves and the 3 upper leaves.

I have seen the differences that these conversations and educational programs have made in our communities. We’ve not only been able to feed people better, we’ve been able to feed them more.  As each season comes to an end and another begins, the yields are improving and so is life here in Nicaragua.

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Self-Help International

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