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
A farmer's hand planting the new corn
A farmer's hand planting the new corn

Skills Learned and Implemented in the Field

The Fred Strohbehn Training Center has had been quite busy the past few months with five different training sessions held at the center. Over 111 farmers were trained in the importance of Quality Protein Maize (QPM), how to implement the proper way of land preparation, how to correctly plant seed, apply fertilizer,  and apply pesticide using minimal costs.  This practice is known as the “Strategy for High Yield”, and is implemented in Nicaragua by the QPM program promoted by Self-Help. The new method only applies to corn, but farmers were also taught by SHI staff how to plant, care, and harvest biofortified rice. Several of the farmers who received the training at the Fred Strohbehn Training Center turned these lessons learned into practice with new technology in the field. The trainings were conducted by the Nicaragua Country Program Director, Jorge, and his assistant, Jose.

After the trainings had been completed, 104 farmers of the 111 who attended immediately implemented small sample plots in their own small farms.  By doing this, they were also able to share this experience with other farmers in the community who weren’t able to attend the sessions. A list of the numbers in attendance and the different communities who created small plots are in the photos below.

Several communities benefited from the trainings, including most of San Carlos: the San Agustin, La Venada, Cruz Verde, Laurel Galan, and San Jose No. 2 communities. Other communities involved were from Carazo (San Jose de Gracia) and some communities from Boaco. The training began with the new way of planting corn and rice with several varieties. The farmers first prepared the land in the most efficient and effective way to not affect the future production or create any kind of erosion. The farmers then made a double row of corn plantation, obtaining 12 plants in a line meter instead of the traditional way of one row with less plants. By using this implementation strategy, the SHI staff is expecting the farmers to increase their yield without creating additional expenses.  

By applying the fertilizer this way (under the ground and very close to the corn plant roots), the farmers are able to obtain better yields and reduce up to 70% of fertilizer loss while applying it. The farmers were able to introduce new ideas and experience the value of the new strategies. 

The  biofortified rice is another line of production that Self-Help started to implement in the farmers' routine of production. Some of the farmers experimented with the rice to see if they could then use it in the future for personal use or for business purposes.

After the two months of five training sessions, the farmers are happy to experiment with this new process and feel assured that the new corn plantation methodology will benefit them by increasing their yield and profits. Soon after the trainings, one farmer, Antolin, said, “We (the farmers from La Venada) will find out if this plantation is worthy to be implementing it or not. If so, I am pretty sure that all the farmers that work along with me will keep implementing this new process of plantation."  He continued, stating, “I want to thank all the people who make it possible that all this new knowledge and trainings comes directly to us, 'the farmers' as we are usually the last one to get benefits by anyone. Thank you, and may God bless you." 

He told the Country Program Director, Jorge, "You are very welcome any time you want to visit our corn and rice plantation, and to the ones that are from the United States.... you are welcome to come to Nicaragua and visit us."     

Participation Chart
Participation Chart
Alfredo showing farmers how to plant
Alfredo showing farmers how to plant
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farmers on a plot of corn in Ochomogo,Rivas
farmers on a plot of corn in Ochomogo,Rivas

When we welcome guests to our training sessions, we always share Einstein's idea that, "If you want different results, don't keep doing the same thing.” Farmers, women, and young people come from all over to be trained in the Fred Strohbehn Training Center (CECAL). Every month we host over 60 people and hold specific sessions to meet the needs of each group. We partner with the Ministry of Health (MINSA) and Peace Corps to “enrich the knowledge of women in agro-business and health,” and “teach leaders of the CAPS (Potable Water and Sanitation Committees) to better manage their community water systems and improve water quality using the CTI-8 Manual Chlorinator technology.

The specific objective for the first training was to share knowledge about new varieties of Quality Protein Maize (QPM). Nicaragua has the lowest yield-of-corn statistic in Central America and has primarily only planted regular corn and grain since most communities cannot afford a hybrid seed. We taught farmers techniques for raising their crop yields when growing QPM.

One farmer beneficiary said, “I don’t mind traveling far since I know that I am going to learn something new to improve my corn cultivation.” He continued, “I want to thank Country Program Director Jorge and the Self – Help International staff that are always willing to support us with resources, training, and time. The best way I can show I am really grateful is by showing that I am implementing all the knowledge and skills learned from you all. My family and I will always follow your advice because we have seen that it works - as a result we have a better yield in our harvest and have seen an increase in our income.”

We reflected on the current situation with our farmers: they now have access to modern technologies but, since the time of their grandparents, they have not made great changes to the way they sow and cultivate the land. For this reason, we have set out to launch the "Sustainable Intensification Strategy in Maize Production,” identifying the factors that negatively influence the levels of maize production.

Our farmers are in need of knowledge and technological updates. They are producers located in the humid tropics of Rio San Juan who work hard to feed their families, but their agricultural practices lack technical advancements. Because of difficult growing seasons and a poor economy, they often experience harvest losses and fail to profit at the end of the season. In addition, these farmers are not considered eligible for credit through government micro-finance institutions due to lack of collateral or have sufficient credit history. We at Self-Help are committed to ensuring that small farmers know the nutritional advantages of high-quality protein maize and we urge them to sow this certified seed because it sells at a competitive price. This incentivizes farmers  to attend every training taught by myself and my assistant Alfredo

Our micro-credit program has also had very successful training session at the Center. We trained 24 women on building a new INKAWASI oven to improve the safety of their baking. The traditional firewood stoves expose families to smoke and other gases that cause COPD (Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease).  These ovens improve health and living conditions, save wood, and are environmentally friendly. At the end of the training, five women decided to build their own ovens. Our goal is for young entrepreneurs to become promoters and builders of the newly improved ovens as their own small business ventures.

On July 26th we had the support of the Ministry of Health to hold a women’s health training. A gynecologist and nurse taught the women how to conduct simple at-home tests to check for breast cancer. They also brought them to a health center in order for the women to receive the Papanicolaou Test to screen for uterine cancer. We have held trainings of this nature since this center was opened to provide healthcare knowledge to rural women. We emphasize that the women in our program regularly monitor their health and check for these two types of cancer.

The last training event (July 27, 2017) was lead by the Clean Water program officer, Orlando Montiel Salas. Six leaders of CAPS from 4 communities came to learn about the methodology for calculating the drinking water tariff rate (the rate to be charged to the customer for the service of the Gravity Mini-Aqueducts (MAG) and Mini-Aqueducts by Electric Pumping (MABE) systems). This is a tool that allows leaders to set a collection rate adjusted to the real costs and administrative expenses incurred by the maintenance of the CTI-8 Manual Chlorinators and monitoring of the water quality.

At the end of the meeting, CAPS leaders realized that their rates of collection were far from realistic and that they needed to provide their communities with a report that would make substantive changes and set new collection rates differentiated by real consumption of water. Particapnts of the training said they valued the session and went back to their communities with new tools to better manage their water systems.

All in all, the training center has been busy collectively working on new, innovative ideas, and hopes to continue this upward trajectory to help families in Nicaragua improve their quality of life. 

Yields in Central America 2005-10 tons per hectare
Yields in Central America 2005-10 tons per hectare
volunteers building improved stove
volunteers building improved stove
women receiving health training
women receiving health training
new stove for micro-credit program
new stove for micro-credit program
training on calculating the the water tariff
training on calculating the the water tariff
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Kimberling helps her big brother raise the hens
Kimberling helps her big brother raise the hens

Over the past few months, we’ve been working with sixteen area farm families and their children to demonstrate the nutritional value of Quality Protein Maize (QPM) and teach entrepreneurship and business basics through a chicken-rearing project.  Sixteen children whose mothers are participants in our micro-credit program set out “to offer poultry meat to my neighbors and businesses in my community at a competitive price, achieve recognition as a young entrepreneur, and position myself as a producer of meat chickens.”

Thanks to your support, the boys and girls who participated in the project learned how to care for their chicks, and saw how they could contribute to their family’s income to break the cycle of poverty. They also learned about basic business practices such as how to factor in various production costs to determine the most profitable means of rearing chickens.

We obtained 64 broiler chicks from a poultry breeding farm in Costa Rica to start the project.  Sixteen children, 8 girls and 8 boys all about 10-12 years old, enrolled in the project.  All children were from families who were participating in either the SHI micro-credit program or the QPM seed production program.  Each child received 4 chicks.  Before the chicks were delivered, each family had to construct an enclosure to keep the chicks confined and safe from other animals and provide a feeder and waterer.

The children were randomly assigned one of four types of feed rations for their chicks.  Two rations contained QPM corn, one supplemented with soybean meal and one with no supplemental protein.  The other two rations contained conventional corn, again, one with soybean meal as a protein supplement and one without.  Each of the four rations was fed to four groups of chicks during the last four weeks of the trial.  During the first three weeks, all the chicks received the same starter ration.  The rations were all balanced for energy and protein and supplemented with salt and mineral.

SHI staff weighed all the chicks weekly for seven weeks.  The final results are summarized in the table below.  The chicks fed the non-QPM corn supplemented with soy meal had the highest average ending weight, 6.05 kilograms (13.3 pounds) per bird.  The chicks that received the QPM-based ration without soy meal had the second heaviest average weight at the end of the seven weeks, 5.77 kilograms (12.7 pounds).  However, the chicks receiving the non-QPM + soy meal ration had a higher feed cost, which resulted in a smaller profit margin.

At the end of the trial, the chickens were valued at 77 Cordobas per kilogram of live weight, the going price in the local market.  Each chick cost 20 Cordobas initially and received vaccinations costing slightly over 3 cordobas.  The QPM and non-QPM corn were valued at the same cost per kilogram, but the rations that contained soy meal in addition to corn were more expensive overall.   Thus, the chicks that were fed QPM corn without supplemental soy meal had the highest profit per bird.  This means that families growing QPM corn can raise chickens with only their own corn plus salt and mineral, without purchasing expensive protein supplement.

The children enrolled in the poultry project attended three seminars presented by SHI staff, to learn about the care and management of their chicks.  The children were each accompanied by a parent, so the seminars were actually family affairs.  Each child developed a brief business plan that included the product they were raising, the expected selling price, the potential market for their product, the actions needed to produce it, the expected time period, and the desired results.  Jorge Campos, SHI country director in Nicaragua, emphasized the importance of keeping careful records, including costs of production.

By taking an evidence-based approach and involving the families we serve, they are able to see for themselves the difference that feeding chickens QPM can make, and understand that even if the chickens have a slightly lower weight, the profit margin is still the highest.  The next stage of the project will include using profits from the first group to purchase a larger number of chicks.  You can read more about how Carlos, one of the project participants, plans to grow his poultry flock so he can earn money for his school expenses, here.

Thank you for your continued support, which is creating economic opportunities for rural farm families and inspiring the next generation of young entrepreneurs! 

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Broiler Chick Project Results
Broiler Chick Project Results
A poultry training session for children & parents
A poultry training session for children & parents
Carlos constructed a pen using recycled materials
Carlos constructed a pen using recycled materials
Alfredo helps Genesis track her chicken's weight
Alfredo helps Genesis track her chicken's weight
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A young entrepreneur & families attend training
A young entrepreneur & families attend training

This year, we started our training sessions early at the Fred Strohbehn Training Center in Nicaragua to get a head start with the growing demand from communities. We held the first session on January 27th, with 23 locals from nearby communities participating. Among them for the first time, was a larger-than-normal attendance of children who tagged along with their mothers. The mothers were eager to learn about the micro-credit program, but also about us introducing our new pilot project with raising chickens, but many didn't have anyone to watch their children at home.

In total, about nine children were sitting by their mother's side, swinging their shoes back and forth as they sat in chairs listening to Self-Help's staff introduce business training and information about the program. We shared the results and success stories of  many women from 2016, which peeked interest even further. After receiving a few hours of program-packed knowledge through visuals, handouts and lectures, locals left filled with hope, motivation, and were eager to participate in the new program. 

On February 1st, we had our second meeting at the Fred Strohbehn Training Center. This time, we held a separate training session only on the micro-credit program, due to the high demand of the new project we would be implementing with the newborn chicks. The women in the micro-credit program brought along their children, grandchildren, nephews, nieces, and cousins. Micro-credit program officer Yolanda Fletes, and I, taught the children and mothers how to properly raise chickens at home. We taught each participant and family member, the benefits of taking care of the animals, how to properly feed them with QPM seed, and how they could generate additional income for the family by selling them when they are fully grown.  

We decided to focus this training session on promoting the interest of raising chickens to the children, so they could learn to love and care for animals. We wanted to involve them in a positive and constructive way,  that would allow them to follow the footsteps of their parents in improving their quality of life at home.  Most of the children assured our staff that they were already going to start building their new feathery friends some homes out of  scrap wood and sticks.

I was taken aback when I heard from one of the children- a 12 year old boy named Carlos,  about his future plans. He lives in the community called “La Rampla” (located about 45 kms from the SHI office). He boasted that he had already built a shelter measuring 3x3 sq. meters, because he thought it would be a good business to be prepared, and then grow the business little by little.  His father participates in our QPM program, and he said he could help his father plant and harvest the corn, so that he could feed the chicks with better seed.  He told our staff, “I think I will take good care of my chicks, and then I will sell them. When I sell them, I will use that money to buy more chicks. Then, I can buy myself things and not have to ask my parents for money. I can also save for school.”  He went on to to also thank us saying, “I know my father is part of this organization, and so is our family now, but I feel closer to you because I get to work with you myself. Thank you.” I smiled and let him know I looked forward to working with him.  

On Friday, February 10th, the first set of chicks were delivered with their initial QPM seed to the families who participated in the training. We will be excited to see how this initial program grows. Our February training session about raising chickens saw a 33% increase in participation since our last one, due to more family members wanting to be involved. We are happy to watch our training center expand opportunities and programs as we identify the needs from the many different communities we serve. We look forward to welcoming more children like Carlos- young, innovative entrepreneurs, ready to help their family grow stronger. 

Children participating in the new training session
Children participating in the new training session
A mother and daughter working together
A mother and daughter working together
Ready to work together on the new family business!
Ready to work together on the new family business!
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Farmers learn about QPM at the experimental plot
Farmers learn about QPM at the experimental plot

Since it’s construction four years ago, the Fred Strohbehn Training Center has hosted a great number of leaders from several communities in the southeast side of Nicaragua at Self-Help International’s main Nicaragua office. Although many of the events and training sessions are held at the office, Self-Help’s staff has traveled to reach communities in the most rural parts of Nicaragua, (through mud, dust, ditches, and rain) in order to get to the communities of El Pajaro Negro, El Triunfo, Chontales, Santo Thomas, San Pedro de Lovago, and Muelle de los Buelles (just to name a few).  This year alone, the center has trained over 469 local community members. 

No matter how difficult it may be at times to access the center from their rural communities, locals will find a way to get there— whether it be by truck, bus, horse, or walking long distances in order to attend the meetings, so that they can benefit from everything Self-Help has to offer.

The training center’s main mission is to provide these trainings and skills to all the people who can benefit by the programs offered, and for all of those who are interested. Farmers attend to learn how to manage and implement corn planting, harvesting, treatment of the land, and marketing with the QPM (quality protein maize) program. Others find interest in bringing clean water to their communities by using CTI-8  water chlorination systems.  In addition, many more mothers and youth are taking interest in Self-Help’s micro-credit program, which provides training on how to use new and improved ovens, and teaches entrepreneurship by providing women the lessons they need to start up a small business.

In a typical training session at the center, the Country Director, Mr. Campos, explains the importance the health benefits of QPM, along with information about the three other programs’ benefits to create economic opportunity. During the most recent session, Self-Help was visited by a woman named Georgina, from the community of Loma Quemada. She discovered Self-Help through word of mouth from the San Carlos Rotary Club. Once she heard about the QPM program and the experimental plot in Quinta Lidia (located at Self-Help’s main office), she quickly requested that Self-Help’s Country Director  share the QPM information with farmers from her community and to sign them all up for the next training session. When he agreed, she hurried home to her community and passed the news onto the rest of the farmers. A month later, all of the farmers showed up to the next available training session, ready to learn.

Georgina is a prime example of how Self-Help reaches new communities. Inspired by what she had learned about QPM, she convinced all 25 farmers and leaders of three seed community banks to try something new. After a successful session, the farmers along with Mr. Campos, created a sampling plot in their own communities in which 10 farmers decided to use their own land as part of the trial. They planted QPM seed with several varieties (Fortaleza, Subtiava, Tepeyac, Nutrader, and a hybrid) in different plots to be compared with the commercial seed the farmers already knew (known most commonly as NB-6 and H-INTA 991). The new corn grew successfully. 

In addition to the new group of farmers were new mothers, who learned how to improve their recipes (bread, cakes, roasted chickens, and pizzas) for their personal businesses and learned how to best utilize new and improved ovens. Many of them requested to learn more about how they could get their own new-and-improved and environmentally-friendly oven, after seeing other women in their neighborhoods being met with success after receive a loan to build them through the program.

The women also learned how to utilize the fruit in their backyard by turning them into marmalades, jam, and pickling the vegetables that grow along with them.  For Micro-Credit Program Officer Fletes, having youth involved is vital to breaking the cycle of poverty. In the most recent trainings, children observed their parents becoming leaders in their community and were eager to learn additional skills to expand their family’s business.

Some mothers also took a leadership role in their communities by becoming a part of their local clean water committees, so that they can stay updated in improving their community’s water treatment. One mother said, "It is not just up to one family member; it is a group effort that we ensure safe drinking water."

With local farmers, mothers, and youth participating, it’s only a matter of time before more communities take interest in the center. The new San Carlos Rotary Club members now gather at the center regularly to host meetings.

The Nicaragua staff tells the community as they celebrate together amidst their success, “Our doors are open to anybody no matter their religious or political beliefs, our center is to be one for all and all for one.” 

Help us reach more communities with improved practices at our training center by donating on #GivingTuesday, and GlobalGiving will match 50% of your donation so your impact is magnified! 
This offer begins at 11PM Central on Nov 28 and runs through Nov 29 while funds last, so set yourself a reminder to donate as early as possible to maximize your impact!

Learn more at http://tools.blog.globalgiving.org/2016/11/01/globalgiving-has-huge-news/

the conditions of the road in rural communities
the conditions of the road in rural communities
the farmers recruited by Georgina
the farmers recruited by Georgina
a mother taking on a CAPS leadership role
a mother taking on a CAPS leadership role
excitement about the micro-credit program!
excitement about the micro-credit program!
community members planting in demonstration plots
community members planting in demonstration plots
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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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