For the sake of healthy, sustainable development in rural Nicaragua, it’s important to properly define the goals so that we can evaluate and measure the impacts we are having in the local rural economy. La Semilla has been working with the rural population in the departments of Carazo, Managua and Rivas since 2010. Our experiences to date have led to an integrated development program that addresses the attitudes necessary for healthy growth as much as the practical application of new agriculture techniques. Here is a brief description of our work with the poor in Carazo, Nicaragua.
- Skills training – Our three Nicaraguan professional agronomists deliver new agriculture technologies to small farmers in Carazo province. Field visits and scouting are essential to good adaptation. A major point of interaction is a 3 day seminar where we explain the benefits of the programs and services we offer. To date, some 235 producers have attended this course. Field days, workshops and demonstration plots are held on location in different communities for maximum uptake by producers. We continually invest in our team of agronomists so that they are current and capable to teach new agriculture technologies.
- Access to credit - producers demonstrating commitment and responsibility are eligible for seed and crop supplies on credit. Producers are rated for their responsibility in different areas relating to crop production, including: workshop attendance, availability for field visits, yield, and repayment of credit on time. We are pleased to say that since it’s implementation, the number of "responsible" producers receiving credit increases. Percentage of recuperation of credit has been very successful as we incorporate our strategies of healthy development and social collateral.
- Appropriate Technology - we provide demonstration and access to new and mechanized technologies in planting, spraying, and harvesting to help producers see beyond their traditional limitations of manual labour. We are helping a few local entrepreneurs begin small businesses in this area.
- Personal development – RESPONSIBILITY, HONESTY, COMMITMENT - all our programs promote integrity and good attitudes incorporated into every aspect of our lives. Business ethics are explained and promoted through every interaction we have with our producers.
- Access to Quality Seed – Since quality seed is foundational to a strong crop performance, we invest time and funds in the promotion of the use of quality seed. We contract and supervise the propagation of selected seed varieties, appropriate for local growing conditions. We maintain a strong relationship with INTA (Agriculture Nicaragua) to help source and promote varieties with improved disease and pest resistance. In 2018, with your financial help, our seed program will change to growing and providing for sale certified quality seed. The net goal is quality seed available at an affordable price to an even wider audience.
- Market Access - we operate a warehouse and cleaning facility in the southwestern city of Jinotepe where we receive, clean, package, and market beans and sorghum. Our goal is increased returns for our producers plus a fair and trustworthy market option. (Our scale is certified!) Prices paid for these basic grains are stabilizing through our marketing efforts.
Poverty is a complicated multi-faceted impediment to human dignity. We see the effects each day. As we implement our ideas for sustainable development, we see change happening in many small ways, and sometimes big ways, with the people we work with. Sustainable change is a commitment for the long-term. La Semilla is committed to the small farmers of Nicaragua. Join us in achieving this change in rural Nicaragua.
Those involved in crop production agriculture will quickly recognize the benefits of always starting a production cycle with quality seed. The facts are no different in Nicaragua. We battle against climate, disease and viruses. For any crop to have a healthy start, it needs every advantage it can get.
At La Semilla (translates to "The Seed") one area of primary focus is improving the quality of seed that producers in our province of Nicaragua are planting.
First off, we investigate and source varieties with the appropriate qualities needed for predictable yield results in Carazo. Varieties are then evaluated in local growing conditions in a couple of distinct micro-climates to assess their qualities. Varieties then need to pass the criteria for marketing - size and color of the grain is very important in both local and international markets.
Second, we contract the propagation of selected varieties with certain growers trained to ensure quality and genetic purity.
Third, after harvest, the grain needs to be managed to maintain germination percentage and vigor. In a tropical climate, that means maintaining low temperature and low humidity. Although possible at the farm level, it's difficult to ensure the conditions needed to assure quality. Because of the volume of seed we use, and because we want to promote varietal purity, we keep our seed sources under our own storage management. In past growing cycles, this meant contacting cold storage facilities that met our storage standard for temperature and humidity. Difficult to find for our needs.
In 2017, we constructed a cold storage room within one of our warehouses. We now have an insulated, sealed room where the air conditioner maintains a cool 17C and the dehumidifier keeps the humidity at a steady 55%. With these conditions, we can keep germination rates high, and keep insect pests controlled as well.
Again, quality seed is foundational to establishing a profitable crop. A substantial part of our time and financial resources are invested in teaching the advantages of quality seed. It's common here in Nicaragua to not source and plant quality seed. Factors influencing this decision are lack of funds, lack of access to credit, and a tradition of planting a grain from a previous harvest. To achieve higher and more predictable yields, growers need to invest in their crops. We address this by having our agronomists host workshops in the more than 40 communities where we work to help change these traditions relating to planting. Slowly we are seeing results as growers switch seed sources and realize bigger harvests. Beginning in 2018, we will step up the standard one more notch to produce and market certified seed. The qualification of “certified seed” will help us open the door to wider advertising. The Nicaraguan agriculture agencies of IPSA and INTA will ensure our compliance with internationally recognized seed standards. Nicaraguan farmers will be the benefactors!