The family sits at the table – Don Pablo, his wife Cristina and their six children. They eat lunch together before the parents return to the fields. The small farm is well kept with a wonderful view from the farmhouse terrace towards the mountains north of Matagalpa. There is laughter around the table. The plates are filled with produce grown on their own farm. Don Pablo is optimistic about the future: “We’re not afraid any more.” A bad harvest in previous years meant the farmers had very little to eat. “Now, we’ve diversified cultivation and grow different foodstuffs. If there is a problem with one product, we can still generate enough income from the other products. We have something on the table to eat every day.”
Mixed cultivation guarantees income
Mixed cultivation is part of the SWISSAID project to support the farming community of Jucuapa in North Nicaragua. Since 2004, the farmers have learned about organic cultivation methods and how to increase their production as well as how to join forces to form a farmers’ organisation to enhance their influence with the authorities.
Their plates are empty. “Come on, I’ll show you all the crops we grow here”, Don Pablo invites me on a tour. We walk past coffee plantations, banana plants and groves of orange and lemon trees. The coffee is harvested in November. Don Pablo and Cristina tie small baskets around their hips. Their nimble fingers pluck the red, ripe coffee beans from the branches of the plant. “Beforehand every farmer used to work for himself here. We cultivated a product and that was that,” Don Pablo tells me. “Today, we share our knowledge with each other, so we can all benefit from it.”
Exchanging information among the farmers
A little later, I notice a large cowboy hat appear from the plantation. The man wearing the hat is called Mario Aguilar, the president of the association of farmers, “Campesino a Campesino”. Over his shoulder he carries a kind of oversized letter “A” made from three bamboo sticks. A small water spirit level is tied to the horizontal middle strut. “I want to show this to the other farmers today,” he explains after warmly greeting Don Pablo and his wife. Half an hour later, about 20 farmers from the neighbourhood listen to his every word as he explains how terracing the slopes is possible in this undulating landscape thanks to his water spirit level system. He gets a round of applause for his demonstration. “We have to work together,” he tells me afterwards. “It’s important to exchange ideas. We will only make real progress by working together.”
The women have their say
Working together – for Don Pablo and the men in the farmers’ association, this idea has gained new meaning since their participation in the SWISSAID project. One of the focal points of the SWISSAID development aid in Jucuapa is to support women more. I often notice this during my visit. Don Pablo and his wife Cristina repeatedly exchange views. Cristina constantly and passionately defends her vision, usually until her husband nods and agrees that she is right.
Cristina’s life as a woman has also changed for the better. “Before, we actually had no rights and always did what the men wanted,” she says and gives her husband a sideways grin. “Today, we represent our own interests, manage an independent loan fund and what we say carries weight in all areas.” Don Pablo also grins. “That was not easy for many of us,” he remembers, “some of us were real machos! But it’s good that we can talk to our wives now as equals.”
Purchasing more land – for the first time
Both continue their work with the coffee harvest. While their industrious fingers pick the beans, they talk about the future. Thanks to diversifying and mixed cultivation, they made a good living on their farm last year. Now they have purchased more land for the very first time – more than a hectare. They also want to cultivate mixed cultures there. On the subject of which products they will grow, Don Pablo’s wife Cristina also gets a fair chance to have her say.
By Mitja Rietbrock, SRF