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
Country Director Jorge Campos Solis greets group
Country Director Jorge Campos Solis greets group

Although it was a rainy day at Self Help’s office in Quinta Lidia, it did not stop local community members from attending a capacitación (training event). Some traveled by bus, while others traveled by motorcycle, spending their morning and early afternoon in the training center. There were approximately 25 participants in attendance, coming from 12 different communities (Pavon#2, La Culebra, Empalme Cruz Verde, Los Chiles, Las Azucenas, La Venada, El Chacalin, La Argentina, La Palmera, La Bodego #2, Nueva Jerusalem, and Acentimiento La Venada). There were 14 men and 2 women who participated in the Clean Water program, 4 women for the Micro-Credit Program, and 5 men who participated in the QPM program.

The meeting commenced at 8:30 in the morning, with fresh cups of coffee and a room full of participants gathering around a table eager to learn.  The national anthem and prayer followed the welcome, and Country Program Director Jorge introduced the mission and vision of the organization.  He also gave a quick lesson on the importance of receiving proper nutrients in family’s diets, while presenting the benefits of the QPM program and what it has to offer. A sample of the corn grown outside the office was passed around the table for farmers to observe.

After the Director’s introduction, Clean Water Program Officer Orlando, used a visual presentation to demonstrate the importance of having clean water in communities.  Photos of contaminated water and treated water of a local project were shown on the wall, accompanied by a video showing the process to treat the water systems. Officer Orlando then shared with the group his five-year plan, discussing the goals of the organization to have 115,000 individuals in 25 communities receive 150 chlorinator systems by the year 2020. 

New to the group for this capacitación was Peace Corps Volunteer Michael. After the officers gave him a warm welcome and brief introduction, he assisted Officer Yolanda Fletes and Communications Intern Jacqueline Steinkamp in a visual presentation for micro-credit loans.  Together, the three broke down the rules and opportunities that the program offers to women in rural communities.  It wasn’t long before hands shot up in the air, ready to launch questions.  

To engage participants, Intern Jacqueline asked the group some true or false questions as a way to strip away the stigmas that can sometimes be associated with women in the workforce.  By teaching the women and men of the communities that the success rate for these loans are between 95-98% globally, they can gain more confidence that their business can be a success.

After the presentations were over, participants received a tasty lunch that consisted of chicken, rice, beans, salad, and a sweet beverage for participating. Having a strong background in engineering, the Peace Corps Volunteer was in high demand following the meeting. Men gathered to ask him questions about the water systems in communities, while women gathered to ask him questions about his design for a local pen that will be constructed for pigs. 

Officer Yolanda and the intern passed out a toothbrush and toothpaste to each woman, to thank them for traveling such a long distance to attend the event.  These items are given to improve hygiene of children and families, while providing incentives for their hard work.  Overall, the program was a success.  The staff in Self-Help International’s Nicaraguan office look forward to hosting another training event next month!

Water Officer Orlando Montiel Salas speaks
Water Officer Orlando Montiel Salas speaks
Micro-Credit Officer Yolanda Fletes Rosales
Micro-Credit Officer Yolanda Fletes Rosales
Peace Corps Volunteer Michael Canos explains MC
Peace Corps Volunteer Michael Canos explains MC
Intern Jacqueline Steinkamp assists Michael
Intern Jacqueline Steinkamp assists Michael
Women received toothbrushes and paste for families
Women received toothbrushes and paste for families
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Isidro & sons stand amidst their treated seed corn
Isidro & sons stand amidst their treated seed corn

As we shared in the last update in March, our Nicaragua Quality Protein Maize (QPM) team has been working hard to re-introduce QPM and QPM seed corn production back into the country. After passing inspection by the Institute for the Protection of Animal and Plant Health (locally know as IPSA) and harvesting, we obtained sufficient Basic seed to plant fields at three sites in Nicaragua (SHI-Quinta Lidia, Alfredo’s farm at Melchorita, and Isidrio’s farm near Los Chiles) in order to produce Registered seed.  We also held back several hundred ears for use in maintain the supply of Basic seed.

As a result of this agricultural seed production, today Self-Help has 200 pounds (8 bags) of Basic seed and 900 pounds (36 bags) of Registered seed. Isidro and Alfredo also have 10,100 pounds of Certified seed available for planting or sale.  The seed is packaged into 25 pound bags and treated with fungicide; each bag is sufficient to plant 1 manazana of land (1.73 acres). 

The current plan is for 10 of our best farmers to plant 1 manazana each of Registered seed in this grow cycle (June – September) for the production of Certified seed; 6 manzanas in the Ochomogo area and 4 manzanas in the Los Chiles area. In Ochomogo, Javier, Mario, Teofilo, Joel, Domingo, and Vicente are prepared to plant multiply the seed under IPSA's supervision this season. In Los Chiles, Isidro, Ariel, Santana and Celestino have risen to the challenge.

We met with the ten farmers at the seed banks last month, and they are appropriately reluctant to plant more in this cycle because the crop will be harvested during the rainy season and is very difficult to dry to appropriate storage conditions so that the seed quality remains high.   More farmers will plant for the production of Certified seed during the next cycle (October-January) which is the best time to grow corn.  Naturally, storage of seed in the tropics from harvest to subsequent planting is always a problem and we are exploring methods to ensure that the Basic and Registered seed is grown and stored in sequences that ensure that the best Certified seed is available for commercial planting during the primary maize growing season (October – January). While in Los Chiles, we helped Isidro and his sons treat the seed corn so it could be bagged and marketed the following day. 

In early 2016, we tested the amino acid profile from the first increase of the seed we obtained from CIMMYT.  The results clearly indicated an elevated level of lysine and tryptophan consistent with QPM genetic profile.  It will be important to periodically repeat these test (e.g. every three growing cycles) to ensure that Basic seed genetic materials have not been exposed to contamination during subsequent increases.  As long as the Basic seed is increased in a disciplined fashion, the nature of the nutritionally improved food crop can be maintained.  This discipline was reinforced during this visit and as a result one field exposed to possible contamination was downgraded from Registered to Certified to ensure that there was no possibility that it would be further increased.

There is still significant need for soil testing and management of nutrients.  At the Self-Help training center, we utilize intense farming practices using all three growing cycles during the year including irrigation during the drier periods.  This rotation process and the nature of crops can place significant pressure on micronutrients.  And, the volcanic soils with high permeability can result in significant leaching of essential micronutrients from the root zone. As a result, we are seeking out a collaboration with a soils expert/volunteer in such a way that we can plan and develop an appropriate soil testing, remediation and crop rotation plan to ensure that the productivity of our resources can be optimized. In addition, some of the knowledge may transfer over to other commercial farmers.  

Thank you for your support which has provided the means to re-train Isidro, Ariel, Santana, Celestino, Javier, Mario, Teofilo, Joel, Domingo, and Vicente in seed production after so many seasons without Registered seed available. Now, they are prepared to re-establish the QPM supply in the country for the long term to improve nutrition for those who cannot afford animal-source protein on a daily basis.  

Please support our micro-project, Help 5 Farmers in Nicaragua Produce 20,000 Meals, to ensure that we can finance the inputs for all ten of the farmers who will plant the QPM seed corn this season. 

Pouring seed corn into barrel to be treated
Pouring seed corn into barrel to be treated
Isidro's son spreads out the treated seed to dry
Isidro's son spreads out the treated seed to dry
Multiplying the seed corn at the training center
Multiplying the seed corn at the training center

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Alfredo, Rex & Isidro hold Nutrader seed to plant
Alfredo, Rex & Isidro hold Nutrader seed to plant

A little over a year ago, Self-Help imported new Quality Protein Maize (QPM) from the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) in Mexico to get this high-protein corn back into the hands of the farmers we serve in Nicaragua.  We’ve made great strides since planting the demonstration plots in May that we’re excited to share with you. 

The name of the QPM line imported is called Nutrader.  Last October, Alfredo planted the basic seed to multiply the stock in an experimental plot.  He’s worked hard to care for it and ensure the birds did not swoop in to eat the seed.  Once the corn was fully mature, he selected the seed with the best traits and began the harvest – all done by hand. After selecting the best seed corn, he shelled it and in January was finally able to register the seed with IPSA, a division of the Nicagauran Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, which will enable us to provide it to the farmers and keep our production in the Quinta Lidia plot as well.

Alfredo welcomed the IPSA inspector, Engineer Rex Castro, who came to provide the final inspection of the experimental plots.  The IPSA inspector praised the time, effort and care that Alfredo took during the daytime, and that Santos, our night security officer, took to ensure that the birds did not disrupt the field. Unfortunately, the birds were not the only challenge faced. Over two hundred ears of corn were stolen from the field during hours that staff members were away from the Training Center and Santos was not on guard yet.  It was clear that someone was watching and waiting to steal the corn from the plots.  This loss affected the progress and process since Alfredo and Santos had to harvest the maize earlier than planned to ensure no more was stolen.  Despite these challenges, the maize is now in good shape and we are in the process of cleaning it and drying it to ensure the moisture content is correct for when we later begin the distribution to the farmers.

The next step in the process is that the famers will reproduce this registered seed under the supervision of IPSA to obtain the “Certified Seed” designation.  Farmers who grow and sell certified seed, which is used as seed corn, rather than commercial seed, are able to earn 3x – 10x the income as compared to commercial seed.  Alfredo, the first farmer Self-Help began working with through the Melchorita Seed Bank, and Isidro, the Presdient of the Los Chiles cooperative, have also planted 2 manzanas of the Nutrader Seed on their own farms to compare the yields to the seed grown at the Fred Strohbehn Experimental Plot at Quinta Lidia.  

Country Director Jorge Campos has been working alongside Alfredo to take care of all of the legal paperwork associated with importing, multiplying, and distributing this new seed.  Thanks to the dedication of Jorge and Alfredo here in Nicaragua, and of Self-Help Board Members in the US who are advising us, we are glad to report that things are moving along smoothly and everything is ready to grow the seed this year and ensure that we are able to get the seed back into the hands of the farmers in Ochomogo and Los Chiles, as well as any smallholder farmers in Nicaragua that request this type of support.  

Finally, last week we planted the next round of corn utilizing drip irrigation since it's still the dry season at both the Training Center experimental plot and at each of the two seed banks in Ochomogo and Los Chiles. When the rains come, the drip irrigation system will supplement the regular rains during dry spells.  

Thank you to all of the people who are supporting our efforts to get this nutritious corn back into the hands of the farmers who need it most so they can better nourish their families and the families of people who buy the corn – particularly the children who need it most!

Drying the recent harvest of Nutrader seed
Drying the recent harvest of Nutrader seed
Birdseye view of experimental plots & solar dryer
Birdseye view of experimental plots & solar dryer
Drip irrigation allows corn to grow in dry season
Drip irrigation allows corn to grow in dry season
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New School Uniforms Call For New Training Classes

Thanks to a special designated donation for school supplies and school uniforms to start the new school year, and the support of GlobalGiving donors, Self-Help was able to ensure that students of Treinte de Mayo School and students that are children of women in the Micro-Credit Program were able to get the clothing they needed to start the school year. All while supporting the local economy and micro-credit beneficiaries.

Treinte de Mayo is a particularly depressed shantytown located outside of San Carlos, Nicaragua. There is limited running water and very few families are able to afford school uniforms for their children to attend school. Self-Help saw the need in this community and helped to build a school for pre-school, kindergarten, and first graders to attend since the nearest school was too far away for these young children to walk to.

This uniform order for the new school year not only benefited students of the community who otherwise could not have afforded them, but also the four women of the Micro-Credit Program that were commissioned to make them, and the community as a whole. On September 10, 2015, the beneficiaries and their families gathered at Fred Strohbehn Training Center to receive their new school uniforms. The Self-Help International staff saw this gathering as a perfect opportunity to educate students, their parents, and community members in drug prevention and alcoholism, school bullying, and domestic violence.

To make this possible, Yolanda, the Nicaragua Micro-Credit Program Officer, wrote a letter to the San Carlos police department sheriff requesting some police expertise, and a visit from an officer to teach drug prevention. The police representative was extremely excited to learn that there’s an organization that cares so much about the youth in rural Nicaragua. And so, the representative told Yolanda that the department not only send one officer, but they would send three. That way, each officer could discuss a different topic that is affecting the community’s children.

These topics were: drug prevention and alcoholism, school bullying, and domestic violence. The three female police officers that visited to conduct these classes were delighted and impressed to find that the training center was full of children accompanied by their mothers and fathers. Each student, along with their parents, were paying close attention to what the officers were saying, as well as participating in dicussion. This resulted in an extremely successful, interactive, and progressive experience for all that were involved.

After the training was complete, each student received their uniforms. It was plain to see from the students’ huge smiles how ecstatic they truly were to have new uniforms for the new school year. Even the police officers thanked Self-Help as well as the all of the people that were making this possible by supporting Self-Help through donations.

A training session of this kind, with such substantial outreach to so many families, would not have been possible without a place to host it in, the training center. The Fred Strohbehn Training Center and all of its training sessions, of the past and future, are due to Self-Help’s generous and caring donors. Thank you to our donors for the support that has made this and all other trainings possible to improve education and quality of life for residents of Rio San Juan.

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Volunteers plant demonstration plots
Volunteers plant demonstration plots

For farmers, the field is the classroom. However, Nicaraguan farmers often have limited or no access to the knowledge and resources needed to increase yields. These factors make the Quality Protein Maize (QPM) demonstrations plots at the Fred Stohbehn Training Center so much more important.  At the training center, farmers learn improved methods to increase yields, and how to dry and store grain to reduce post-harvest loss.

QPM has become an important source of protein, so learning how to maximize yields is critical.  Many subsistence farm families cannot afford traditional sources of protein like meat, dairy, and eggs. Quality Protein Maize (QPM) produces higher yields, tastes better than other corn varieties and has 90% the digestible protein as skim milk.  By planting and growing Quality Protein Maize (QPM) Nicaraguan farmers can provide better nutrition and additonal income. QPM is used to feed the family, make tortillas to sell, and saved to plant next year, for a lasting improvement in both the family's and communities nutritional intake and finances.

Volunteers recently visited the training center and helped the SHI staff plant the demonstration plot area located on the training center grounds. The planting was done, the same way the Nicaraguan farmers do it: by hand.  Individual holes were dug after they were measured to ensure the kernels were spaced evenly. After the hole was dug, a seed was dropped in the hole, and then covered with the loose soil.  Small individual plots were planted within demonstration area and marked for each variety of corn that was planted.

While planting by hand may seem basic, this method of planting in a straight row with event spacing is improving yields for farmers over the traditional method of simply scattering seed. The eldest volunteer in the group, Kelly, is an 83 year old farmer from southwest Iowa who reported that despite farming all his life, it was the first time he’d ever planted corn by hand. Volunteers gained a new appreciation for the labor intensive work the farmers engage in each growing season to produce enough food to feed their families, saying, “I’ve never been so hot or worked so hard!”

The plot included both quality protein maize and other non-QPM improved seed varieties. During the growing season, farmers will be able see and compare the different varieties of corn planted beside each other.  As the growing season continues, the farmers will also be able to see first-hand the impact of applying different rates of fertilizer on the growing plant and the yields.  The initial fertilizer application will be 15-15-15 (NPK) and later the SHI staff will apply 46% urea.  A plot map is a record of each variety and fertilizer application.  Farmers will easily be able to make comparisons when they visit the plots.  This will help them determine which option will work best given their individual farming business.

Self-Help International will be able to continue to help hundreds of trainees with the educational programming and the demonstration area. The participants will be able to use their education to become self-sustaining, and see improvement in their quality of life.

Your donation has helped farmers learn how to improve the yields on their farms, which in turn improves their businesses by using the information learned at our training center. Thank you for your support.

Jorge and  Keith start planting
Jorge and Keith start planting
Spacing out the holes to plant
Spacing out the holes to plant
Lifelong farmer, Kelly, plants with granddaughter
Lifelong farmer, Kelly, plants with granddaughter
Keegan rids the field of rocks for easier planting
Keegan rids the field of rocks for easier planting
The demonstration plots are all planted!
The demonstration plots are all planted!

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Organization Information

Self-Help International

Location: Waverly, IA - USA
Website:
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @SelfHelpIntl
Project Leader:
Katie Seifert
Waverly, IA United States
$3,835 raised of $7,020 goal
 
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