Changing Farming Practices in Nicaragua
Rachel Lindsay is a 2009 Fulbright Grantee working with a US based sustainable investment organization called SosteNica, the Sustainable Development Fund of Nicaragua. Her Nicaraguan sponsors are the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua and CEPRODEL, a Nicaraguan founded micro-credit institution. She is based in the Pacific region of León.
When I arrived in Nicaragua at the end of January my goal was to help an educational institution and a micro-finance institution work together to link the technical and financial resources available to small farmers. A reforestation project involving the two institutions was already in the works, and by mid-April I found myself working full-time organizing trainings and processing evaluations of the participating farms.
Together with faculty from the Agroecology department of the national university, we organized trainings for the families of 24 clients of the microfinance institution in several topics:
- soil conservation
- organic fertilizers
- organic pest control
- proper establishment and care of trees
Most importantly, we emphasized the importance of sustainability, both ecologically as well as financially, through long term business planning.
Teaching the workshops and following up with technical assistance required us to stay with participating families in the countryside. Before I left for the countryside, my Nicaraguan friends warned me that life in the country is difficult and that I may not survive. The roads are often in terrible condition and are notorious for mud-traps in the rainy season. On our way out to the community we slid sideways and found ourselves nicely jammed into a soft bank of mud, with our back wheels elevated and completely blocking the road. After a futile hour of trying to free the truck using tree branches, 4-wheel-drive, and pushing, a neighbor accomplished the task in minutes with his two oxen.
I was prepared for stark poverty, no electricity, no running water, simple meals, and lots of mosquitoes. All of the above proved true. What I wasn't prepared for was a family so generous that they hunted iguanas and killed a sheep so that we would eat meat instead of just beans, finding that my mosquito net was more useful in keeping the bat poo off my bed than protecting me from mosquitoes, and realizing that tropical ant bites hurt a lot more than mosquitoes do anyway. After the workshops ended, I spent my evenings with the children of the family, marveling at how many different fruits grew in the nearby woods, exploring a beautiful river with waterfalls and rapids, learning how to make smoked cheese, and helping to clear the acres of brush where the trees from the reforestation project will be planted.
After several nights of long conversations by candlelight with the family about my life in the states and the differences between our cultures I began to realize that I want this project to be about more than the strengthening of technical and financial resources available to Nicaragua's small farmers. Instead of feeling deprived and labeled poor, I want the small farmers here to admire their beautiful land, to treasure the natural resources that abound, and to be proud of the riches they are passing on to their children. Like the oxen who proved much more effective than our pickup truck in the mud, many elements of rural life are undervalued in our current society. In addition to changing our fiscal practices to work toward a just world, we need to change our value system to include the priceless treasures of rural life.
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